Nuclear Weapons: World Has Weapons That Are Bigger Than Wars Itself – Analysis


In his meeting with the journalist after the meeting with Board of Governors of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA) Ali Asghar Soltanieh told in Vienna on November 30 that Iran would rebuild any enrichment centrifuges, if its facilities are destroyed in a possible attack. Boasting of Iranian mastery over its technology and knowhow, he added that all centrifuges and uranium enrichment facility will be replaced immediately thereafter. He, according to western media sources claimed that Iran will never give up its nuclear program.

Two days earlier to Iranian announcement, AFP – referring to military sources, reported that Pakistan test fired a nuclear capable ballistic missile with a range of 1300 kilometer – the eighth in test series for this year. Five of the Pakistani tests were conducted immediately after India successfully launched its long range intercontinental ballistic missile Agni V on last April. Experts have said that the Agni V could deliver one ton nuclear warhead and reach any target within a reach of 5000 kilometers in 20 minutes.

On November 27 Associated Press in its news story disclosed that a diagram obtained by it reveals that Iranian scientists have run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon that would produce more than triple the explosive force of the World War II bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

On December first, North Korea to commemorate the death of its longtime ruler Kim Jong-il, announced – it would launch another nuclear capable long-range intercontinental ballistic missile – sometime between coming December 10-22.

North Korean announcement has prompted Japan to move its anti-ballistic Patriot missiles to the southern Ryukyu Islands readied to shoot down the North Korean rocket should it suddenly change its course. Similarly news sources have reported that Japan has announced all its armed forces prepared to cope any unwarranted situation arising from North Korean test. Understandably, senior diplomats from South Korea, Japan and the United States are preparing for a joint meeting to discuss the potential threats and challenges associated with the new launch.

On December 4, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon seriously expressed his concerns about the launch and continued that Pyongyang’s decision related to its ballistic missile program would raise tension in the region.

The only North Korea’s main ally in the region China – closely engaged with it, has increased diplomatic pressure with a veiled warning to Pyongyang to act prudently and keep restraints. Seoul’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cho Tai-young has expressed his hopes that China will keep the pressure on North Korea.

Earlier in September according to Christian Science Monitor (CSM) Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a senior commander in Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard warned that his country would target US bases in the region in the event of a war with Israel.

CSM further admits that “Ali Hajizadeh’s warnings came amid tension over Israel’s suggestion that it might unilaterally strike Iranian nuclear facilities – that are somehow matured for making bombs”. Tehran however claims that there will be no any such Israeli attacks unless U.S. Okays it.

In the mean time, China last week carried out a second flight test of a new long-range mobile missile that is capable of hitting any city in United States with multiple independently targetable nuclear warheads. The test took place days before North Korea is set to fire its long-range missile, U.S. intelligence officials have disclosed. According g to Gertz it was the second DF-31A flight test since last August – that exhibits China’s growing strategic nuclear build up. The modernization program of DF-31A missiles -that was first deployed in 2007 has ranges more than 8000 kilometers and can be deployed on rail cars disguised as passenger trains.

With Nuclear Weapon the War Itself Shrank to Minor Significance

When the World War II ended with the dropping of Atomic bomb – James Agee – in TIME magazine on August 20,1945 – made a historical comment that “. . . in the echoes of an enormous event – an event so much more enormous that, relative to it, the war itself shrank to minor significance.” And the World has indubitably seen that in its long history of wars – for the first time, nuclear weapons have become bigger than the Wars Itself.

The greatest path breaking event in the history of war as mentioned above was based on the discovery of German physicist Otto Hahn, who in 1938 claimed that – vast amount of energy, could be released at no time, if the atoms of uranium or plutonium could be split in a chain reaction. He also concluded that if such energy is used in a weapon it could be much more powerful than the most powerful conventional weapon. But it was not Germany but the team of U.S. scientist led by Robert Oppenheimer of the German origin – working under a clandestine Manhattan Project headed by Brigadier General Leslie Groves, successfully test fired the world’ first nuclear weapon in the desert of New Mexico in July 16,1945. This was immediately followed by the nuclear attack in Hiroshima and Nagasaki only next month that brought the World War II to an end.

When Denmark was occupied by Nazi forces, Niel Bohr- a Danish Noble Laureate in Physics (1922), had escaped to Britain and from there to USA and was associated with Manhattan Project. He earlier had personally urged U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to prepare for the atomic weapon.

But on July 3, 1944 – in a memorandum to President Roosevelt, Bohr appealed “that a weapon of an unparalleled power is being created which will completely change all future conditions of warfare”. Referring to Bohr the author of a globally acclaimed book – “The Making of the Atom Bomb” Richard Rhodes mentions that “When nuclear weapons spread to other countries as they certainly would, no one would be able any longer to win. That would obviously “bring an enormous change in the situation of the world, in the whole situation of war and the tolerability of war”.

Therefore, Bohr argued that unless, some agreement about the control of the use of the nuclear power is reached “any temporary advantage, however great, may be outweighed by a perpetual menace to human security”.

Similarly, in his open letter to United Nations on June 9, 1950 Bohr predicted that nuclear power in the long run will become the enormous sources of energy that would revolutionize industry and transport, but if a weapon is made with this energy it will contain an unparalleled power which will completely change all future conditions of warfare posing continued threat to world security – as a formidable means of destruction.

And as Bohr anticipated the nuclear arms race continued and got more intense. In September 1949 USSR attained it- followed by UK in 1952, France in 1960, China in 1964, Israel in 1969, India in 1974, Pakistan in 1984, and North Korea in 2006.

And it is a matter to note that since July 16, 1945 when the first nuclear test was carried out by the United States to October 9, 2006 when North Korea performed similar test according to Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu there were over 2000 nuclear test worldwide.

But a state does not need to test a nuclear device to make a nuclear weapon – is best exhibited by a South African example. As mentioned by Darryl Howlett in a book – President F.W. de Klerk on March 24, 1993 announced that South Africa had produced six nuclear devices prior to 1989 but it had dismantled them before entering into Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. Earlier to this formal announcement, it was speculated that South Africa had nuclear weapons but was not confirmed.

Mighty Weapons at Weak Shoulders

Still today Russia has the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons and when the former Soviet Union was dismantled, fortunately the political actors of the newly emerged Eastern European states exhibited restraint and sense of responsibility in keeping their nuclear weapons safe and well guarded. But a billion dollar question is often asked about the nuclear safety in weak, failing and politically, socially and economically unstable countries like Pakistan where Muslim extremist groups like Teherik –e – Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e –Taiba and their strong allies/networks in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Iran have gained enormous power.

A weak and unstable country with one of the most critical geostrategic location in world is also the single Muslim country with advanced nuclear weapon system. It has scarred the world community that if a nuclear powered Pakistan becomes a failed state and goes accidentally under the control of Muslim extremist groups. How catastrophic it would be for the security of its bigger neighbors like India and China and how would they react in such a situation is probably the biggest challenge the world is going to face with. Another great tragedy of Pakistan is that in its sixty four years long history, it has never experienced the smooth transfer of power as per the constitutional provision and each time when a government is changed under forced situation – the governance gets weakened, crisis erupts and the only beneficiary are always the extremist groups forcing Pakistan more weakened. It has always failed to escape from the weak conditions that it was born with.

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her one of the major foreign policy speeches at Brookings Institute on November 29 stated that the President Obama has repeatedly asserted his firm determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “Diplomacy is our preferred approach. But the window for Iran to negotiate seriously is not open indefinitely. Through the E3+3 process and multilateral fora like the IAEA, the United States and European leaders are pushing Tehran to live up to its international obligations and abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons”, further she added.

But there are some good news to listen – in November last year, U.S. President Barrack Obama, at a press conference held at the close of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii, had admitted that Russian President Medvedev, as well as China’s President Hu Jintao entirely agreed with him to make “sure that Iran does not weaponize nuclear power and that we don’t trigger a nuclear arms race in the region . . . in the interests of all of us”. Obama was making reference to the commitments made by Russia and China on the light of the report released by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the Vienna based UN body created to facilitate the peaceful use of nuclear energy and make a regular safeguard auditing of the nuclear facilities. The UN nuclear watch dog in its report released on November last year had asserted that Iran attained explosive nuclear weapons specific ability.

And when there can be some strategic consensus among countries like USA, China and Russia over Iranian nuclear weapon system, they might have developed some strategic framework of transitional actions if countries like Pakistan and North Korea suffer dissolution. However, they might play critical geo-strategic games – suited to their national interests until the situation warrants them to take unified actions.

Nuclear Hysteria, Nuclear Taboos and Nuclear Terrorism

Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott- Clark in their remarkable book – Deception that details the Pakistan, the United States and the global nuclear conspiracy, states that although Pakistan had started to develop nuclear facility in 1961, after its defeat in war with India in 1965 over Kashmir it received hysterical momentum. Reflecting the nuclear dream of Pakistani people, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Julfikar Ali Bhutto said “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no alternative . . . atom bomb for atom bomb.”Four years later according to Levy and Scott- Clark, Bhutto predicted “All wars of our age have become total wars . . . it would be dangerous to plan for less and our plans should, therefore, include the nuclear deterrent.”The man who gave Pakistan the nuclear bomb and later who was considered responsible for clandestinely selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya A.Q. Khan as quoted by Levy and Scott- Clark, has written “. . . A country which could not make sewing needles, good bicycles or even durable metalled roads was embarking on one of the latest and most difficult technologies”.

In human history, no other weapons than nuclear ones have critically governed relations among nations in such a defining way. Obviously it is changing the course of international system. American National Intelligence Council (NIC) in its report- Global Trends 2025: A transformed World, has concluded that “ The international system – as constructed following the Second World War – will be almost unrecognizable by 2025”. The 21st Century will see military forces lose both its utility and glamour, NIC further observed. Similarly Joseph S. Nye, Jr., the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense has stated that “once numbering more than 50,000 nuclear weapons have not been used in war since 1945” – mainly for its vast devastating power, it has not been employed for any political goals.

Noted American academics Nina Tannenwald, in her brilliant research paper published in International Security (2005), has best tried to answer a question why have nations avoided the use of nuclear weapon since 1945. She argued that despite strong case for using nuclear weapons during wars in Korea, Vietnam and Gulf war, for all practical purposes United States restrained from using nuclear weapons. From moral to public pressures and fear of retaliation followed by some abhorrent and unimaginable consequences, United States was pertaining a moral obligation that she name as “nuclear taboo” – the single most important phenomenon of the nuclear age.

But Prof Nye suggests that the nuclear weapons offer some excellent deterrence to weaker countries like Iran, North Korea and Pakistan against stronger adversaries and instead “increase their regional influence and global prestige”.
Besides, as explained by Global Trends 2025, some terrorist group by that time may even acquire their control over some nuclear device and gain some dangerous capabilities to create mass causalities. Moreover “The risk of nuclear weapon use over the next 20 years although remaining very low, is likely to be greater than it is today” but as a result of several converging trends serious concerns have been expressed over the potential emergence of new nuclear weapon states and possible acquisition of nuclear materials by terrorist groups, National Intelligence Council in its comprehensive report highlights.

Nuclear Lavas, Socio-economic Lavas and Sustainable World Order

Pakistan’s world renowned economist and human development theorist Mahbub ul Haq – while summing up the 1998 report on Human Development in South Asia, has written that sooner the India and Pakistan “turn from a nuclear arms race to a human development race, the better it is for the future prosperity of their people. In the last analysis, nuclear lavas may make great international theatre but they do not fill empty stomachs”- the largest such number in world. “Nor have desperately poor nations ever graduated into great super powers, except by building the development potential of their people”, Dr Haq argued. “It is socio-economic lavas that drown out nations; nuclear lavas never rescue them, he added.

When we mean globalization, it is the globalised nature of the enormous and multifaceted challenges that all countries in the world – from major global powers to smaller ones, are living with. All problems they are facing have transnational and trans-regional ramifications and have forced them develop some kind of cooperative mechanism to enlarge their security and ensure their prosperity.

21st Century has also revealed a brutal truth: a powerful a country can ensure its security against another great power and even a weak country can ascertain its security against a great power with some kind of nuclear deterrent. But any level of military power coupled with advanced nuclear weapons cannot guarantee its security against even some weakest countries and non state actors sheltered in such countries and engaged in terrorism.

But the world can and has to survive with this challenge. A proper coordination among all countries including nuclear powered nations – followed by a common but long term frame-work for cooperative security – including use of nuclear power for peaceful use, can best respond these challenges. Without any such comprehensive but just cooperative security governance – incorporating all countries particularly in every region and generally worldwide, broader peace and security in world can hardly be attained. An international legal framework allowing collective actions and dialogue to address pressing nuclear challenges is perhaps the greatest urgency of the day.

The Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) (1968) is a landmark instrument in nuclear governance. So far it is one of the most effective international treaties, but it has limitations and under its structural drawbacks many nations have attained dreadful nuclear capability. Unfortunately at times it has stood merely as a helpless witness.

Therefore a stronger, more effective regulatory international legal framework that builds trust and confidence among the nations and suits the incoming 21st century world order – with binding authority to arms verifications, nuclear safeguard, protective measures and global actions against its violation is perhaps the greatest need of the day.

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai is the former President of Nepal Teachers' Association, Teachers' Union of Nepal and General Secretary of SAARC Teachers' Federation. Currently, he is the Advisor of Nepal Institute for Strategic Affairs (NISS). Mr. Bhattarai has also authored four books -- two of them are about Nepal's Relations with India and one each on educational Issues and Nepal in global Geopolitics.

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