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World should worry about US' 'loose nukes': Pak expert

World should worry about US' 'loose nukes': Pak expert

Author: Sheela Bhatt
Publication: Rediff.com
Date: February 5, 2008
URL: http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/feb/05usnuke.htm

Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, Shireen M Mazari blasted critics who feel that Pakistan's nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists.

Not about Pakistan's nuclear stock, but the world should worry about Unites States' "loose nukes", she said while speaking at the 10th Asian Security Conference on 'Asian Security in the 21st Century'.

Her smartly-drafted paper concerned the threat of nuclear proliferation among non-state actors in Asia. She strongly recommended that Pakistan and India needed to be accommodated within the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty as nuclear weapon states, which means altering Article IX of the treaty.

Mazari turned her critical argument against notorious nuclear proliferator Dr A Q Khan on its head.

"Why should he (Dr Khan) be punished when he did not break any of Pakistan's international commitments?" She asked. "Why does nobody talk about his counterparts in other countries who break the laws of their countries?" she added.

Mazari stunned the audience when she said, "What wrong did A Q Khan do? At best he can be charged for corruption."

"Are you going to penalise the US for proliferating to Israel? Are you going to penalise France for selling illegally Heavy Water to Israel?" She argued that there is no ground to offer Dr Khan for interrogation outside Pakistan.

While arguing about nuclear bombs falling into terrorists' hands, she said, "That non-state actors -- primarily terrorists or other groups using violence for their political ends -- would want to acquire nuclear weapons is a highly contentious assumption. Let me state at the outset that in my view non-state actors are not a major concern in the nuclear proliferation context," she spoke unambiguously.

Her argument was based on the logic that nuclear weapons are difficult to manage and given the political agenda of the non-state actors in question, may have such a devastating destructive effect that the end for which they were to be used would be destroyed.

She also said that small nukes still have to be perfected even by the US in the sense that they want to resume nuclear testing post-9/11, especially in the context of such weapons -- as reflected in the Nuclear Posture Review of 2002.

"Purely from the operational point of view, in the context of terrorism, the target and victim are separate entities and destruction of the victim is intended to send a message to the target. But with the fallout from the use of nuclear weapons, the separation will be difficult to sustain," Mazari said.

"Terrorists are on the move and have a mobile strategic doctrine. Nuclear weapons are not like guns or other small conventional arms that can simply be carried around endlessly," she said.

"So, logic suggests that nuclear weapons will not be a weapon of choice for terrorists. This is not to say that other Weapons of Mass Destruction, especially chemical weapons, as happened in Japan in the 90s (see details below), do not hold an attraction for terrorist groups," Mazari added.

She blamed the US for the manner in which it is carrying on the global war on terror.

"The terrorists already have access to enough destructive capability within conventional means, so their need for nuclear weapons is simply not there. In fact, the manner in which the US is conducting its global war on terror, with a focus on a military-centric strategy, is itself creating increasing space for terrorists across the globe -- instead of denying them space," Mazari said.

She said if compared to Asian countries it is Russia and the US who have met with nuclear accidents. She even praised India's record of nuclear safety. She said, "Especially post-1998, there have been no reports of major safety issues within India's nuclear facilities nor of any theft of material post-2001."

The 44 countries that are recognised as having nuclear research reactors and whose ratification is required for the operationalisation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty include 10 countries of Asia except Turkey and Israel.

"Of these 10 states, four, if one counts North Korea, are nuclear weapon states and another has a substantive nuclear capability including a large fast breeder and reprocessing capacity. Barring a few reported incidents of leakage or radiation in the early stages of the development of some of these countries' nuclear programmes, no major accident has occurred in Asia similar to Three Mile Island (US) or Chernobyl (Russia)," she said.

However, while quoting Indian Parliament records she said that 147 mishaps or safety-related unusual occurrences were reported between 1995-1998 in Indian atomic energy plants. Of these, 28 were of an acute nature and nine of these 28 occurred in the nuclear power installations.

"From my vantage point, this whole cacophony of non-state actors seeking and acquiring nuclear weapons, that has arisen from the US and been taken up by its allies is more a strategy of victimising particular states seen as untrustworthy in terms of loyalty to the US and its interests, who are looking to independence in civil nuclear power capability or who have acquired nuclear weapons capability," she said.

While speaking of Pakistan's nuclear establishments she claimed in her paper, "In an effort to allay international concerns about the safety of its nuclear assets, Pakistan has periodically briefed local and foreign media as well as diplomats in detail about its command and control authority as well as the management structures."

The latest briefing in this connection was held last month and among the invitees were representatives of the Indian media and the Indian defence attache based in Islamabad.

So far no other nuclear weapon state has been so open about its command and control structures, she claimed. She explained to international audience at the IDSA Conference how Pakistan has taken enough steps to safeguard its nuclear establishments.

She said Pakistan's National Command Authority was formally set up in February 2000. It is responsible for policy formulation and controls the development and employment over all strategic nuclear forces and strategic organisations.

Pakistan also created its Nuclear Regulatory Authority for civilian nuclear matters in 2001. Mazari said, "It is an independent authority responsible for licensing of power plants and registration of all radioactive materials (including hospital equipment -- beginning with military hospitals), including imports and disposal, power plants safety."

Pakistan's Export Control Act 2004 was enacted in September 2004 after four years of extensive inter-ministerial processes starting 2000.

This Export Control Act does not mention the terrorists through the explicit use of the term. But, Mazari said, "It effectively does cover non-state actors through the preamble and Article I, which lays down the extent of its application."

"Indian law in this regard mentions non-state actor/terrorist in its preamble and Section 4 (g) & (m), which defines certain terms used in the act," she added.

Mazari's argument was harshest when she spoke about the US. "Given the extremists and psychologically disturbed personnel within the US military -- remember Abu Ghraib -- and the tendency of the US to bring in the private sector into the management of security, the international community should have some contingency plan to prevent the loose nukes incident being repeated again in the US," she said.

She said sarcastically, referring to President George W Bush without mentioning his name, "The danger is even more acute because religious extremists in the form of born-again Christians actually hold office in that country."


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