Un­war­ranted fear of nu­clear ter­ror­ism

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Mo­ham­mad Jamil Email: mjamil1938@hot­mail.com

in or­der to mit­i­gate what is a sub­stan­tially small threat. By ef­fec­tively eval­u­at­ing the ar­gu­ments for alarmism and re­spond­ing to them in turn, this MRP as­serts that the as­sump­tions from which stem the con­tem­po­rary overblown rhetoric on nu­clear ter­ror­ism are not grounded.” Af­ter ter­ror at­tack in Bel­gium, the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano had said that Brus­sels at­tack­ers had planned to set off a ra­dioac­tive ‘dirty bomb’.

Yukiya Amano went on to say: “Ter­ror­ism is spread­ing and the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing nu­clear ma­te­rial can­not be ex­cluded. The ma­te­rial can be found in small quan­ti­ties in uni­ver­si­ties, hos­pi­tals and other fa­cil­i­ties. Euro­pean au­thor­i­ties had re­vealed that the group be­hind the Novem­ber 2015 Paris ter­ror­ist at­tacks was also spy­ing on a se­nior nu­clear of­fi­cial in Bel­gium; since then many news sources re­ported that the threat of “nu­clear ter­ror­ism” ex­isted. Joe Cir­in­cione in his write up for CNN stated: “Chills went down a lot of ex­perts’ spines last month when we saw the news that the Brus­sels bombers, the ISIS ter­ror­ists who blew up the air­port and at­tacked the metro, were se­cretly video­tap­ing a Bel­gian nu­clear of­fi­cial. This of­fi­cial worked at a fa­cil­ity that had ra­di­o­log­i­cal ma­te­rial that ter­ror­ists could use for a dirty bomb. Strange enough, such fears are be­ing ex­pressed in the coun­tries that claim to have sound se­cu­rity sys­tems.

Michael Kugel­man a se­nior pro­gram as­so­ciate for South and South­east Asia at the Woodrow Wil­son Cen­ter, where he is re­spon­si­ble for re­search, pro­gram­ming and pub­li­ca­tions on South and South­east Asia, had ar­gued that Pak­istani nukes may fall in the hands of ter­ror­ists at­tack­ing sen­si­tive air bases in Pak­istan. The ab­surd pro­pa­ganda fur­ther as­serted that “Pak­istan was pro­duc­ing tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons (TNW) meant for ac­tual bat­tle­field use with con­ven­tional forces (for short range use against In­dia). Con­se­quently, these will be re­moved from locked-down and se­cured bases, mak­ing them tremen­dously vul­ner­a­ble to seizure, at­tack, or ac­ci­dent.” The aim of such pro­pa­ganda is to de­pict Pak­istan’s nukes as haz­ardous and risk prone. But it has been ac­knowl­edged by the IAEA as well as by the US that Pak­istan’s nu­clear as­sets are highly se­cured and un­der very re­spon­si­ble au­thor­ity. These as­sets in­deed help main­tain min­i­mum level of de­ter­rence.

Though the US has not been con­sis­tent about its stance on Pak­istani nukes, yet the US has as­sured the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that Pak­istan is ca­pa­ble of pro­tect­ing its nu­clear weapons. In a pol­icy state­ment on Pak­istan’s nu­clear pro­gram, the US State Depart­ment said: “Islamabad is well aware of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties with re­spect to nu­clear se­cu­rity and has se­cured its nu­clear ar­se­nal ac­cord­ingly.” Few days be­fore the sum­mit, pres­ti­gious Har­vard Kennedy School re­leased a re­port re­view­ing global se­cu­rity mea­sures, which stated: “US of­fi­cials have re­port­edly ranked In­dian nu­clear se­cu­rity mea­sures as weaker than those of Pak­istan and Rus­sia.” The re­port con­cluded that Pak­istan’s nu­clear se­cu­rity ar­range­ments were stronger than In­dia’s. Any­how, it is an ir­refutable fact that it was In­dia that had mis­used its nu­clear fa­cil­ity in 1974, and had also det­o­nated nu­clear de­vices in May 1998. Pak­istan had to fol­low suit to show that Pak­istan has the sim­i­lar ca­pa­bil­ity.

Lapse in se­cu­rity of In­dia’s nu­clear as­sets was re­vealed by in­ter­na­tional ex­perts dur­ing a Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit. The ex­perts ex­pressed se­vere reser­va­tions over In­dia’s pro­tec­tion of its nu­clear ma­te­rial. Ac­cord­ing to the de­tails, ex­perts of the in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence stated that there have been 5 cases of nu­clear ma­te­rial theft in In­dia over the past two decades. They added that the ex­tent of se­cu­rity fail­ure is so great that in 2013 guer­rilla mil­i­tants had stolen Ura­nium from the Army Com­plex, but the In­dian army re­mained com­pletely un­aware of the in­ci­dent. In April 2016, an in­de­pen­dent US re­port by the Belfer Cen­ter at the Har­vard Kennedy School de­clared the In­dian nu­clear pro­gram not only un­safe but also called for a sat­is­fac­tory in­ter­na­tional over­sight. The au­thors of the re­port ti­tled ‘The Three Over­lap­ping Streams of In­dia’s Nu­clear Pro­gram’ ob­served that “In­dia is cur­rently run­ning three streams that in­clude: civil­ian safe­guarded, civil­ian un-safe­guarded, and mil­i­tary.”

Au­thors rec­om­mended that In­dia should achieve a cleaner sep­a­ra­tion of its civil­ian and mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties by bring­ing eight un­safe­guarded civil­ian fa­cil­i­ties un­der safe­guards. They also rec­om­mend that In­dia should bring its fast breeder pro­gram as well as up­com­ing HEU fa­cil­i­ties un­der safe­guards. When U.S. of­fi­cials made their first-ever visit to the re­stricted Bhabha Atomic Re­search Cen­ter in Mum­bai, a com­plex where In­dia makes plu­to­nium for its nu­clear weapons, their ob­ser­va­tions about its se­cu­rity prac­tices were not re­as­sur­ing. “Se­cu­rity at the site was mod­er­ate,” a cable from Novem­ber 2008, ap­proved by em­bassy Chargé d’Af­faires Stephen White, told of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton. He had also added that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion checks at the front gate were “quick but not thor­ough,” and vis­i­tor badges lacked pho­to­graphs, mean­ing they were easy to repli­cate or pass around. One would not know if In­dia has im­proved the sys­tem by now. —The writer is a se­nior jour­nal­ist based in Lahore.

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