A Nuclear Free World Or A World Riddled With Nuclear Terrorism – Analysis


In January 2007 former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, the former defense secretary William J. Perry and the former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn — called for a world free of nuclear weapons. In the words of Ward Wilson (The New York Times January 13, 2013), these “four titans of American foreign policy” gave a “new momentum to an idea that had moved from the sidelines of pacifist idealism to the center of foreign policy debate.”

Their appeal had come after North Korea ran its first nuclear test and Iran had refused to stop to enrich its weapon grade uranium. That time they observed, “The world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era. Most alarmingly, the likelihood that non-state terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weaponry is increasing.” “Apart from the terrorist threat,” they continued, “unless urgent new actions are taken, the U.S. soon will be compelled to enter a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically even more costly than was Cold War deterrence.”

After six years, what they had anticipated has become true. Amid heightened tension among major East Asian powers, North Korea has tested its third nuclear test on Tuesday, February 12. According to North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), “The test was conducted in a safe and perfect way on a high level with the use of a smaller and light A-bomb unlike the previous ones, yet with great explosive power”.

Experts have agreed that the North Korean nuclear blast tested this time was significantly stronger than the earlier ones. More concerning to the policy makers and defense analyst was its miniaturized nature – that could give North Korea greater capacity to deploy such weapons in its missile system.

The more sophisticated and powerful North Korean nuclear test was preceded by its impressive satellite launch. During that test, its National Defense Commission had boasted that the forthcoming nuclear test was targeted against the United States. Obviously, it was not an empty claim. One week before the test, Bill Gertz giving reference to intelligence sources reported in The Washington Free Beacon, that the North Korean missiles “can range Alaska and Hawaii and possibly the U.S. West Coast.”

According to Fox News North Korea adamantly has claimed that the main drive behind its nuclear program is the threat posed by United States against its security. If the United States maintains its hostility against Pyongyang, it will continue its weapon programs with greater intensity, North Korea warned.

Giving reference to South Korea’s Defense Ministry Andrei Lankov, a North Korean expert has stated in Foreign Policy Magazine that the yield of the recent test was at some 6 to 7 kilotons – “less than half the yield of the bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945” but to some analyst it was a 10 kiloton device.

It is widely believed that with its new KN-08 road mobile ICBM launcher – which China has supplied, North Korea can target its destination with the much-miniaturized but powerful nuclear weapons.

Speaking with the reporters during his China visit in January 2011, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had said that North Korea could be a direct threat to the United States in another five years or less. Within two years of Gates’ prediction, North Korea has come to make a direct warning to world’s lone super power – United States.

In another story Gertz in The Washington Times ( December 5,2011) cited a new revelations from a classified Capitol Hill intelligence briefing that was later made public in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. According to the revelation North Korea was moving ahead with “building its first road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, an easily hidden weapon capable of hitting the United States”.

In a pre-nuclear world, a minor local crisis anywhere could lead into a great power rivalries and even great wars. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austria- Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo by a young Serbian nationalist led to the First World War. Similarly, Soviet intervention in Afghanistan not only fueled the bitter great power rivalry in post World War II period but it also played a catalytic role in helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons with the clandestine support of the United States.

A poor and developing country like North Korea or similar other smaller nations in pre nuclear world could not collect courage to challenge a big power like United States. Hence, this was helping to maintain some kind of global order but in a post nuclear world a small, poor and isolated country like North Korea could challenge the world’s largest economic and military power. North Korea with its third nuclear test (February 12, 2012) demonstrated this and has warned United States of America claiming that with its third nuclear test it has acquired some capability of building a bomb that is small enough to be tipped on a missile that can hit any target in the United States.

Nuclear Terrorism, Nuclear Madness and Nuclear Proliferation

As quoted by Kissinger, Shultz, Perry and Nunn (Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007), Ronald Reagan – one of the most popular U.S. president termed nuclear weapon “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.” Similarly, they have also quoted Rajiv Gandhi from his speech that he delivered to the U.N. General Assembly as the Prime Minister of India on June 1988. In that speech, Gandhi said, “Nuclear war will not mean the death of a hundred million people. Or even a thousand million. It will mean the extinction of four thousand million: the end of life as we know it on our planet earth. We come to the United Nations to seek your support. We seek your support to put a stop to this madness”.

Graham T. Allison in New York Times has written an alarming article entitled as “North Korea’s Lesson: Nukes for Sale”. As Allison concludes North Korea takes its nuclear program as a “new cash crop . . . easier to market than plutonium . . . harder to detect and therefore easier to export”. It is also simpler to build a bomb from it. With quotes from former secretary of defense Robert M. Gates, Allison further says that as history shows North Koreans will “sell anything they have to anybody who has the cash to buy it.”

Evidentially, there are many buyers. Hundreds of North Koreans are in Iran and in other Middle East countries to work with nuclear projects. Reports say that they are also in Pakistan. Earlier Pakistan helped North Korea develop its nuclear weapons program.

New York Times further admits that Ayman al- Zawahiri – the successor of Osama bin Laden, “has been seeking nuclear weapons for more than a decade”. Besides, the world’s leading daily discloses, “there are Israel’s enemies, including wealthy individuals in some Arab countries, who might buy a bomb for the militant groups Hezbollah or Hamas”. Allison, in his article has also quoted President Obama who has said that nuclear terrorism has been the single biggest threat to U.S. security and if terrorists explode any nuclear bomb in an American city in the near future, there lies a “serious possibility that the core of the weapon will have come from North Korea”.

Technological advancement has made nuclear weapons smaller, cheaper easier to pack and transport. Moreover, countries with underdeveloped economy may find it lucrative to obtain a nuclear weapon to upkeep its security rather than maintain expensive conventional armed forces.

During Cold War United States had manufactured the smallest and lightest nuclear warhead named W 54 to be tipped in a heavy rifle and was deployed by the U.S. military in Europe against Soviet troops. Later in 1994, National Defense Authorization Act prohibited to develop smaller nuclear weapons. However, in 2004 the provision under 1994 Act was repelled.

Wikipedia has described about “backpack” bomb developed by Soviet Union. This consisted of three coffee can sized aluminum canisters in a bag connected to make a single unit of bomb. Its detonator was just about six inches long with 3-5 kiloton yield.

It is estimated that Russia today has some 2,000 smaller tactical nuclear weapons and United States has some 500 more. The number of such weapons with China and other nuclear weapon countries is not known.

But when Soviet Union was disintegrated, large number of those smaller nuclear weapons could have dislocated or stolen from its stores and some people anywhere might have kept them secretly and possibly are trying to find some buyers. The way nuclear weapons technology has proliferated from U.S. to Soviet Union and from China and Western Europe to Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and some other countries , there are sufficient evidences to tell a different and terrible picture.

On the other hand, experts say that Nuclear weapons have become much cheaper than a fighter aircraft, patrol boat and a tank.
Retired Major General of US Army William Burns says that the history of Cold War is a nuclear history centered on the strategic preparedness of U.S. and Soviet against each other. In Western Europe U.S. and NATO forces had remarkable strategic disadvantages in the presence of huge conventional forces of the Soviet Union. On this backdrop, United States developed some tactical nuclear weapons that could be used as the battlefield weapons.

According to Paul Schulte U.S. and NATO have taken “nuclear weapons simultaneously as a tool of deterrence, defense and denial”. Smaller and lighter battlefield nuclear weapons were a part of this policy that gave NATO a tactical maneuverability. It also helped them to bring battle to the battlefield than to extend it to cities, industries, hospitals, educational institutions, farmlands and other vital infrastructures that could paralyze the country for months.

Moreover, even there are some reports about a very small compact portable bomb that could be carried in a suitcase. Wikipedia has even mentioned about “backpack nuke, mini nuke and pocket nuke”. Such nuclear weapon weigh some 10 kg but with an explosion capacity of 10-20 tons.

Nuclear Myths and Nuclear Race

Ward Wilson in his thought provoking analysis has challenged the traditional myths about nuclear weapons with hard evidences. He has elaborated five such myths including Japan’s surrender in World War II and decisive mass destructive nature of these weapons.

Wilson has similarly rejected the much discussed and commonly accepted – theory of nuclear deterrence and its contribution on retaining long peace in world history.

The last, important point Wilson critically explained is the myth of nuclear irreversibility. He admits that no technology is ever disinvented, however every new day it has to prove its usefulness. Since the time the world has invented nuclear weapon, it is living with a great irony– a technology that has demanded billions of investments in its development but no one from that time “has found an occasion to use them in over 67 years”. With larger number of advanced nuclear weapons, countries have become more vulnerable and another huge sum of money is needed to update the weapon technology and keep them safe.

South Korea immediately after the North Korean nuclear test has not only gone into a heightened state of alert. According to international media sources, it has unveiled a new missile capable to hit any target in the North. South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson has admitted that the new weapon is extremely destructive, powerful against any kind of attack from its adversary. Besides, it is amply clear that countries like Japan and South Korea have capability to make nuclear weapons within few days, if they think it necessary for them.

According to The Washington Free Beacon, China on the other hand, as a part of its major nuclear force build up, is developing rail based strategic long-range missile trains. Quoting Philip Karber, a former U.S. arms control official, Bill Gertz in The Washington Free Beacon mentions that “The combination of mobile-road/rail ICBMs with [multiple, independently-targetable reentry vehicles] deployed in underground tunnel complexes produces compounded entropy over time”.

Former head of Russian strategic nuclear forces, retired Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin, during a visit to Washington had disclosed the Chinese rail basing of nuclear missiles resembling to the Soviet Union’s SS-24 rail-mobile nuclear missile force, the only such rail based ICBM in the world, Gertz elaborated.

When a technology is invented and used, it becomes a global property. Laws may limit its production, reproduction, use or reuse. In many countries laws do not govern them and at times even in laws abiding countries laws and state policies and laws are ignored, spoilt or connived by the people at the highest echelons of power and as a result of this even the most dangerous technology has been clandestinely transferred, sold or are pirated. In addition, when people who are involved in technology development and maintaining its secrecy either for their conscience or for their greed, betray the nation and the organization they are entrusted with, laws fail to work. This has largely worked with the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Two great works have eloquently explained how nuclear knowledge are systematically stolen or transferred. Adrian Levy and Catherine Scot – Clark, the two brilliant investigative journalists in their acclaimed book – Deception have presented a graphic account of Pakistan’s nuclear theft and its worldwide expansion. The other is by Richard Rhodes – The Making of the Atom Bomb, that elucidates its invention and its racing journey from United States to other major powers.

On January 31, Marc Goodman in Time magazine has presented a news story with series of evidences describing how criminals and terrorists are attempting to strike U.S. Pentagon and Capitol by using a remote controlled aircraft commonly known as drone. The aircraft aimed at Pentagon was filled with plastic explosives. Goodman further says, “Drones are no longer the sole domain of military, and just as with many new technologies, they can easily fall into the wrong hands”. He says that “criminals and terrorists needn’t even own or buy a drone; they can merely hack and hijack somebody else’s.”

In the same story, Goodman has also reported about Narco traders in Columbia using remote controlled drug smuggling submarines – carrying hundreds of kilos of cocaine some 1600 kilometers away without refueling. In Brazil, in 2009 and 2012, criminals used mini helicopters and drones over a Brazilian prison to deliver things like cell phones and drugs to the prisoners.

The message is more than clear. Terrorists and criminals can hijack or find a drone, fit it with guns, bombs and even miniaturized nuclear weapons and hit their targets anywhere in the world.

A Nuclear Free World Is Urgently Needed And Is Possible Too

In spite of those mentioned above,a nuclear free world is not distant and an imaginary rhetoric. It is critically urgent and is achievable.

According to Joseph S. Nye Jr. – the former U.S. Assistance Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of National Intelligence Council – “a megaton nuclear explosion can create temperatures of 100 million degree Celsius – four to five times the temperature in the centre of the sun.” Today a missile can carry 100 times more explosive power than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on 1945 and they have capability to end everything of human civilizations.

In 1945, no other country than United States had any nuclear bombs and even with United States they were only three. However, in the beginning of 1990s, only United States and Soviet Union had more than 65,000 nuclear weapons.

Nye has quoted from a letter written by Soviet leader Khrushchev to U.S. President John F. Kennedy during Cuban Missile crisis in which he had written “Be careful as we both tug at the ends of the rope in which we have tied the knot of war.”

That time they were two but now there are many with the knots of war in their hands. Moreover, the knots of a nuclear war might reach at the hands of some non-state actors or terrorists and some weak and failing nuclear weapon countries can be an attractive target for such horrible transfer.

Indubitably, there are bright signs too. The world has achieved unbelievable success in reducing nuclear weapons. U.S. and Russia in the last 20 years have cut down some 40,000 nuclear weapons from their arsenals. Thousands of others are waiting for their dismantlement. If the United States and Russia were further ready to reduce their nuclear weapons with an ultimate aim of eliminating it – it would certainly encourage rest of the nuclear power country – that have some 1000 nuclear weapons, follow the same. This will create tremendous moral as well as public pressures against the countries that are openly or clandestinely are developing it.

One thing is clear, nuclear weapons are considered as immoral weapons. Therefore, it has not been used since 1945.

Look at the evidences. United States and Soviet Union accepted their humiliating defeat in their war in Afghanistan and Vietnam, withdrew their forces from there, but did not use nuclear bombs. Soviet Union admitted to return its missiles from Cuba and America did not go to Hungary when Soviet Union invaded it. There were some unwritten treaties – might be they were questionable on some moral ground, but for the larger interest of the humanity, they were prepared to make some compromises rather than use these immoral weapons.

When the world was preparing for a graceful farewell to 20th Century, Dr. Mahbub ul Haq one of the greatest Pakistani scholar with global recognition enthused the world follow a new path. In his one of the most thought provoking book – Reflections on Human Development he gave a new interpretation to security as follows:

  • “Security of people, not just territory.
  • Security of individuals, not just of nations.
  • Security through development, not through arms.
  • Security of all people everywhere – in their homes, in their jobs, in their streets, in their communities, in their environment.”

In the same book, he asked some questions to the leaders of Third World countries as follows:

  • “Why do they insist on spending two or three times as much on arms as on education and health of their people?
  • Why do they have 20 times more soldiers than doctors?
  • How can they find resources for air-conditioned jeeps for their military generals when they lack even windowless schoolrooms for their children?”

Unfortunately, Dr Haq is living no more. He could not see the 21st Century, but how he has defined security and what questions he has asked to the third world leaders has opened new horizon for a 21st Century world. The questions he asked to third world leaders have become relevant to all global leaders from Barrack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to Manmohan Singh, Asif Ali Zardari and Kim Jong un. If Obama, Jinping, Putin and Singh have, courage to ask those questions with other countries and have courage to answer them to their fellow citizens it will be a grand step toward a nuclear free world.

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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