Nuclear Threat Initiative has recently issued the fifth edition of its biennial report titled “Losing Focus in a Disorder World”. As this year’s title suggests, the progress to secure nuclear material and facilities has slowed significantly in amidst of complex and catastrophic threats at the global level. These include; climate change, radiological dirty bomb, the threat of nuclear terrorism, cyber threats, misinformation, disinformation disruptive technologies, and the global pandemic. In this year’s report, NTI also released a first of its kind Radioactive Source Security Assessment.
The report maintained that these materials should be secured properly so that the possibility of their use as a dirty bomb could be minimized. Though this would not be an existential threat, it’s psychological, environmental, and financial consequences will be enormous. For instance, the area around any such detonation would become inhabitable for years. Similarly, threats from radioactive materials need to be addressed because they are used for research, agriculture, medicine, and industries.
Other than Radioactive Source Security Assessment, NTI Report has two thefts; Secure Material and Support Global Efforts, and one Sabotage category. Theft-Secure Material category assesses measures and actions in 22 countries that hold 1 kilogram and more of weapons-usable materials. Likewise, the category of Theft-Support Global Efforts assesses the actions taken by 153 countries and Taiwan with less than 1 Kilogram of or no weapon usable nuclear materials. Both of these categories have been part of NTI Reports since its first edition back in 2012. However, the “Sabotage: Protect Facilities” category was firstly added in 2016 NTI Report, and since then is part of NTI biennial reports. The Sabotage category is about assessing the security of nuclear facilities against sabotage in 46 countries and Taiwan. The term nuclear facilities include; nuclear power reactors and research reactors with 2 megawatts or greater capacity, reprocessing facilities, and spent fuel pools.
For Pakistan, the NTI index report 2020 is quite significant as it appreciates Pakistan’s commitment to nuclear safety and security. This year’s report has ranked Pakistan as one of the most improved countries in theft ranking of weapon usable nuclear material with an addition of 7+points overall. Pakistan’s overall score in sabotage category is 58 out of 100, with 33rd position, better than its regional counterpart. Pakistan has improved its ranking with overall 5 points. In the sub-category of nuclear sites, Pakistan’s score is 80+, which is very high score. Furthermore, for various other categories, Pakistan has achieved 58+ points in global norms, 89+ points in domestic commitments, and capacity and 16 points in the sub-category of the risk environment. Similarly, for onsite physical protection in the sabotage category, Pakistan has been awarded 20+ points. Although NTI is apprehensive about the condition of cyber-security and security culture in nuclear facilities all over the world, but 25+ points were given to Pakistan in both these categories for its extra ordinary efforts.
As the fact remains, that the NTI, is a non-profit organization not mandated by any state. So, its findings are prone to certain pre-assumptions and biases. Therefore, rankings and index issued by the NTI are not the final verdicts regarding any assessment it has made. Although NTI has a very elaborative framework and category system for analyzing the data is gathered on the base of a few pre-conceived assumptions, which makes the scores given to the countries more questionable. For instance, the NTI index assumed that more nuclear material and facilities mean more chances of an accident or illicit activity. However, the state can have more nuclear material with effective and detailed policies and measures. Moreover, in the sabotage category, if a country is scoring high in domestic commitments and capacity sub-category and security and control measures sub-category, it means it realizes threats to its facilities and material from the outside environment. Any such state should be given score in risk environment as well because they are managing their risks well. These measures are interlinked, how can a state securing good score in the protection of its material and facilities (meaning strong control and regulations measures) can score low in threats from illicit activities from non-state actors. Risk is an external factor, which cannot be eliminated; it can be only be managed, which most of the states are doing.
Reports from organizations like NTI are not the Gospel truth, but they do help in the creation of the academic and general discourse/narrative. Hence, it is of importance that this year NTI finally recognized Pakistan’s commitment towards the safety and security of its nuclear material and facilities.
*Ahyousha Khan, Research Associate, Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad