By Rameez Raja
It is believed that terrorist groups like the Al Qaida have clearly indicated their intention to acquire nuclear weapons. However, there have been no confirmed reports about the theft of an intact nuclear weapon by non-state actors or terrorists. Moreover, there is a question on the accountability of nuclear weapons in states like Pakistan, Russia, and North Korea, which are regarded as substantial threat to world peace if nuclear weapons were to fall into the wrong hands after security breach in these states.
In academic circles, some scholars do not agree with the issue of nuclear terrorism and have ridiculed it as ‘an overrated nightmare’ or science fiction. The nuclear states have extended security (manual and technical) around nuclear reactors and nuclear storage areas. However, there are many incidents of security breach where outsiders successfully entered into the nuclear storage areas; nuclear mafia is operating in several states including India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, there are also reports where insiders were found guilty of ‘evil practice’ regarding theft of nuclear related information.
Coming to the main point, can terrorists acquire nuclear capabilities? It is believed that terrorist groups like Al Qaida can obtain nuclear weapons or materials by stealing or purchasing assembled nuclear weapons from any state with negligent security of its nuclear weapon stockpile. For instance, the terrorist groups like Al Qaida can attempt to fabricate a crude bomb. It is easy to design a nuclear bomb, a ‘gun type bomb’, from High Enriched Uranium (HEU). In simple terms, for manufacturing a crude nuclear weapon, terrorists do not require an extensive knowledge.
How to protect the world from unauthorized use of nuclear weapons is largely debated at the international level. The irony is that the nuclear states prefer to secure nuclear weapons from falling into ‘wrong hands’ than to eliminate this evil weapon once for all. The nuclear states focus on verification and detection techniques like Nuclear Forensics to locate theft of nuclear material in containers or transport vehicles. To analyse the date regarding nuclear smuggling incidents, Nuclear Attribution process is underway in several nuclear states.
The nuclear experts instructed states to relocate retired nuclear scientists in different governmental centres/areas so that they may not indulge in evil practices to help non-state actors to fabricate a crude nuclear weapon. The assumption is that money and threat to life may force a nuclear scientist to accept offer from the non-state actors to share information about manufacturing a crude nuclear weapon. Moreover, some research work on the making or fabrication of a nuclear bomb can help non-state actors to acquire some clues about it. The United States Nuclear Physicist, Theodore Taylor, who designed US’s atomic bombs, has opined that given fissile material, building a bomb is ‘…very easy.’
These challenges are very real. However, the nuclear states that manufacture nukes to deter the rival nuclear states are reluctant to give up their nuclear force. However, they have committed to implement better policies and invent better techniques to save nukes from falling into wrong hands. The question arises: how do nuclear states justify their no-first use policy or first-use policy of nukes against enemy state or in response to any nuclear or chemical/biological attack? The nukes will destroy the animal life and atmosphere for hundreds of years. The Russian Tsar bomb, a 100 megatons nuclear bomb, will be equal to the effect of exploding 100 million ton of TNT. The experts are of the view that such type of bombs or hydrogen bombs cannot be manufactured by non-state actors as it needs funds, lot of expertise, and vehicles to launch it. But states do and their nukes have a battle field role. A crude nuclear weapon, if manufactured by terrorists, will indeed be destructive but not as much as state manufactured hydrogen bombs after detonation that will annihilate the entire world.
Terrorism is a greatest threat to the world peace and efforts should be made for its termination. Similarly, nuclear weapon (whether it is in the hands of a state or non-state) is itself an evil and an instrument of terror. Therefore, efforts should be made for complete nuclear disarmament. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe go hungry, because the nuclear states spend close to US$300 million a day on their nuclear force.
Some nuclear weapons are on high-trigger alert that can annihilate us any time. Why do states hesitate to de-alert and de-assemble their nuclear war-heads? The answer is simple. The nukes have a battle field role as confirmed by the US. Japan’s nuclear destruction was not accidental but was done intentionally by the US to deliver message to world about its unique power. The nuclear proliferation, too, is not accidental but a deliberate process.
Every person condemns terrorist attacks because they are involved in killing innocent lives and that is why states prefer to alert its citizens and share information with other states in order to eliminate terrorism. The global war on terror is justified and states are welcoming this move for world peace and security. The irony is that the same states which condemn terrorist attacks in enemy states have kept ready their nukes on the borders to annihilate that state (which in effect means the people of that state). The nuclear attack (the authorized ones) will be more destructive than non-state actor’s crude nuclear weapon attack, which is believed only a threat by experts because of no confirmation of theft of any intact nuclear weapon by terrorists.
The authorized use of nukes will definitely kill millions of innocent people, even much larger than terrorists that are also busy in destroying the life of innocent humans. The question is: how is it right to kill innocent humans by authorized use of nukes? Brain Jerkins, the terrorism expert, has explicitly stated that ‘the world’s increasing dependence on nuclear power may provide terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.’ It is also confirmed by experts that terrorist groups have increased their professional skills, intelligence networks, finances, and level of armaments around the world. Therefore, dismantling of nukes is the best way to tackle this problem and nuclear science should be declared as third-rate science.
Along with terrorism, the most dangerous threat to world peace is the flawed policies from the respective nuclear states that are busy in building their nuclear arsenal and are restricting others (non-nuclear states) from going nuclear. Kenneth waltz’s nuclear deterrence theory has thrown this world into a more dangerous situation, where weak and underdeveloped states will also channelize their resources into wrong direction to go nuclear for security and power factor. North Korea is accelerating its nuclear force. That Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles are fired for test in air is a clear sign of instability and a direct result of the flawed policies of the nuclear states. Iran is another source of concern for the international community.
The unresolved disputes (territorial) which are 150 in number should be resolved at the earliest. Otherwise, these disputes may lead to devastation of the entire world. The full attention should be given to human security and human security should not be undermined in the name of national security. Whether nuclear terrorism is science fiction or real threat to world peace, it is the responsibility to tackle this problem through collective approaches from all nuclear states to safeguard their nuclear force from falling into the wrong hands. However, the greatest threat to world peace is nuclear weapon itself. If nuclear war is evil, then its commitment of no-first use or first-use is also theoretically or morally wrong. We cannot separate morality from politics; morality and justice are prerequisites for peace. In relation to the Indian subcontinent, Amitav Ghosh in his Countdown states, “The pursuit of nuclear weapons in the subcontinent is the moral equivalent of civil war: the targets the rulers have in mind for these weapons are, in the end, none other than their own people.” Here it is apt to remember Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad:
“Swords can win territories but not hearts,
force can bend heads but not minds.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘India at 70: The Many Partitions’, edited by Bhaswati Ghosh, author & translator, Canada.