By Sher Bano*
Ever since nuclear weapons have been developed, they have been the key component of the global strategic discourse based on their horrid probabilities. The nuclear disaster like Chernobyl that occurred during the safety test on ‘Reaktor bolshoy moshchnosty kanalny’, a high-power channel reactor (RBMK type) resulted in the death of a lot of people due to acute radiation exposure. This incident has built perceptions like the possibility of meltdowns near to large metropolitan areas causing an unimaginable catastrophe. In a more recent age, such scenarios have been eclipsed by one simple concern: what if terrorist organizations, through insider assistance, can acquire nuclear material? Terrorist organizations are integrated and sophisticated entities operating on multifarious levels of local, national, regional, and global platforms. Their access to the cyber-world, black markets, and human resources is evident from their magnitude of influence. For states maintaining nuclear facilities, civilian and/or nuclear, standards are set much higher. From fissile material to technical data, nuclear waste to outdated equipment, anything that has the potential to question national security is crucial in terms of securitization. To analyze these concerns a US-based non-profit organization ‘Nuclear Threat Initiative’ biennially publishes a report called NTI Index. Its purpose is to further strengthen the nuclear security of the states possessing nuclear material by recommending necessary measures that the governments need to take in this regard.
NTI index has three separate rankings which include two theft rankings and one sabotage ranking. According to the theft ranking of the 2020 NTI report, Pakistan has been assessed as the most improved country in terms of security of the nuclear material based on its nuclear security framework. Pakistan has been ranked 19th with a total of 47 points on the grading scale. It is important to highlight that most of the improvement has been identified in the category of ‘Security and Control’ measures with 25 points. Other than this Pakistan has also improved in the category of compliance with the ‘Global Norms’. According to the report, it has strengthened laws and regulations that resulted in a significant boost in Pakistan’s overall score.
It is worth mentioning here that there have never been any incidents like nuclear theft, nuclear accident, or kidnapping of any official related to the nuclear program. This has been ensured with the provision of a strong command and control structure of Pakistan’s nuclear installations. These installations function under a very secure and strict framework in compliance with the international practices of nuclear safety and security. That is why despite successfully fighting a war against terrorism for the last 15 years, nuclear weapons or nuclear materials have never fallen into wrong hands. In fact, with time, Pakistan has further enhanced its credibility as a responsible nuclear state primarily because of the adherence to international nuclear safety and security framework. In this regard, the safety of nuclear assets has always been the primary focus of both military and civil authorities. Contrary to such an adherence, there has been widespread propaganda at the global level against Pakistan’s nuclear weapons going into the hands of anti-state entities. However, Pakistan’s strong and secure nuclear security structure has proven that even considering the possibility of such action would be ridiculous. Nuclear assets of Pakistan have not been kept in one place; in fact, they are kept in the unassembled form under well secured physical and technical protection at various places across the country. Other than that Pakistan has a regulatory regime that covers all matters related to nuclear security and safety such as material accounting and control. These are aimed to prevent illegal trafficking, protect facilities and materials, and plan how to deal with radiological emergencies with NEMS (nuclear emergency management systems).
The report has also suggested some important steps that Pakistan needs to take to enhance its nuclear security structure. For instance, Pakistan needs to have more strict control and accounting measures. It has further suggested that Pakistan should also ratify the International Convention for Suppression of nuclear terrorism to prevent or prosecute any act of nuclear terrorism in the future. Furthermore, it urged Pakistan to voluntarily support IAEA which means that Pakistan will contribute to the nuclear security fund and will take part in the International Conferences of the IAEA on nuclear security. Similarly, it has also recommended Pakistan to further strengthen the regulations on insider threat prevention. According to the convention on the physical protection of nuclear material article 14.1, Pakistan must submit information to IAEA. Pakistan, in order to make its nuclear security regime even more sustainable and to address international propaganda, might need to be more open in sharing information related to its nuclear security measures. In this regard, Pakistan can invite IAEA to conduct IPPAS (International Physical Protection Advisory Service) mission, whose purpose is to help states further strengthen the national security regime.
According to the report, the overall international efforts to secure nuclear material against theft have slowed down in the past few years. There has been an increase in the declining score of the countries since 2012. This decline suggests that without any Nuclear Security summits and international events on nuclear security since 2012, the threats to nuclear security have increased globally. Other than that various terrorist events and cyber-attacks have made the global environment more hostile. Hence in such an international environment, Pakistan must continue playing its part to reduce the nuclear threat and to strengthen the global nuclear security regime.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.