Making issue out of a non-issue
November 18, 2011
Fr a lay man a nuclear weapon has become a toy gun or a microwave oven that is very simple to make, break or steal if journalistic accounts about the security of these weapons are to be believed. Based on the hypothetical and fictional accounts keeping in mind the Hollywood cognition, these accounts give rise to a perceptional impression that nuclear theft is as simple as a bank robbery. Militants would do recce of the bank get map from Google, plan it in a dark single bulb room and take the bags by breaking the security circles. Then they will distribute the money and go shopping.
Well that is doable but what is unthinkable is stealing a nuclear weapon. Not going into the details of nuclear physics lets peep into the world of weapons of mass destruction. It needs huge resources, time and money. This complex device is more difficult to make than to think of and if one decides to make or rather build a weapon one would need a lot of money, metallurgists, chemists, physicist, engineers, and nuclear scientists. More importantly, infrastructures are more complex than the cement factory or a steel mill.
The story has just begun, once the man power and infrastructure is developed, fissionable material, its abundance, conversion into fuel and enrichment is required. The management of a nuclear chain reaction is the most difficult job in the world accompanied by equally complex trigger mechanism. The unique feature of nuclear weapon is that it needs to be transported via unmanned means to the target area provided if one is not on a suicide mission. Else at least huge strategic bombers are necessary if missiles aren’t available. The complexity of nuclear engineering is daunting enough. So why not to steel a readymade device or enough fissionable material to make a so-called dirty bomb or dumb bomb? Moreover, an insider could be bribed or convinced for the Holy cause.
As far as the device is concerned, if it is stolen somebody as responsible as the head of state would have to be involved. Theft of fissile material by terrorist is an impractical idea for it isn’t possible for a rogue and no state entity to convert it into a real bomb. Instead, the militants would love to stick to match lit dynamite than going for a dumb device whose capacity and capability is not known. For militants it won’t be a good idea to go for nuclear weapons pertaining to financial, infrastructural and resource limitations. Why go the difficult route when the required results could be achieved with simpler means, as in 9/11 two very huge and hundreds of feet tall buildings were brought to ground with the help of passenger planes.
Since 1945 only nine states have achieved mastery over the volatile chain reaction used for nuclear weapon purposes. This technological advancement wasn’t achieved overnight or was created by magic; it involves works of generations of scientists and engineers. The US and Russia made nuclear weapons in thousands pioneering the technology of weapons of mass destruction. Both deployed these weapons outside their countries thus putting the whole world in danger of accidental or unwanted use. The USSR disintegrated and those hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, which were dispersed across the former Soviet Union, were exposed and vulnerable but they didn’t attract non-state actors.
Recently, the media reported irregularities in the security structures inside USA, the story of unchecked nuclear tipped missiles on US fighters jets, the loss of presidential authorization code for many weeks and the latest episode of Wikileaks helped by an insider Bradley Maning gives rise to serious concerns over nuclear security in the US in particular and the world in general. Not to forget, the registered police cases of uranium smuggling in India are more than one hundred till date and those police stations are situated in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Nagaland, the heaven of Maosits-Naxalites. Moreover, most of the Indian nuclear facilities are established in the East which is highly volatile and lawless region. Despite the fact that nuclear security vulnerabilities exists all over the world the neo-conservative-corporate nexus couldn’t find the subject matter worth considering for discourses quenching their intellectual thirst.
The scenarios construction is well-thought-out in terms of greater market benefit to the major world actor and its broad strategic interests. The Iraqi WMD saga is the classic example of how facts are constructed to achieve certain goals in favor of rich-greedy military industrial complex and in the pursuance of the dynamics of great game. This time the panorama is about the nuclear security of Pakistan, which has matchless record of safety and security, not a single incident of theft, sabotage or leakage is reported. Nevertheless, the bank robbery style scenarios regarding security of nuclear weapons of Pakistan are being constructed for the last many years. The sane intellectual quarters understand the fact that such an eventuality of nuclear theft or sabotage can only be carried out with a state capacity and not by any individual or non-state entity.
The cruel misperception created by the western strategic hawks about the security of Pakistan nuclear weapons is only helping the militants giving them food for thought and creating a fatal paranoia among the masses. Pakistan in particular and other states in general are aware of the sensitivity related to the security of these complex weapons. The threats to the nuclear program, if any, are from the hostile psychological mindset and state-sponsored scholarly and military campaign, which should be confronted on all fronts of academics, politics and defence.