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After Coronavirus: “Nuda Vita” and the “Extraordinary Power” of the Modern State

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“Sovereignty is the refusal to accept limits … I have refused to submit, therefore, I am.”- Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share [1]

Over the past 20 years, the world and the system of international relations have been steadily moving towards a “state of emergency.” The “authority to do whatever was advisable to keep the state safe” that Carl Schmitt saw as the main sign of “extraordinary power” has long been the norm all over the world. And the evidence to support this is overwhelming. Instruments such as “humanitarian intervention,” the exclusion of rogue states from international engagement, the destruction of undesirable political leaders and the change of regimes through “revolutions,” and the introduction of political and economic sanctions are all used to restrict the sovereignty of states that are seen as a threat to international security or the security of specific states. The world is already used to the fact that the exclusion of some comes with the necessary assertion of the sovereignty of others. The intense demolition of the legal basis that underpins the outgoing world order and the withdrawal of individual states from international agreements that we have witnessed in recent years prove better than anything else that relations between states are now built upon this “state of emergency” and upon “extraordinary power.”

That being said, it is extremely rare that a “state of emergency” appears inside a country: relations between the state and society have typically been built on the basis of established legislation and the basic law. However, with the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in early 2020, the very notion of a “state of emergency” has become a “viral” phenomenon as well, and it is Western liberal democracies that are primarily responsible for spreading it. The concept of “norms” and “normality” no longer apply to international relations. Moreover, they are not typical of relations between state and society inside countries. The “extraordinary power” that the state resorts to during pandemics penetrates deep into all spheres of life, depriving us of our basic rights and changing the very structure of the way we live from day to day. Numerous biopower practices are put into action — from controlling people’s movement, rationing their consumption and restricting interactions with loved ones to compulsory health monitoring. The power of the sovereign has increased exponentially, while the sovereignty of the individual is crumbling before our very eyes. How will this period of increased “extraordinary power” affect relations between the state and the individual in the long term? How deeply will the trust of citizens in the state and its institutions be shaken if the latter cannot pass the litmus test in terms of guaranteeing security? When will we be able to return to “normal” life, if at all? If we will not, then what will the new “normal” be? And which of the “emergency” practices that are now in place will remain for a long time to come?

“Extraordinary power”: The Thin Line Between Legitimacy and Structural Violence

Back in 1995, the famous Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben published Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life [2], in which he demonstrated rather convincingly that every country, including liberal democracies, has a so-called “state of exception” where the individual is deprived of almost all rights and freedoms and exists in a state of “bare life” (nuda vita), living in the biological sense of the word only. Agamben used an analysis of the evolution of various political communities to demonstrate the “vitality” of this phenomenon in modern times — from the Nazi concentration camps to Guantanamo Bay and the refugee camps of today. By setting up areas like these, the modern state effectively isolates individuals who, as far as powers that be and society, in general, are concerned, pose or may pose a threat to “security.” The ability to create these kinds of areas and declare states of exception is a key sign of sovereignty. The largest and most obvious illustration of a “state of exception” in recent times concerns migration in Europe, where EU countries fiercely tried to defend their sovereignty and the right to independently determine the parameters of “including” or “excluding” migrants from society.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that these zones and “states of exception” still exist to some degree, even in liberal democracies, the scale of this phenomenon has been limited up until now, with governments attempting to “fit in” into what is considered the “norm.” There is a tacit understanding in society that “states of exception” are needed and potentially dangerous elements need to be isolated from the population at large. It is kind of an unwritten contract between the state and the individual, and more or less everyone agrees with the conditions for placing someone in the exclusion zone. For example, the Patriot Act passed by the United States after 9/11 served as a way to justify the restrictions on the fundamental rights and freedoms of U.S. citizens. We have come to terms with the security services using tracking technologies as a way to identify terrorists, with governments monitoring our social media content in order to fight extremism, with CCTV cameras everywhere to ensure that we follow the road safety rules, with biometric passports for tracking illegal border crossings, and so on.

However, it turns out that the concept of the state as a “night watchman” hired to protect our human rights and interfere in our private lives with the sole aim of ensuring our safety and to an extent proportional to the threat, is only useful during “normal” times, when the type and scale of threat is known and is sporadic or local in nature.

The coronavirus pandemic, which politicians are increasingly comparing to an enemy in a war, requires a completely different kind of intervention in the everyday lives of citizens. State sovereignty has ballooned to almost unlimited proportions, at the expense of the sovereignty of the individual. Emergency directives passed, without parliamentary discussion, on the basis of nothing more than the “insight” of decision-makers who are supposedly able to assess the magnitude of the threat and take “adequate” measures, are used to restrict the basic rights of citizens. This includes freedom of movement, health protection, social interaction, education, etc. However, the problem is that in most Western countries there is no broad consensus on how big the threat actually is, which means that there can be no agreement on the degree to which government intervention is acceptable and which “extraordinary powers” may be appropriate. This much is evident from the sheer number of fines that have been handed out for violating the lockdowns. For example, over 72,000 violations were recorded in Italy over the period from March 11 to March 20. In Austria, people seem undeterred by the fines, which have been set at several thousand euros, as they continue to go out for walks and happily stop for a chat in the fresh air. But how is this lack of consensus dangerous when it comes to understanding security threats and evaluating the measures taken? Does this mean that the state has lost its ability to “mobilize” the population and is no longer able to demonstrate true “emergency” power? Why was China able to implement emergency measures to far greater effect than European countries? It would seem that the explanation is in the specifics of the functioning of “extraordinary power,” or, more specifically, in the fine line between legitimacy and structural violence. Let us elaborate on this fine line.

The almost universal introduction of a “state of emergency” brings to mind the classics of political thought, who devoted far more attention to matters of state and society. The key arguments put forward by Carl Schmitt in his Dictatorship [3], where he provides a detailed discussion on the exercise of “extraordinary power,” are particularly pertinent. Schmitt made a distinction between “what was legally regulated — that is, a limited exercise of the sovereignty,” and the “substance, always remaining hidden but at hand, and in principle unlimited, of the omnipotence of the state,” whose “self-commitment through ordinary legislation only held for situations considered to be normal.” And in abnormal situations, or what Schmitt would call a “state of siege,” sovereignty is manifested as “an authority, in principle unlimited, in order to do whatever was advisable to keep the state safe.” However, such broad powers require an extremely high level of trust in the authorities on the part of citizens. It is clear that liberal democracies that are used to the state acting as a “night watchman” are affected more by the transformation towards an authority that is “in principle unlimited.” Hence the need for a high level of trust: when the laws that make the interaction between state and society “normal” no longer work, trust remains the only mechanism that informs the legitimacy of the actions taken by the authorities in an emergency situation. Extraordinary power creates a new “normality,” and its normalizing force (according to Michel Foucault) increases many times over. Similarly, in the absence of trust, people see emergency measures as a form of structural violence. That is, Johan Galtung [4] and his followers point out, it is seen as an unlawful incursion into the private affairs of the individual. The consequences of such an “unsanctioned” incursion may end up costing the country’s political leadership what is left of its power, as well as the ability to exercise a “normalizing power.” This is why the sequence of measures taken in a crisis situation and the discourse used by the country’s leadership to legitimize their actions and gain the trust of citizens are so important.

If we look at how emergency measures were implemented in Europe from this point of view — and in Italy in particular, which has been affected the most by the pandemic — we see that trust is indeed a key condition when it comes to determining the effectiveness of emergency measures. Italy was the first hotspot of the pandemic in Europe. It quickly moved into second place in the world in terms of the number of infected, behind China, and soon after surpassed that country in the number of deaths. Little was known about the pandemic in February 2020, and even less about how China — a country that the West has a hard time trusting — was dealing with it. Hence the extreme caution and indecision of the Italian leadership and the resulting outbreak and deaths. With all the will in the world, the Italian government simply did not have enough information about the nature of the threat. Consequently, it was unable to form a narrative that would have allowed society to move quickly and accept the restrictions. Cynical as it may sound given the circumstances, other European countries were in a better situation to deal with the impending crisis, as they had learnt from how both China and Italy had responded to the threat and had a much clearer picture of exactly what they were facing. The price of freedom for each individual depreciated in proportion to his or her understanding of the seriousness of the threat. As fear grew, so too did the demands for the state to provide security guarantees, which in turn reduced the likelihood that the measures introduced would be seen as structural violence. This allowed several European countries to rush strict measures through — measures that most people saw as legitimate and justified. This is why control over information is so important in times of “extraordinary power” — many countries have already started monitoring fake news about coronavirus, as they understand that this is the most important factor when it comes to building trust. However, even the strict information control, the endless references to the authority of specialists, the “war” discourse that is increasingly being used by politicians in reference to coronavirus and the tragic reports coming from Italy are not always convincing enough. “Sovereignty is the refusal to accept limits… I have refused to submit, therefore, I am,” wrote Georges Bataille in The Accursed Share. As the current situation has shown, ordinary citizens of European countries with liberal democracies are not ready to give up their sovereignty and start to fully trust the state without a fight.

What about Russia? Russia has had even more time than other European countries to prepare its citizens for decisive measures. However, despite the fact that by mid-April 2020 the coronavirus had claimed more than 20,000 Italian lives and the number of infected in Russia had exceeded that figure, the Kremlin had not declared a state of emergency, the country was still not in full lockdown (a not-so-strict form of “self-isolation” is in place), and mixed signals were being sent about the possibility of more stringent measures being introduced. The government is developing a large-scale electronic system for tracking the movement of its citizens whereby drivers would need to obtain a QR code in order to move around Moscow and Moscow Region, but it has not been implemented yet. Movement between regions has not been suspended. It would seem that the country’s leadership can sense the fine line between legitimate measures and structural violence and is afraid to take more radical action, clearly waiting for the population to unequivocally ask for harsher measures. In other words, the government is waiting for a clear demonstration of trust on the part of its citizens. The trap, however, is that inconstant and one-sided measures can bring about a crisis of confidence far quicker than suddenly restricting the rights and freedoms of citizens in order to ensure security.

Business is also in a state of uncertainty, as it is still unclear who can and cannot work from home, how remote working will be implemented from a technical standpoint, what monitoring practices will be put in place to catch businesses that continue their operations and try to get their employees to continue to work, and what the authorities plan to do next in terms of saving Russian business. Most Russians saw the non-working week from March 30 to April 5 as extra vacation, an opportunity to head out to the park and wind down. Many businesses resumed operations on April 6, a fact that could lead to a sharp increase in the number of infections in the coming weeks. The move to tax those with over 1 million roubles in bank savings was not received well, as people saw it as the government taking the opportunity to pick the pockets of the burgeoning middle class (we use the term rather loosely here, as the Russian middle class is hardly comparable to the European middle class, for example), which had only just managed to accumulate such a safety net, instead of trying to rally the population by taxing large companies and monopolies. Most people see decisions such as these as rather shady. What is more, the process of deferring loan, mortgage and tax payments will require a lot of paperwork and procedural expenses, which will, in turn, reduce the public’s confidence in the state acting as a guarantor and insurer of the costs incurred. Business has little confidence in the government as it is, and this will only hit it harder. But the hardest hit of all will be those who operate in the “grey” and “black” areas of the economy — those had no trust in the state even before the crisis began — as there is no hope of them receiving any kind of financial support. And what will happen to the people they employ — the thousands of illegal immigrants who often work “off the books” with no labour rights or means of livelihood in a foreign country? Will they voluntarily self-isolate? Or will they go to any extreme in order to provide for themselves and for their families? Will the state be able to mobilize the necessary resources to prevent rampant crime in the most disintegrated part of society?

The State as the Sole Subject of “Extraordinary Power”

Despite the fact that the West has been talking about the need for a common response to global security challenges for decades now, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we are still woefully unprepared to deliver such a response. And this, despite the fact that the pandemic is neither a political nor an ideological challenge. The touchstone of supranational integration, the European Union, is on the verge of taking away one of its four freedoms — the freedom of movement for EU citizens. The Schengen Area has been temporarily closed. All migration inside and outside the European Union has been suspended, and its countries are making sovereign decisions based on assessments of the appropriateness of restrictive measures. Meanwhile, these measures touch on the very essence of the sovereignty of the individual in a democratic society, namely, the right to freedom of movement, the right to work and the right to the protection of one’s health and safety. In the three months since the pandemic began, the World Health Organization, G7 and G20 have not made a single binding decision, and the UN Security Council has remained silent. The European Union is trying to agree on economic support measures for its member countries, and while the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) has been suspended and countries have been allowed to violate fiscal and budgetary discipline, the idea of introducing so-called “coronabonds” (Euro obligations that would allow European Stability Mechanism funds to be spent on measures to overcome to consequences of the crisis) supported by Italy, Spain and Portugal, but not so much by Germany and the Netherlands, has split Northern and Southern Europe once again. Italy, which has been hit the hardest by the virus, is perhaps most acutely aware of the consequences of “losing a part of its sovereignty” to supranational European institutions: the reduction of hospital beds and medical staff was a direct result of the “austerity” measures put in place by Brussels in the early 2010s. Obviously, the discussion on the need to return sovereignty to the national level developed by the Italian side, specifically by Lega Nord, is quickly gathering steam. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has received parliamentary approval to extend the state of emergency for as long necessary and to adopt “emergency” decrees, while the European Union stands back and points fingers, thus underscoring its helplessness in the face of yet another triumph for national sovereignty.

We can confidently state today that the nation-state remains the only subject of “extraordinary power” — a sovereign capable of defining the boundaries of the new “norm” and the subject of biopower in the territory that is subject to control. As the experience of combatting the pandemic in the European Union has demonstrated, it is the state alone that possesses the necessary resources to exercise control, guarantee security and reallocate resources in an emergency. National governments are still in control, among numerous other functions, of the police, the emergency services, the tracking of their citizens’ movements, information control technologies, the management of the labour market and industrial production and the redistribution and mobilization of resources within their respective countries, and the crisis has highlighted how quickly parts of these functions that have been delegated to supranational structures can be returned to the purview of national governments. The pandemic has also demonstrated that citizens invariably turn to the state and their national governments for protection.

For many states, the pandemic will likely be a way to test the boundaries and limits of “extraordinary power.” And every day it becomes increasingly obvious that these limits are linked to sociocultural considerations, which also respect national borders. For example. The freedom-loving French and Italians are now (finally) prepared to sit at home in order to save the older generation; the Chinese have spent their last savings on the production of masks and medicines; and the Japanese, who were already quite used to and accepting of social distancing and wearing masks, have taken the new demands in their stride; the Russians, upon learning that they would have to give the state a percentage of their savings during the crisis, rushed to their banks to withdraw money; while the people of Turkmenistan have been forbidden from saying the word “coronavirus” and wearing masks and may be sent to prison for ignoring the rules — in short, there is no such thing as coronavirus in Turkmenistan, and everyone agrees. All this “blooming complexity” in just a few months has laid bare the level of trust between citizens and the state, with each individual case demonstrating how far the state is prepared to go and how much society is prepared to tolerate. Many governments have started to seriously tighten information control against the backdrop of the fight against the pandemic. For example, a number of countries have introduced fines for spreading false information, and it is, of course, the government that decides which information is false, and it does not matter that much of the “knowledge” about this little-studied threat, even if it comes from respected scientists, can be refuted and become fake news in as little as a week. But information can be an incredibly powerful resource in times of “extraordinary power,” something that the government simply cannot fail to privatize, as information is the foundation of trust.

The Consequences of “Extraordinary Power”: A Large-Scale Crisis of Confidence

Trust becomes a strategic resource when institutions stop working. “Extraordinary power,” which has become the norm following the introduction (official or otherwise) of a state of emergency essentially means that governments are functioning on an ad hoc basis. Some states have long abandoned this practice and are finding it increasingly difficult to return to the “will of the sovereign” from institutionalized formal processes. For those who are used to living in the “manual control” regime, where institutional trust is typically low due to the fact that institutions have always been a “bonus” that the sovereign can use at its discretion, “extraordinary power” is, if not the norm, always tacitly understood as the scenario that is most likely to unfold in any given situation. Whatever the case may be, we are witnessing a deep crisis of confidence brought about by the fact that neither the institutions that seemed stable and effective, nor the forethought or farsightedness of the “wise leader” were able to prevent matters from taking a turn for the worse.

As we know from the works of Albert Hirschman [5], there are three basic types of attitude towards the state an individual can possibly adopt: exit, voice and loyalty. “Loyalty” is only possible when there is a high level of trust. “Voice” is an open protest that requires people to be ready to take social action, something that is unlikely given the current rules regarding social distancing and the fines for breaking them. “Exit” is the most realistic strategy when there is a lack of trust and the price of protest is too high. The “extraordinary powers” that are being implemented all over the planet today offer us a glimpse of just how high: the mobilization of the police, army and other guard forces; the experimentation with all manner of digital and physical control; and the introduction of various sanctions (financial, administrative and custodial). It thus follows that all the talk about globalization, the blurring of borders, the freedom of movement, and so on, is only possible as long as national governments allow it, all the while retaining the right to nix all these developments and implement their own instruments of control.

The choice of response strategy will, of course, be geared towards the interests of the nation, primarily due to national sociocultural specifics. However, even now, looking at how different societies have reacted to the measures that have been introduced and the level of trust that has been formed in response to these measures, we can assume that the most common strategy will likely be “exit.” This is due, first of all, to the fact that states — even Western liberal democracies that have more reason than most to count on the loyalty of their citizens — cannot guarantee the security of the population or even comply with the conditions of the social contract that EU taxpayer money has been paying for over the past several decades. The pandemic has opened the eyes of those in the most economically developed and liberal democracies to the fact that they have been living in a world of lies — from what they believed to be the most advanced medicine to Industry 4.0, which, as it turns out, was not able to manufacture enough medical masks. When the pandemic is over, “exit” for some will mean emigrating to a country with a more effective healthcare system, better social protection, superior business insurance, etc. For others, “exit” will mean the gradual transition to the “grey” or “black” areas of the economy. This will happen in countries where institutional trust was low before the crisis and continued to fall even further as a result of the ineffective steps taken by the state, or due to the unwillingness of the ruling class and big business to demonstrate social solidarity and share the hardships of rebuilding the economy with the middle class and SMEs. Still, others will see “exit” as an incentive for pursuing maximum autonomy in their lives: from switching to working from home and distance learning to subsistence farming. Others may experience “exit” as social marginalization. But one thing is already clear — in most states, the coronavirus will test the public’s confidence in their respective governments. This means that sovereign states today need a balanced, well-thought-out and consistent strategy in order to gain the trust of their citizens and be able to carry out their “normalizing” role into the future, when the time comes to rebuild and recreate institutions and practices and after our fear of death has given way to the fear that there will be no future at all.

[1] Bataille, Georges. 2006. The Accursed Share. Мoscow.

[2] Agamben G. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford.

[3] Schmitt, Carl. 2005. Dictatorship. St. Petersburg.

[4] Galtung J. Violence, Peace, and Peace Research // Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 6. No. 3 (1969), pp. 167–191.

[5] Hirschman A. 1970. Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Cambridge, Mass.

From our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Program Manager, Research Fellow at Centre for Global Problems Studies, MGIMO-University

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Security of nuclear materials in India

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Terrorism

The author is of the view that nuclear security is lax in India. More so, because of the 123 Agreement and sprawling  nuclear installations in several states. The thieves and scrap dealers even dare to advertise online sale of radioactive uranium. India itself has reported several incidents of nuclear thefts to the international bodies. The author wonders why India’s security lapses remain out of international focus. Views expressed are personal.  

Amid raging pandemic in the southern Indian state of Maharashtra, the anti-terrorism squad arrested  (May 6, 20210) two persons (Jagar Jayesh Pandya and Abu Tahir Afzal hussain Choudhry) for attempting to sell seven kilograms  of highly-radioactive muranium for offered price of  about Rs. 21 crore. The “gentlemen” had uncannily advertised  the proposed sale online.. As such, the authorities initially dismissed the advertisement as just another hoax. They routinely detained the “sellers-to-be” and forwarded a sample of their ware to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.  They were shocked when the centre reported that “the material was natural uranium”.  As such the squad was compelled to book the duo under India’s Atomic Energy Act, 1962 at Nagpur police station (Explained: ATS seizes 7 kg uranium worth  Rs. 21 crore from a scrap dealer…Indian Express May 7, 2021).

Not a unique incident

The event, though shocking, is  is not  one of its kind. Earlier, in 2016 also, two persons were arrested by Thane (Maharashtra) police while they were trying to sell eight to nine kilograms of depleted uranium for Rs. 24 crore.  It is surmised that sale of uranium by scrap dealers in India is common. But, such events rarely come in limelight. According to Anil Kakodar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, `Factories using uranium as a counterweight in their machines are mandated to contact the Atomic Energy agencies and return uranium to them. They however resort to short cuts and sell the entire machine with uranium in scrap’.

India media scarcely report such incidents. However, Indian government sometimes reports such incidents to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to meet disclosure requirements. According to international media reports (February 25, 2004), India reported 25 cases of “missing” or “stolen” radio-active material from its labs to the IAEA.  Fifty-two per cent of the cases were attributed to “theft” and 48% to the “missing mystery”.  India claimed to have recovered lost material in twelve of total 25 cases.  It however admitted that 13 remaining cases remained mysterious.

India’s reports such incidents to the IAEA to portray itself as a “responsible state”.  It is hard to believe that radio-active material could be stolen from nuclear labs without operators’ connivance.

Nine computers, belonging to India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation establishment at Metcalfe House, New Delhi, were stolen. India communicated 25 cases of ‘stolen or missing’ uranium to the IAEA. In different incidents, uranium in varying forms and quantities continue to be recovered from scrap dealers and others by Indian authorities. The recoveries include fifty-seven pounds of uranium in rod form, eight kilograms in granular form, two hundred grams in semi-processed form, besides twenty-five kilograms in radioactive form, stolen from the Bibi Cancer Hospital.

Too, the ‘thieves’ stole three cobalt switches, worth Rs. 1.5 million, from Tata Steel Company laboratory at Jamshedpur (Jharkhand). A shipment of beryllium (worth $24 million), was caught in Vilnius, on its way to North Korea. Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea. A New Jersey-based Indian engineer Sitaram Ravi Mahidevan was indicted for having bypassed US export procedures to send blue-prints of solenoid-operated valves to North Korea.

We know that the Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship, carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea.  The oxide is an essential ingredient of rocket casings and is, as such, prohibited for export to “rogue” countries.

Pakistan bashing

Despite recurrent incidents of theft of uranium or other sensitive material from indiandian nuclear labs, the IAEA never initiated a thorough probe into lax security environment in government and private nuclear labs in india. However, the international media has a penchant for creating furore over uncorroborated nuclear lapses in Pakistan. The Time magazine article ‘Merchant of Menace’, had reported that some uranium hexafluoride cylinders were missing from the Kahuta Research Laboratories.  Pakistan’ then information minister and foreign-office spokesman had both refuted the allegation.  Masood Khan (foreign office) told reporters, `The story is a rehash of several past stories’.

Similarly,  Professor Shaun Gregory in his report ‘The Security of Nuclear Weapons’ contends that those guarding about 120 nuclear-weapon sites, mostly in northern and western parts of Pakistan, have fragmented loyalties. As such, they are an easy prey to religious extremists.

Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon, also draw a gloomy portrait of the situation in Pakistan. In their article, published in The New York Times, dated November 18, 2007, they predicted that extremists would take over, if rule of law collapses in Pakistan. Those sympathetic with the Taliban and al-Qaeda may convert Pakistan into a state sponsor of terrorism. They pointed to Osama bin Laden’s meeting with Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, former engineers of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission (having no bomb-making acumen).

They claimed that U.S. military experts and intelligence officials had explored strategies for securing Pakistan’s nuclear assets. One option was to isolate the country’s nuclear bunkers. Doing so would require saturating the area, surrounding the bunkers, with tens of thousands of high-powered mines, dropped from air, packed with anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions. The panacea, suggested by them, was that Pakistan’s nuclear material should be seized and stashed in some “safe” place like New Mexico.

Rebuttal

The fact is that the pilloried Pakistani engineers had no knowledge of weaponisation (“When the safest is not safe enough,” The Defence Journal -Pakistan), pages 61-63). The critics mysteriously failed to mention that Pakistan is a party to the UN Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials. The steps taken by Pakistan to protect its nuclear materials and installations conform to international standards. The National Command Authority, created on February 2, 2000, has made fail-safe arrangements to control development and deployment of strategic nuclear forces. Pakistan’s nuclear regulatory authority had taken necessary steps for safety, security, and accountability of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, facilities, and materials even before 9/11 incident. These controls include functional equivalent of the two-man rule and permissive action links (PALs). The indigenously-developed PALs are bulwarks against inadvertent loss of control, or accidental use of weapons. So far, there has been no security lapse in any of Pakistan’s nuclear establishments.

Abdul Mannan, in his paper titled “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Sabotage of a Spent Fuel Cask or a Commercial Irradiation Source in Transport”, has analysed various ways in which acts of nuclear terrorism could occur in Pakistan (quoted in “Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries beyond War”). He has fairly reviewed Pakistan’s vulnerability to nuclear terrorism through hypothetical case studies. He concludes that the threat of nuclear terrorism in Pakistan is a figment of imagination, rather than a real possibility.

There are millions of radioactive sources used worldwide in various applications. Only a few thousand sources, including Co-60, Cs-137, Ir-192, Sr-90, Am-241, Cf-252, Pu-238, and RA-226 are considered a security risk. The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has enforced a mechanism of strict measures for administrative and engineering control over radioactive sources from cradle to grave. It conducts periodic inspections and physical verifications to ensure security of the sources. The Authority has initiated a Five-Year National Nuclear-Safety-and-Security-Action Plan to establish a more robust nuclear-security regime. It has established a training centre and an emergency-coordination centre, besides deploying radiation-detection-equipment at each point of nuclear-material entry in Pakistan, supplemented by vehicle/pedestrian portal monitoring equipment where needed.

Fixed detectors have been installed at airports, besides carrying out random inspection of personnel luggage. All nuclear materials are under strict regulatory control right from import until their disposal.

Concluding remarks

Nuclear controls in India and the USA are not more stringent than Pakistan’s. It is not understood why the media does not deflect their attention to the fragile nuclear-security environment in India. It is unfortunate that the purblind critics fail to see the gnawing voids in India’s nuclear security.

The ‘research work’ by well-known scholars reflects visceral hatred against Pakistan. The findings in fresh ‘magnum opuses’ are a re-hash or amalgam of the presumptions and pretensions in earlier-published ‘studies’. It is time that the West deflected its attention to India where movements of nuclear materials, under the 123 expansion plan, are taking place between nuclear-power plants sprawling across different states.

Above all, will the international media and the IAEA look into open market uranium sales in India.

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Biological warfare: A global security threat

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Biological warfare is not a new concept in arena of international politics as it has been used as a tool to sabotage enemy in previous centuries. Biological weapons are a sub-category of Weapons of Mass destruction (WMDs) in which there is a deliberate use of micro-organisms like pathogens and toxins to cause disease or death in humans, livestock and yields.Form its usage in 14th century by Mongols to its usage by imperial Japan during 1930s-40s against Chinese, it has always been a threat to global security. The evolution of bio-weapons can be broadly categorized into four phases; first phase includes the post WWII developments with the evident use of chlorine and phosgene in Ypres.The second phase was marked by the use of nerve agents like tabun, cholinesterase inhibitor and anthrax and plague bombs. The initiation of third phase was marked by the use of biological weapons in Vietnam war during 1970s where deadly agents like Agent orange were used. 4th and last phase include the time of biological and technological revolution where genetic engineering techniques were at their peak. Traditionally they have been used in wartime in order to defeat enemy but with the emergence of violent non-state actors, bioterrorism is another potential threat to the security of states. There are certain goals that are associated with the use of biological weapons. Firstly, it is purposed to hit to economy of the targeted country, breaking down government authority and have a psychological effect on masses of the targeted population. It is also a kind of psychological warfare as it may hit a smaller number of people but leaves impact on wider audience through intimidation and spreading fear. It also creates natural circumstances under which a population is induced with disease without revealing the actual perpetrator.

With the advancement in genetic engineering techniques more lethal biological weapons are being produced everyday around the world. Countries which are economically deprived are more likely to pursue such goals as it is difficult for them to go for heavy military sophistication keeping into consideration their poor economic conditions. Biological weapons serve as inexpensive tool for developing countries to address their issues in prevailing international security environment. During the initial decades of cold war, united states of America (USA) and Soviet Union went for acquiring tons of biological weapons alongside nuclear proliferation.

 The quest for these weapons reduced during 1970s with the formation of Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). This convention was presented in 1972 before countries and finally came into force in 1975 with 150 countries who signed this convention and 140 countries who fully joined this treaty. This convention prohibits any biological weaponization in order to promote peace and stability around the world. But this convention has obvious defects as it is unable to address many issues like it doesn’t prevents itself the use of biological weapons but just reinforces 1925 Geneva Protocol which forbids the use of bio-weapons. Convention allows ‘defensive research’ to which there are many objections that what is incorporated into this defensive research. It is non-binding to the signatory states and in case if countries are proliferating it lacks the effective oversight techniques to look after them either they are pursuing these biological weapons capabilities or not. Since the inception of this convention till now it has clearly failed in stopping the countries from acquisition as well as usage of these weapons. This is evident as there were many cases after 1975 where these weapons were used as in 1980s when Iraq used mustard gas, sarin and tabun against Iran and many other ethnic groups inside Iran. Another incident which was highlighted was Sarine nerve gas attack in Tokyo subway system leaving thousands injured and many got killed. In post-cold war era, however, the number of these attacks reduced as much attention was shifted to terrorism after 9/11 attacks with the change in global security architecture.

“Anthrax letters” in post 9/11 attacks revealed yet another dimension of bio-weapons which was the threat of bioterrorism from non-state actors. US became a victim of bio-terrorism when in 2001 a powder was transported through letters containing bacterium called anthrax infecting many people. One purpose which terrorists have is to make general masses feel as if they are unsafe in the hands of their government which can be best achieved through the use of these weapons. The fact that biological weapons are cheaper and more devastating than conventional weapons make it more likely for biological weapons to be used by terrorists. Also, the fact that they are easy to hide and transport and a smaller quantity can leave long-lasting impacts on larger population makes these weapons more appealing.  Now that we are facing a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19 which according to some conspiracy theories is a biological weapon pose even more serious challenge to the international security in coming decades. There is no such scientific research which proves Corona Virus as a biological weapon but the realization here is that whether or not it is a biological weapon but world was least prepared for it. Not only the developing countries but also developed states suffered more despite having enormous medical infrastructure. The fact that there has been decline in the incidents related to bioterrorism should never let us think that there is no possibility of such attacks. The fact that world failed to handle Covid-19 puts a question mark on the credibility of measures if we are faced with bio-terrorism. The medical community as well as general population needs to develop an understanding of how to respond if there is such attack. At the international level there is a dire need to develop some strong norms which discourage the development and use of such weapons in any capacity.    

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The ‘Post-Covid-19 World’ Will Never Come

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On May 3rd, the New York Times bannered “Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe” and reported that “there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.”

In other words: the ‘news’-sources that were opposing the governments’ taking action against Covid-19 — libertarian ’news’-sites that oppose governmental laws and regulations, regardless of the predominant view by the vast majority of the scientists who specialize in studying the given subject — are looking wronger all the time, as this “novel coronavirus” (which is what it was originally called) becomes less and less “novel,” and more and more understood scientifically.

The “herd immunity” advocates for anti-Covid-19 policies have been saying that governments should just let the virus spread until nature takes its course and such a large proportion of the population have survived the infection as to then greatly reduce the likelihood that an uninfected person will become infected. An uninfected person will increasingly be surrounded by people who have developed a natural immunity to the disease, and by people who don’t and never did become infected by it. The vulnerable people will have become eliminated (died) or else cured, and so they won’t be spreading the disease to others. That’s the libertarian ’solution’, the final solution to the Covid-19 problem, according to libertarians.

For example, on 9 April 2020, Forbes magazine headlined “After Rejecting A Coronavirus Lockdown, Sweden Sees Rise In Deaths” and reported that, “Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has continuously advocated for laid back measures, saying on Swedish TV Sunday that the pandemic could be defeated by herd immunity, or the indirect protection from a large portion of a population being immune to an infection, or a combination of immunity and vaccination. However, critics have argued that with a coronavirus vaccine could be more than a year away, and insufficient evidence that coronavirus patients that recover are immune from becoming infected again, the strategy of relying on herd immunity and vaccinations [is] ineffective.”

The libertarian proposal of relying upon “herd immunity” for producing policies against this disease has continued, nonetheless.

CNN headlined on 28 April 2020, “Sweden says its coronavirus approach has worked. The numbers suggest a different story”, and reported that 

On March 28, a petition signed by 2,000 Swedish researchers, including Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the Nobel Foundation, called for the nation’s government to “immediately take steps to comply with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations.”

The scientists added: “The measures should aim to severely limit contact between people in society and to greatly increase the capacity to test people for Covid-19 infection.”

“These measures must be in place as soon as possible, as is currently the case in our European neighboring countries,” they wrote. “Our country should not be an exception to the work to curb the pandemic.”

The petition said that trying to “create a herd immunity, in the same way that occurs during an influenza epidemic, has low scientific support.”

Swedish authorities have denied having a strategy to create herd immunity, one the UK government was rumored to be working towards earlier on in the pandemic — leading to widespread criticism — before it enforced a strict lockdown.

FORTUNE magazine headlined on 30 July 2020, “How parts of India inadvertently achieved herd immunity”, and reported that, “Around 57% of people across parts of India’s financial hub of Mumbai have coronavirus antibodies, a July study found, indicating that the population may have inadvertently achieved the controversial ‘herd immunity’ protection from the coronavirus.” Furthermore:

Herd immunity is an approach to the coronavirus pandemic where, instead of instituting lockdowns and other restrictions to slow infections, authorities allow daily life to go on as normal, letting the disease spread. In theory, enough people will become infected, recover, and gain immunity that the spread will slow on its own and people who are not immune will be protected by the immunity of those who are. University of Chicago researchers estimated in a paper published in May that achieving herd immunity from COVID-19 would require 67% of people to be immune to the disease. Mayo Clinic estimates 70% of the U.S. population will need to be immune for the U.S. to achieve herd immunity, which can also be achieved by vaccinating that proportion of a population.

On 27 September 2020, Reuters bannered “In Brazil’s Amazon a COVID-19 resurgence dashes herd immunity hopes”, and reported that, “The largest city in Brazil’s Amazon has closed bars and river beaches to contain a fresh surge of coronavirus cases, a trend that may dash theories that Manaus was one of the world’s first places to reach collective, or herd, immunity.”

Right now, the global average of Covid-19 intensity (total cases of the disease thus far) is 19,693 persons per million population. For examples: Botswana is barely below that intensity, at 19,629, and Norway is barely above that intensity, at 20,795. Sweden is at 95,905, which is nearly five times the global average. Brazil is 69,006, which is around 3.5 times worse than average. India is 14,321, which is slightly better than average. USA is 99,754.  

However, the day prior, on May 2nd, America had 30,701 new cases. Brazil had 28,935. Norway had 210. India had 370,059. Sweden’s latest daily count (as-of May 3rd) was 5,937 on April 29th, 15 times Norway’s 385 on that date. Sweden’s population is 1.9 times that of Norway. India’s daily count is soaring. Their population is four times America’s, but the number of new daily cases in India is twelve times America’s. Whereas India has had only one-seventh as much Covid-19 intensity till now, India is soaring upwards to become ultimately, perhaps, even worse than America is on Covid-19 performance. And Brazil is already almost as bad as America, on Covid-19 performance, and will soon surpass America in Covid-19 failure.

There is no “herd immunity” against Covid-19, yet, anywhere. It’s just another libertarian myth. But libertarians still continue to believe it — they refuse to accept the data.

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