By Rameez Raja
A lot of ink has been spilled on the nuclear issues, but Bernard Brodie’s The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (1946) is often referred to as the first book on ‘Nuclear Strategy’ in which he, quite presciently, alluded to the race among nations for acquiring the nuclear or what he calls ‘absolute’ weapons. The obsession of states for acquiring nuclear warheads started right after the US’s nuclear destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which kick-started the competition among states for laying their hands on these deadly weapons. Currently, nine states have been successful in overtly procuring and producing such weapons and a few states like Iran, South Korea, and Taiwan were suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, the states like Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine that had inherited nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union have increased the anxiety of the International community. Proliferation of nuclear weapons and the possibility of a nuclear holocaust by adventure or negligence have thus become a cause of concern for the whole world.
Wittingly or unwittingly, nuclear know-how has now proliferated to the so-called responsible, irresponsible, and threshold states. There have been Sino-Soviet and the US-UK collaborations that spurred the nuclear proliferation. Similarly, France helped Israel, which in turn helped apartheid South Africa that later dismantled its nuclear arsenal. China-Pakistan and Pakistan-North Korea have shared nuclear relationships in the past and continues to do so in the present. India–Israel defence relationship includes the transfer of Israeli missile defence capabilities to India, which will defend it from any missile with nuclear warhead. The suspected state Iran is alleged to have received centrifuges and other nuclear weapons-related components from Pakistan through Abdul Qadir Khan’s nuclear proliferation network. One study even estimated in 2006 that Iran could have the atomic bomb by 2009. And now Iran’s ballistic missile test is a source of concern for international community, particularly the US and Israel. Moreover, Iranian Defence Minister, Brig. General Hossein Dehghan confirmed on 14 January, 2017 that Iran now calls for developing nuclear naval propulsion systems.
All the nuclear weapon states have openly acknowledged their nuclear weapon capability; however, the case of Israel is unique and different. Israel is the sixth state in the world and the first in the Middle East to develop and acquire nuclear weapons in the 1970s but has never openly acknowledged its nuclear weapon capability. Moreover, the nuclear opacity of Israel is so ample that it does not even acknowledge the production of fissile material.
Israel initiated its nuclear programme in earnest in the late 1950s, when it constructed its primary nuclear facility, the Negev Nuclear research Centre – also known by KAMAG. Israel clandestinely completed the initial research and development stage of its nuclear weapon programme in the 1960s. By the 1970s, it was widely assumed that Israel had acquired the nuclear weapon capability. It is estimated that Israel has a mature nuclear weapons programme and its nuclear weapons strength range from less than 100 up to 300 warheads.
Israel’s nuclear programme consists of three distinct but interrelated components: (a) opacity as a national security policy and strategy; (b) censorship as law enforcement mechanism; (c) societal taboo as a legitimizing instrument. Israel has emphasized a civilian control over its nukes but totally lacks a democratic accountability. Israel’s government has even banned the phrases such as ‘nuclear weapons’, ‘nukes’, ‘bomb’ to be mentioned anywhere in Israel. In place of these words, the censor replaces these with ‘nuclear option’, ‘nuclear capabilities’ or ‘nuclear potential’. Interestingly, the strange phrase ‘doomsday weapons’ is allowed by the censor to refer to Israel’s’ nuclear status.
Israel is more dangerous than any other nuclear state as its nuclear weapons are conspicuously absent from most of the official global nuclear dialogue. Israel has kept the status of its nuclear capability deliberately veiled and unacknowledged in order to shape the strategic perceptions and actions of others – friends and foes alike. This nuclear code of conduct of Israel has been regarded as its policy of ‘nuclear opacity, Animut in Hebrew.
With the tacit support of the US, Israel’s policy of opacity has remained outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and hence outside nearly all the international oversight and accountability obligations of the international non-proliferation regime. Moreover, the Israeli lobby in Washington, with financial and media power in America, defines the national consensus in the US on the Middle East, which has been translated into America’s national interest in the Middle East. Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities have been a source of concern for international community, particularly Israel, which does not want to add one more nuclear weapons state in the Middle East, particularly a Muslim state like Iran. Israel had already attacked Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor with the help of its pre-emptive strike on 2 July, 1981 and was helping India in its mission of pre-emptive strike on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in the 1980s, which did not happen because of the nuclear threat from Pakistan to India and the signing of the Agreement of Non-Attack on Nuclear Facilities by India and Pakistan on 31 December, 1988.
There is one big source of concern for global civil society and anti nuclear activists about the censorship in Israel. Israeli press is incapable and unwilling to touch the nuclear issues of Israel. Israeli public are aware of Israel’s nuclear weapon capability but suspends its democratic right to know whether it is for strategic or psychological reasons. Israel has left the handling of nuclear issue vague, opaque, and non-explicit.
It has been estimated that there are health impacts on humans, who live in the vicinity of the nuclear plants and uranium mining areas. The chronic problems like long duration fever, long lasting and frequently recurring skin problems, cataracts, continuing digestive tract problems, pain in joints, body ache, a persistent feeling of lethargy, and general debility are common. It has been estimated that there are football size and tennis ball size tumors on the chest of the women living in the vicinity of the nuclear plants in India (S. D Gadekar and S. Gadekar, 2013). It is also estimated that there are higher number of miscarriages, still-births, deaths amongst newborn babies and congenital deformities amongst the people living in the vicinity of the nuclear plants. The experts even estimated that there are TB and lung cancer cases amongst the uranium mining workers.
It has been estimated all over the world that the uranium miners are prone to higher incidence of diseases like silicosis and lung cancer. The Czechoslovakia uranium mining is a known fact where miners were prone to ‘mountain sickness’, which did not live long after the lung cancer.
This is our future where the public does not bother to know about the nuclear policy of their state. It may be because of the censorship and insufficient information about the nuclear weapons. But the fact remains whether nuclear reactors are used for generating electricity or for manufacturing nuclear bombs, it is ultimately dangerous for mankind. The nuclear accidents are even undermined by the nuclear states. Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 is one such example, where the Japanese people, mostly infants, are suffering from thyroid and breast cancer after the radiation effects.
The nuclear leakages and radiation effects are known to the public, but due to censorship in some nuclear states like Israel, the civil society and anti nuclear activists are reluctant to challenge the nuclear policy of respective nuclear states. Those who protested were put behind bars. However, better late than never, efforts should be made to make people aware about nuclear smuggling and nuclear accidents/radiation effects in terms of nuclear leakages, nuclear wastage, uranium mining, and nuclear war. Subsequently, efforts should be made to stop nuclear proliferation (both horizontal and vertical).
With the issue of the unauthorized use of nukes, nuclear accidents or misappropriation, the international community as well as scholars debated largely on the subject of civilian and democratic accountability of nukes. However, the nukes are against humanity and its governance through civilian, democratic, and military cannot make it a weapon of peace. The nuclear risks are increasing day by day with the emergence of new crises between the rival states. Moreover, the civilian and democratic accountability of nuclear warheads is not alternative to nuclear disarmament. It is only one of the methods of Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures (NRRMs) to control the unauthorized use of nukes. The NRRMs like good governance of nukes cannot guarantee safety because they cannot guarantee non-use of nukes and will cause obstacles for creating the Nuclear Free Zone Areas.
The main source of alarm is the belief in nuclear energy by nuke speakers that did not bother about its failure and the present crisis under nuclear umbrella are disregarded. What causes great fear is the availability of nukes, computer simulation/laboratory tests, nuclear smuggling, crisis and failure of the nuclear non-proliferation initiatives. The greatest threat is not only the unauthorized use of nukes but the understanding that such nukes can be also used by so-called authorized hands and, of course, destruction will be the same.
Thus, if the super powers, which also possess nuclear warheads, do not act with justice, do not give up their flawed policies like Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which speak of only horizontal and not of vertical proliferation, and do not eliminate the frustrations of non nuclear weapon states, the situation will spiral out of control and the destruction that will follow is beyond our comprehension and imagination. Even the majority of the world that desire peace will also become engulfed by nuclear destruction. Iran’s ballistic missile tests, which is believed to be a result of the flawed policies of the US and Israel, will be an inspiration for other non-nuclear weapon states, which are 33 in number, to proliferate more deadly weapons. Therefore, efforts should be made for complete nuclear disarmament without any discrimination. Otherwise, the time is not far when non nuclear weapon states and even underdeveloped states will channelize their resources in the wrong direction and will curse us with total nuclear destruction. The world nuclear force has already reached 22, 600 nukes, as reported by SIPRI in January 2010.
Gadekar, S. D. and Gadekar, S., 2013, “Observations Regarding Health Impacts of Some Indian Nuclear Installations on Surrounding Populations” in R. Rajaraman, (Ed.), India’s Nuclear Energy Programme: Future, Plans, Prospects and Concerns, New Delhi: Academic Foundation, p. 136.
Rameez Raja is a Ph. D. scholar at the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He specializes in India’s nuclear policy. Email ID: email@example.com.
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