Misguided Perceptions on Nuclear Terrorism

Nuclear terrorism in real is a quite petrifying phenomenon, but there is no tangible study available that this threat is genuine in a world where nuclear technology is heavily regulated and secured. Since there is no terrorist incident have yet been reported which involves nuclear weapons, there is disagreement among the analysts that how serious the threat of nuclear terrorism could be. However, such arguments should not be a source of complacency.

Few states have played this threat up for political purposes as a lever against countries that are not likeminded. For example the same approach was used after 9/11, when terrorism was being used to achieve certain interests. The main aspect of Nuclear Security Summits started from 2010 and beyond was to highlight the nuclear dangers emanating from Iran and other countries were played up. While there was a narrative against these countries, none of the forums allowed them space to appear and give their perspectives on the issue.

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies annual report of 2015 is a yard stick on the global incidents of nuclear theft or lost. The U.S. tops the rank in the world with 59.4% of negligence, loss or theft incidents followed by France 5.9%, Canada 5.9%, Ukraine 5.3%, and Russia 5.3%. For instance, in 2007, six American nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly transported from Minot Air Force Base to Barksdale Air Force Base. There are innumerable such reported faux pas in this regard.

Similarly, a truck carrying a radioactive source which could be used in radiological dispersion device i.e., almost a dirty bomb was stolen near Mexico City in 2013. Likewise, Broken Arrow is known term for accidental launching, firing, detonating, theft or loss of the nuclear weapon. Since 1950, there have been 32 accidents of Broken Arrows in the U.S. among which disturbingly six nuclear weapons were never recovered.

In December 2015, Adrian Levy and Jeffrey Smith penned a detailed report on the vulnerability of Indian nuclear weapons program. Previously in 1994, 2003, 2008 and 2013 terrorist groups obtained the uranium from India’s state-owned mines. Recently in June 2016, a criminal group was uncovered in India which was involved in smuggling radioactive substances.

While, Israel is said to be in the possession of nuclear weapons and lies in a region where terrorist organizations like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas are powerful than the Taliban’s in the South Asian region. Even the Israeli nuclear reactors are ‘an easy target’ of the missiles possessed by such terrorist groups.

However, the Western media completely ignores these incidents and creatively sets alarm bells on to other countries. In July, The Economist, in The World If 2016 edition created a “What if” scenario and wrote that terrorists have intentions to acquire the nuclear material to make a nuke and can kill millions of people. It impeached that Pakistan’s short-range battlefield nuclear weapons and authorities in command are constantly accused as “destabilizing at best” factor and the pressure “use them or lose them”, respectively.

Critically to some extent Pakistan’s development of battlefield nuclear weapons have startled India’s gigantic military build-up and doctrinal transformation. Positively there is no proven case study available to assume that in case of crises, how the National command authority (NCA) will move missiles or codes and even if they will be put under control of junior officers.

The Magazine posits without any evidence that “up to 40% of Pakistan’s middle-ranking army officers are to some extent radicalised.” Contrarily, former CIA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that billions of dollars are spent to spy on Pakistan’s nuclear program just because of the anxiety “driven more by uncertainty about how it is run than specific intelligence indicating that its systems are vulnerable.”

Pakistan’s commanding authorities are well aware of the nuclear terrorism threat and accordingly physical protection measures are improved with several real time training courses. “Nobody knows how they truly do it. Vehicles move in a stealthy manner and move with security. But it’s not clear whether the cores are moved to the warheads or the warheads are moved to the core locations”.

Unfortunately, nuclear security issue has been hijacked by interests based international politics in which an undue focus has been brought on to the Middle East and South Asia. So in actuality it is not a stern effort to curb the dangers of unseen nuclear terrorism but it is a measured struggle to brand some countries so weak that nuclear technology is not safe in their hands. A rational approach should be taken in churning out reports.

Ahsan Ali Zahid & Hasan Ehtisham

Ahsan Ali Zahid is M. Phil scholar in School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Pakistan.

hasanHasan Ehtisham is M. Phil scholar in Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Pakistan.

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