LOOSE - NUKES: AMERICAN OBSESSION OR REALITY?
Columnist MARIA SULTAN gives her impressions about nuclear weapons in the hands of non-traditional nuclear states and the US reaction to this
The end of the cold war has drastically altered the bipolar world order and the traditional east-west rivalry between Moscow and Washington, has given way to a tentative cooperation between the two arch-enemies. However, with the end of the cold war, there is also a growing sense of the fear of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and that nuclear fissile material is being smuggled out of Russia. The mere existence of the weapons in the black market further compounds the risk, of these weapons and the fissile material, reaching the hands of terrorist groups, 'rouge states', or regional powers which would, in turn, seriously jeoparadise the security of the entire world.
The proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction is likely to emanate from the weapon stock-piles of the former Soviet Union. The 'new threat' is basically split into three dimensions or major challenges to the US security.
The first was to secure and consolidate the Soviet Union's far-flung arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, the type which would be most useful to a terrorist group or rouge state in search of an instant nuclear capability. The second challenge was to cope with the fact that Soviet strategic nuclear weapons - principally its nuclear-armed-intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM's) were located in four of the Soviet successor states, raising the prospect that the demise of Soviet Union might result in the emergence of several states with intercontinental forces. Finally; the third post-Soviet challenge was and remains to prevent leakage of nuclear weapons or weapons usable material from Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union.1 Hence, in short, the era of superterrorism or nuclear terrorism has arrived which has been compounded by Soviet Empire's continued economic crumbling and the alleged seizure of fissile material in Germany and other parts of Europe.
The explicit danger from Russia derives from the fear that nuclear weapons and materials are being stored in installations that lack adequate security, which are themselves located inside a highly unstable country.2 The risk therefore, is that the former Soviet nuclear weapons and materials for economic and other compulsions may find their way into the hands of 'rouge states'. 'The American and Russian policies have not yet begun to address this problem in a manner that is commensurate with their stakes in the issue'.3 In addition to the proliferation of fissile material, the passive threat, emergent after the demise of Soviet Union is the high possibility of brain-drain from the former Soviet Union or the transfer of technological know-how by Soviet scientists to terrorist organizations 'rouge states', or the threshold nuclear states which would expedite their on-going nuclear programmes in their quest for attaining nuclear capability.
Loose Nukes: Conceptual Aspects
The theory of 'Loose Nukes' basically constitutes two basic dimensions, one, aiming at the leakage of nuclear fissile material from Russia and its policy implications on the United States of America. The second, essentially relates to the phenomenon of nuclear terrorism and its high probability occurrence in the world today. However, the element common to both of these aspects is the projected presence of the third party or terrorist groups, states or organizations who may realize their dream of having possession of nuclear weapons. This has seemingly attained a real dimension with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, its growing economic instability, unsecured fissile material sites and the vulnerabilities of their scientific community.
The theory of Loose Nukes has been promulgated by a set of arguments and propositions to sustain the assumptions. With respect to the fissile material leakage, it is being held that it is already occurring and weapons grade nuclear material from the former Soviet Union is being diverted and that it could get much worse in frequency and magnitude. Second, the assumption made is that in the post-cold war international environment nothing constitutes greater threat to the US security interest than the nuclear leakage and that the US response to the threat has been utterly insufficient and the level of effort does not equal the US stakes in this respect. The arguments are based on the 'facts' that nuclear knowhow related to the manufacture of crude atomic device is easily available and the most convenient access can be found in the classics such as Los Alamos premier: First lectures on how to build an atomic bomb. (Although not exactly a blue print, the book is considered a good guide to the physics of nuclear fission.4 The latest information flow on the information super-highway i.e., the internet, e.g. articles written by Daud Pota etc. have further elaborated or so to speak lessened the risk of potential access to such classified information for the parties concerned.
There is yet an emergence of a new kind of terrorism. From the nerve gas attack in Tokyo to the World Trade Centre attack in 1993 to the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, there is now a new breed of terrorists, who are fundamentalists or religiously motivated fanatic groups bent on causing mass death and destruction for achieving political ends.5' All the three attacks reinforce the idea that the age of superterrorism has arrived and there are all the indications that in future, the US soil will be made a terrorist target as propounded by former national security council official retired Lt. Gen. Robert Schweitzer: 'The Trade Centre bombing proved that trans-national terrorist groups are targeting the United States'.6 In addition to the possibility of the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists the possibility of rogue states getting their hands on fissile nuclear material brings a new dimension to the proliferation challenge that USA faces according to Michael Mazoar an analyst with the centre of strategic and international studies: 'the smuggling of weapons grade nuclear material to rogue states would be the most dangerous type of proliferation by far. All the country would have to do is to design the weapon itself, which is not that demanding technologically. Because you don't know where the weapon programme is, you have no military option nor is it time to a visible production programme that would allow you to get international sanctions.7 Last but not the least the theory contends that the proliferation problem has attained a new impetus as an era of neo-non proliferation has arrived: 'The spread of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them has already advanced so far that the important question is no longer how to stop their proliferation, but how to prevent them from being used.8
The fundamental question now is how USA would respond to the threat as it is localized, that common non-proliferation regime is most likely to fail in addressing the proliferation problem, especially compounded by 'Loose Nuke' phenomenon. Hence the State Department's counter proliferation initiative9 quietly adopted by Clinton in 1993, aimed at tackling the problem more vigorously in taking adequate defensive measures against proliferation through terrorism.
The deteriorating condition of the Soviet Nuclear arsenal, due to its economic malfunctioning is being addressed by initiatives such as Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Programme (an overall aid package to Russia) does not fully commensurate the problem of 'Loose Nukes'. Therefore more direct efforts are considered desirable to counter the challenge, which the USA now encounters. In this regard emphasis on counter proliferation initiative (CPI) is greatly being hailed by both USA and its allies.
Loose Nukes - Definitional Imperatives
There is some inherent looseness in the definitional aspects of the 'Loose Nukes' concept.
During the cold war era, 'Deterrence' was the central concept and proliferation of Nuclear Weapons through the non-proliferation regime was kept in check and limits through the mobilization of world public opinion and international structures, barring few threshold states. Things seemed to be quite well under control, however, the end of cold war has unleashed an ever present Frankstein of mass proliferation of Nuclear materials mainly due to the falling apart of erstwhile Soviet Union (S.U.).
The functional incremental capability of this new threat from the dismantled Empire is based on the following assumptions.
US Measures for Nuclear Material Security
The problem of Loose Nukes is seen as a paramount concern by US government. Earlier the year 1996 a classified CIA report on the danger of Loose Nukes from the former Soviet Union was delivered to President Bill Clinton. As a result, says spector, a classified 'special order has been issued to the Pentagon, making the situation America's 'number one security priority'. The order remains secret for fear, that publicity could trigger a backlash in Russia and cause problems for Boris Yeltsen.13
Similarly Gur contends, that Russian nuclear arsenals have been privatized and are prey to gangs of criminals. If this trade is not tackled head on, the risk of nuclear terrorism, both individual and state sponsored, in the next decade will be unprecedented.14
In short, due to responsive transitional mobility of the Loose Nuke problem the USA has taken a multidimensional approach. Accordingly in 1994, Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12938 stating that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means consolidate an usual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of United States.15
In this regard, the US Defence Counter Proliferation Initiative (DCI) has attempted to develop a balanced multitiered approach to counter proliferation,16 the official US definition of counter proliferation refers to 'the full range of US efforts to combat proliferation, including diplomacy, arms control, export control and intelligence collection and analysis with particular responsibility for assuring that US forces and interests can be protected, should they confront an adversary armed with weapons of mass destruction and missiles.17
The US department of defence is currently focusing its investments in the military systems to support counter proliferation in four areas; passive defence; active defence; counter defence, and measures to counter paramilitary covert and terrorist NBC threats. The programmes outlined below represents new ongoing department of defence's projects and new initiatives strongly related to counter proliferation.
It involves military capabilities that provide protection against NBC weapons effects. Passive defence programme involves contamination avoidance, force protective and decontamination (approximately $ 30 million has been budgeted in F Y 1996 for these elements of passive defence).
This fact of counter proliferation involves programmes that improve capabilities to detect, track, identify, intercept, destroy and neutralize NBC war heads delivered by airborne launch platforms, ballistic missiles and cruise missile, while minimizing collateral effects. It is also continuing to implement the new priorities established for ballistic missile defence, identified in the department-wise bottom up review. (The new priorities respond to the end of cold war).
Measures to Counter Paramilitary, Covert and Terrorist Threats
Acquisition investment in this category are intended to protect military and civilian personnel facilities and logistical/mobilization nodes from the special class of NBC threats, both in USA and overseas (this category of threat is increasing).
Intelligence: Effective intelligence support is critical to all aspects of Department of Defence (DOD) counter proliferation initiative. The intelligence community would provide accurate and timely intelligence assessments on the motivations and plans of leaders in states that may select to develop NBC to the clandestine procurement networks used by states to terrorist groups and organizations, to movements, intentions, capabilities and activities of transitional groups such as ethnic or regional movements by the suspected proliferants.
The sum up, proliferation prevention is USA's primary objective and DOD contributions to proliferation prevention is part of a coordinated national effort, involving multiple departments and agencies, allied states and international organizations. Defence Department support includes Nunn Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CIR) programme, export control activities and department of defence's inspection verification and enforcement support for the treaties and arms control regimes that limit NBC weapons and the associated delivery systems. The Defence Department also plays an important role in the four thrusts involved in the proliferation prevention, denial, reassurance, dissuasion and actions to reverse proliferation.18
In addition to the department of defence and Bill Clinton's counter proliferation initiative, which was quietly adopted as US policy in June, 1993.19 US measures for handling the Loose Nuke problem especially in regard to a terrorist group using a nuclear device on the US territory. United States of America has a especially trained bomb squad commonly known as Nuclear Emergency Search Teams (NESTS), under the US department of energy, basically deals with civilian criminal nuclear weapons. The role of NEST is to deal with a nuclear device in such a manner that it cannot produce a nuclear yield. NEST members are volunteers, however, the team's size would depend on the threat but its mission would be the same: search for device, pinpoint its potential for a nuclear yield and disable, i.e. neutralize a bomb. NEST can also call in the department of energy in aerial surveillance aircraft normally used to monitor nuclear power plants and mining sites to find radiation spots.20 NEST would basically be used as back-up for the FBI lead to respond to nuclear terrorism in the United States of America (it can move to any location in USA at an extremely short notice). In order to compound the security problem i.e., of the insecure nuclear sites in former Russia and the relevant Loose Nuke problems.
America has taken various credible steps in securing the vulnerable questioned sites in both Russia and the newly independent Central Asian Nuclear State i.e. Kazakistan. Ukraine and Belarus. The most effective effort made in this direction has been the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programme (CTR)21 to assist in the dismantlement of Soviet Union's Strategic offensive arms, but in a larger context CTR is only one component of a larger threat reduction umbrellas. Other components included, under the Umbrella are military to military contact programmes, safeguards transparency and irreversibility (SII), talks and other various confidence building measures.22 Uptil now USA has committed 1.27 billion to assist the states of the former Soviet Union in safely disposing of their weapons of mass destruction, included in this programme are initiatives to help ensure the security of nuclear weapons under transport to dismantlement facilities; financial and technical assistance in the designs of new nuclear material storage facilities and improvements in control and accountability system in Russia; establishment of science and technology centres in Moscow and Kiev to provide employment for several thousand nuclear weapon scientists and engineers.
US thinks that as the brain drain is going to cause the incalculable proliferation challenge, special efforts have been and are being made by the US to accommodate the former Soviet republic's scientists' community either in America or Europe or to give special aid packages to the former Soviet Union to put a block on the migration of Soviet scientists to rogue state; threshold nuclear states or terrorist organizations. In addition, the US department of energy's national laboratories are working closely with their Russian counterparts to improve security, mainly by transferring commercially available technology to former Soviet Union.23
Other efforts include CIA and state departments efforts such as done in Kazakistan by 'Operation Sapphire'.24 Ultimately it would not be wrong to state that the US measures to secure the fissile material from former Soviet Union include a whole panorama of measures or efforts led by the US Government.
Dangers of Nuclear Theft: Pilferage Issues and the Reality Calculus
Since 1991 the press has been filled with stories of pilferage nuclear smuggling from the former Soviet Union. Reflecting this reality, is the German federal police report showing the increasing numbers of suspected nuclear crimes in Germany: 41 in 1991, 158 in 1992, 241 in 1993 and 267 in 1994. German federal intelligence service estimates that there were 124 nuclear smuggling cases world wide in 1994, compared with 53 in 1992. Some 30 to 50 percent of the cases admittedly entailed fraudulent claims, that is either the seller could not gain access or could not deliver the promised challenge.25 Seizures of radioactive material have also been reported in other parts of western Europe mainly Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and Austria etc.26
In short, there seems to be a general trend of nuclear smugglers to sell their merchandise in western Europe, despite many effective seizures made by the western European authorities in regard to this problem. Literally hundreds of incidents have been reported since the end of cold war. However, majority of them have been or have not involved weapon usable material. Since 1992 there have been six well-known cases of theft or illicit trafficking. an employee stole approximately 3.7 pounds of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) from the Scientific Production Association at Padolsk, Russia in mid-1992.27
Though the risk analysts, believe fundamentally that nuclear trafficking is taking place in the former Russia however, it is viewed as rudimentary, basically on account of the fact the seizures made by the German, Russian or European authorities mainly precluded nuclear materials which could be characterized in international market as radio active junk and they comprised low grade uranium (in pellet or oxide form-strontium 90, cesium 137).28 Though there have been reportedly three and six cases according to various information where high quality of uranium has been seized but the synchronized third generation time phase has basically resulted in very less amount of the desired nuclear material. The much publicized nuclear theft in this regard has been of 0.8 gram sample of 87.7 percent pure uranium, 235 gm in Bavarian town of Landshtut. Similarly mixed oxide atomic fuel of 363 grams of plutonium was found from the luggage of a Colombian national and two Spaniards.29 Pilferage is basically, thought to be accruing from the following avenue, the fissile material smuggled from the former Soviet Union from Nuclear Research Institutes, secondly from the newly independent Central Asian States with considerable nuclear capabilities (namely Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakistan). However, due to Kazakistan Muslim identify fear of terrorist having direct en routes have been more widely projected. Thirdly, dismantling of nuclear weapons is accruing both in former Soviet Union and USA under START-I auspices. Proliferation is most likely to be somewhere downstream in the dismantlement process and not from frontline Russia nuclear weapons.30 The great emphasis laid by the high believers of Loose Nuke problem on this aspect of pilferage is due to the uncanny belief that though uptill now, not large, quantity of proliferation of nuclear material has happened from former Soviet Union's dismantled nuclear arsenal but the fact remains that even a small traction of the fissile material from Russian weapons could create a small nuclear weapons arsenal that could upset a regional balance of power or expedite threshold state i.e. India, Pakistan or Israeli nuclear programmes or that of the rouge states. Similar is the case with respect to the possible brain drain of Russian scientists to these potential actors of nuclear politics. In this arena of the actors, Iran and Iraq are seen as the potential destabilizers of the status-quo of international power configuration.
On the Nuclear front, Iran is intensely shopping for all of the critical components needed and hiring nuclear scientists. They have acquired nuclear technology from Russia, Pakistan, China, some European companies and the former Soviet Republics like Ukraine, Kazakistan, Turkmenistan and AzerBaijan.31
Similar views are held for actors such as Iraq. Sadam or any successor, will seek to rebuild Iraq's conventional military forces and reconstruct its nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) warfare and ballistic missile capability.32
The proliferation of Nuclear fissile material has been compounded by the presence of active mafia interests and economic disintegration of the former Soviet Union. Though the theory of nuclear danger sounds pretty logical it is necessary to view it closely. The proponents of the 'Loose Nuke' problem claim that the end of proliferation chain lies with actors such as Iraq, Iran, Pakistan or North Korea. However, a most fascinating detail seen in uranium seizures around the world has been that all seizures have been made either in Germany or Western Europe (though majority of them have included false alarms or low grade nuclear material). Now this seems a bit confusing i.e. why would the proliferants use a European route for the delivery of goods, especially when there are routine reports of seizure there, and why is it so that they don't use an East Asian channel or may be a more direct channel, through Afghanistan. The only explanation given in this regards is that Germany is more strategically placed as it is here that East and West Europe meet. Though this fact may be valid but as regards a clandestine operation, it seem a bit far-fetched. Besides, parallel logistical capacity seems to invalidate this argument.
It is said that proliferation is most likely to occur from the dismantled weapons. There seems to be a dichotomy as all weapons were dismantled under Russian and American supervision. In addition, to this, in Nov. 1994, the Nunn Lugar programme partially funded the removal of 600 kg of HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) to USA from Kazakistan. US provided assistance, total about nearly $500 million to Russia, Belarus, Kazakistan and Ukraine under the same programme; categories of assistance included destruction, dismantlement, chain of custody and demilitarization.33 Now this is a bit peculiar situation because USA is assisting former Soviet Union, then how is pilferage possible from these arsenals without American consent as their strong stance about proliferation exists.
Similar views were held about former Russian states such as Belarus, Ukraine, and especially Kazakistan. The great load of proliferation threat was laid on Kazakistan. Due to her being a Muslim State, and holder of uranium excavation sites, in addition to bad economic situation. The rouge states or threshold states were most likely to select this site for nuclear material smuggling, this is a highly fascinating view because facts on ground depict a different picture. First of all, these states signed NPT and declared themselves as non-nuclear states and secondly START-I, main crunch of reduction of nuclear weapons was made from the nuclear arsenal of these states. Thirdly, the dismantling process occurred under international inspection (IAEA) and under the NPT framework. Then how proliferation or nuclear smuggling is going to happen in future (with countries having no nuclear potential). And if the security of the sites in question were not under proper safeguards, why then objections were not raised by IAEA? This is a question which has not been fundamentally addressed by either the US government or international media.
Accordingly, it is that stated nuclear smuggling is most likely to occur from these sites because the economic situation is deplorable. All the Central Asian States have high literacy rate as in Kazakistan it is approximately 99%. Owing to the fact that mostly Russian nuclear tests have been occurring in these areas, people have had a general know-how about the ill effects of radiation, especially in Kazakistan since Ulbinsky factory (mail box 10, before 1967), transformed into a nuclear town in 1970 due to a number of ecological and environmental reasons, is now the world's most polluted area'34.
The prevailing public opinion on nuclear tests has been and currently is unfavourable of nuclear programmes, even for commercial purposes35. There seems to be two kinds of theories of nuclear material about the former Soviet Union. amateurs (i.e. employees of nuclear enterprises and storehouses; relatives or friends of nuclear insiders, basically local enthusiasts) or people working or belonging to the Russian Mafia. The fact remains that the security level of these sites has deteriorated but nevertheless not so that anyone can walk in and steal the merchandize. Nuclear power plants are usually computerized sites and it is not easy to take uranium, without the fear of radiation leak or radiation exposure to the potential thieves. When asked from Russian and Kazak officials as regards the security of these sites and the possibility of nuclear theft, the Kazak diplomate said: Stealing from nuclear sites in Kazakistan is impossible. There exists a strict regime and the level of security is very good, be it the nuclear sites for commercial uses or otherwise. Further elaborating his views on the Loose Nuke problem he said, there is no smuggling, no reality, it's a mirage, anyone who will try to steal, he would get caught36. When asked as to what are the possibilities of nuclear mafia or Russian mafia getting involved in the racket of nuclear proliferation, he stated that there does not exist a credible organized crime in Kazakistan, though people are reverting to theft, for various reasons, however, the potential, as such does not exist as the literacy rate is 100% and they have just come out of strict Soviet regime. When asked about the feasibility of nuclear theft from mining sites in Kazakistan, he confirmed that it is impossible and regime protecting the sites is Soviet trained; it is a rumour which travels from one newspaper to another without having actual basis or concrete facts to support the view'.37
After the START-I process and the dismantling of nuclear weapons from the Central Asian States the fear is that Russia would become the world's most concentrated area with respect to the strength of nuclear warheads, and consequently nuclear smuggling potential would increase considerably.
Ambassador James E. Goodby, former principal negotiator for the safeguards, transparency and irreversibility talks, puts it this way: 'No one can afford to be complacent about the existence of nuclear bombs and the material which make them even in smaller numbers38. The threat of nuclear proliferation and concerns about safety and security of Russian stock-piles are real and growing.39 Russia is a party to START-I Treaty and has signed START-II, that will reduce the size of its strategic forces considerably. In February, 1994, State of Union Address, Russian President Boris Yeltsin described one of two priorities for Russia's National Security as strengthening the arrangements governing the non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons and sophisticated technologies and enhancing control over Russia's commercial interest in the sphere40. According to a Russian state official, all the nuclear sites in Russia are under strict protection of Russian army. In addition, each site has its own security services and currently the successors of KGB are looking after the nuclear material security41. When asked that organized crime in Russia is testing the waters for nuclear smuggling, he said that Russian Mafia is strong. But they do not want to get into serious trouble with the authorities and the government as nuclear smuggling is perceived in Russia as a serious crime. He further elaborated that they know that any case of nuclear smuggling would be looked into carefully' 42.
When questioned about the possible brain drain of Russian scientists to terrorist organisations or 'rouge states' etc. He stated Russian borders are open, however, laws pertaining to state security dictate that any scientist who is working for nuclear facilities cannot leave without the government's permission (at least for five years). Similarly in response to the possible threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons from Russian stockpiles, he said: under START-I, both (USA & USSR) exchanged information about old warheads, number of modifications made, and secondly all the weapons and information is listed 43.
When inquired about the negative American response to the Russian sale of a nuclear reactor to Iran or the possibility of proliferation of nuclear fissile material to these states, he stated 'Iran and USSR have been good trading partners, and the nuclear power plant being given to Iran, has no dangers; it is considerably safeguarded' 44. He further strengthened his statement by saying that USA and Russia are major exporters of armaments to the world. It is the economic competition which disturbs USA in this field. They want Russia to lose its major buyers (Iran and Iraq). He said 'USA is using all kind of financial and political influence to direct the interests of its military industrial complex'45. He further added it is a business and financial interest not just a political conflict. It is in reality an economic conflict. As a subsequent response to the proliferation of nuclear material from Russia since the end of cold war, America has given considerable economic aid packages to Russia with nearly independent Soviet states to redress the problem of proliferation. In this regard, from the much publicized Nunn-Lugar programme to Operation Sapphire, there has been considerable progress made on the military to military contacts. 'In 1992 a sister base programme between the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barks-dale (AFB) and a Russian Bomb wing from Ryazan was established. In 1994 and 1995, Russian strategic rocket force (SRF) officers visited US missiles bases and US strategic command headquarters, (US STRATCOM). In a reciprocal visit Admiral Hank Chiles, former (US STRATCOM) Commander in Chief (CinC), met with General Sergeyev. US missileers have visited Russian ICBM sites in USA in July 1996 to reboost on going programme'45. From related aid packages to the agreements of Highly Enriched Uranium '(HEU) deal' 46 signed at Moscow. 'The US department of energy national laboratories are working closely with their Russian counterparts to improve security47. With the on going momentum of proliferation related efforts to confidence building measures between USA and USSR the possibility of leakage of the questioned material seems almost an impossibility (with few exceptions). But then exceptions can also be traced back to the western world or to America so to speak e.g. in the case of Israel's nuclear arsenal and American foreign policy response (the Sampson option). Coming back to the theory of Loose Nukes, no credible evidence has been brought in front of the world and even the most ardent believers of the theory agree to this fact.
Despite considerable evidence of theft and trading activity, the existence of a true black market for nuclear material is difficult to establish. Legitimate buyers of stone radioactive substances are few and far between. Indeed in Europe, the principal buyers are the obvious candidates such as North Korea, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Islamic Jehad representatives or at least, purchases of nuclear contraband by such groups have yet to be demonstrated conclusively. Instead, the market as such seemingly comprises an assortment of police, under cover agents, intelligence operatives, journalists. For example the large 363-gram plutonium shipment from Moscow that was seized in Munich last August was the product of an elaborate sting operation conducted by the Bavarian police and the German police.47
The basic question which arises from the fact that usually the prospect buyers of nuclear fissile material have been intelligence undercover or police agents from Europe and America, is why are these people posing as buyers and by doing what they are doing, is not possible that they themselves are trying to induce a profit motive in Russian society for fissile material smuggling and trying to substantiate a demand cycle for these products in the Soviet States; and why are they trying to create an artificial demand. As uptill now there has been no on record evidence of any possible politerants (Supposed by Loose Nuke theory making the deals). In view of the above statements fundamental question stands still i.e. why are the Americans crying wolf?
Nuclear Terrorism: Possibility of use of the 'Loose Nukes' by terrorists.
Leonard Specter, Director of the nuclear non-proliferation project at Washington based Cargnegie Endowment, says
'There is a race against the clock to get the mass of nuclear material in Russia. Secured before it lands in the hands of terrorist or 'rouge states'. To Russian officials, such tactics are, designed to embarrass Moscow and pressure it to make its nuclear programmes more amenable to united states and its western allies.48
The nightmare that most worries the experts involves, terrorist organizations armed with nuclear weapons. The idea of nuclear terrorism is a concept as old as the beginning of the Cold War. During the Cold War, it was feared by most western analyst that a possible nuclear war between Soviet Union and America would basically be caused by state sponsored nuclear terrorism by Soviet Union or the communist block or the religiously motivated groups or terrorists belonging to the Islamic countries. The theory about the 'Islamic bomb has been rampant in the western press for quite sometime, in which a Muslim terrorist organization gets its hands on a nuclear device and tries to blow up a western capital city. The break up of Soviet Union has further enhanced this concept but before we go into the details of nuclear terrorism due to the Loose Nukes problems, it is necessary to comprehend, what nuclear terrorism stands for? Whether the term nuclear terrorism is used in journalistic or political context it is rarely defined. Risk analysts usually talk about 'Terrorists', 'Rogue States' Threshold States' 'Terrorist organization' and 'organized crime' in the same pretext. But the fact of the matter is that all of them are different actors with possibly different motivations. standings or position in world affairs.
Term Nuclear Terrorism usually describes as an act employing a nuclear device or targeting a nuclear facility.49 However, in the case of Loose Nuke problem 'it is basically rated as the possible threat of a terrorist using nuclear device, which is profoundly portrayed as the threat of portable bomb or a crude nuclear device i.e. home made nuclear bomb. The most common assumptions made in this regard are: (1) since the design of nuclear weapons and their technical principles are well known, especially as regards the most candid information available on the information highway (internet). It is a distinct possibility that terrorists will build their own nuclear weapons. These type of statements have been encouraged by various US State agencies and analysts reports 'In 1977 a study by an office of technological assessments concluded that a very small group without secret information could make a nuclear bomb. And a year later the US Senate Committee on Governmental affairs was told that under certain conditions an individual in possession of proper material, could design a nuclear weapon.50 J. Carson Mark, former head of nuclear weapons' development at Los Alamos does not think that a lone individual could build a bomb. A conflicting view to Taylors who designed the largest as well as the smallest nuclear weapons developed for the USA.51
The most common perception related to the making of A-bomb is, that the hardest component to have an access to its Uranium or nuclear fissile material. According to some research analysts, very less amount of uranium that is highly enriched or plutonium can help in the manufacture of a A-bomb. Before we get into in the debate, how viable is the concept that a terrorist would use a nuclear bomb or a suit case bomb. It is necessary to define who is a terrorist? And what does he stand for i.e. that in the theory. The working definition of department of defence and the CIA for the sake of reporting to Congress, which appears in title 22 of US code section 2656 (fd) is 'the term terrorism means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term 'International Terrorism' means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country. The term 'terrorist group' means any group practising or that has any sub-group that practice international terrorism'.52
Terrorism is a highly value laden term but nevertheless the important aspects to be viewed before declaring a criminal a terrorist is that terrorist is a politically motivated person. Be it in the form of a terrorist organisation or an individual and, the main objective behind terrorist activities is in fact his subsequent dedication to his political motivations or political purpose. The main aim of a terrorist is not to kill but to get as many audience as possible so that his cause is seen with an empathy by people. Terrorists don't want many people dead, they want many people to know. Beside for a terrorist organisation or a terrorist, the commensurate to nuclear blackmail or nuclear terrorism. The demand has to be equally important, therefore goals like the release of a comrade or the acceptance of the organisation as a credible organisation for a cause, usually blackmails of lesser order would do. The current international public opinion to the aversion of nuclear weapons in general, would make it very difficult for any terrorist organization to declare, state sponsors or run away with the loot. As in either case the American retaliatory blow for state sponsors would be heavy and could result in a nuclear strike. In addition, to the above possibility the most salient assumptions made about terrorists, are that they want nuclear devices and are actively pursuing this objective. If these assumptions are bought for instance and the theory that due to break up of former Soviet Union Nuclear fissile material is on the black market. The point to ponder is why has not any terrorist organisation or 'rogue state' or a 'threshold state', bought and used it, it has after all been quite some time since the end of Cold War.
Why is it so that no buyers of the 'rouge states', threshold states, or the 'terrorist community' are being caught in the fissile material seizures are debated over their authenticity of the leakage problem and the possible terrorist use of them. The lack or absence of the supposed buyers from the black market is a bit of enigma. Coming to the theory of rouge state i.e. Iraq or Iran's undying interests in nuclear fissile material it seems to be based on stereotype images rather than actual hard evidence. Currently Iraq is under strict pressure of the USA, it is going through the worst crisis of its history. Secondly, Iran is a signatory to NPT and the IAEA has not been able to provide credible evidence to declare the Iranian nuclear operations with real deviations. The US administration's more serious contentions about Iran's drive to acquire nuclear weapons are problematic. The US government has not produced any hard evidence to support its claims. The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Hans Blix, indirectly criticized Washington's allegations about Iran's trafficking in nuclear materials. He stressed that IAEA inspectors have never seen any diversions of nuclear materials for military ends during regular visits to Iran and have had no difficulties in implementing safeguards agreement.53 American foreign policy suffered a major blow, when America declared Iran as a sponsors of International terrorism and put a complete American trade embargo on Iran and asked its allies to do the same and they refuted the American view.
On the one side when it seems considerably a distinct possibility for any nation state to openly declare itself as a patron of international terrorism and the possibility of the use of nuclear device by a terrorist organisation or any other actor.
Let us dare to venture into the controversial theory of portable nuclear bomb or the use of a crude atomic bomb by terrorists on the USA soil compounded by Loose Nuke problem. According to scientific knowledge about the nuclear device. a crude atomic bomb would be as stated by Munir Ahmed Khan, eminent physicist, 'would need something like 50kg in case of highly enriched uranium and 8 to 10 kg in case of plutonium. The size would be 4 meters in diameter in case of uranium and half of this in case of plutonium'.54 Roughly speaking a crude atomic device would be equal to that of Hiroshima sized 'Fat Man' (atomic bomb). When asked about how real is the threat of portable nuclear weapons possible technology possession by developing, rogue states or terrorist organisations, he stated that 'Portable nuclear weapons are highly sophisticated weapons, currently only few of the major powers have the technology mainly Soviet Union and the United States'55.
Further explaining the possibility of use by potential proliferates he said that 'no developing country can make them, they need tremendous infrastructure and economic resolve'56.
In response to the question that, would a portable bomb have any kind of radiation leak he said that 'there would be out-surface radiation, may not be radiation at ground levels, however, the radiation spots could be easily detected and it would not pass airport security by any means' 57. There has been considerable fear in the western risk analyst community that Russian made Spatnez (suit case bomb) would leak out of former Soviet Union. The interesting part is that there has been no actual seizures of this kind of weapon by any agency anywhere in the world. When asked upon to elaborate the statement that can a nuclear weapon be assembled at the target area by a terrorist, he said that 'for this purpose the material has to be taken in parts, for efficiency purposes it should be divided into 2 to 3 parts. In addition, highly skilled people are necessary plus smuggled nuclear equipment is needed. Over and above, the possibility of a stolen nuclear device would not work as it is to far-fetched.
The most fascinating part in the entire discussion is what role the American Nuclear Emergency Search Teams (NESTs), are going to play. These teams have special equipment to measure radiation and identify radiation sources and they can move to any location in the United States at very short notice. Besides to make a threat credible, terrorists would not only have to seize a nuclear weapon, they would have to number into their ranks someone with special knowledge about a particular nuclear device, i.e. if they steal an entire weapon, because security system such as those used in American Nuclear Weapons commonly known as 'Passive Action Links' (PALS) are also used by the Russians. In addition to this, most of the nuclear weapons are hard to use and transport, due to specific designs, by terrorists, without being caught by the authorities, be it the Russian or American though it is claimed that rampant corruption in Russia, could lead to major proliferation risks or leakage from arsenal. The hard line fact remains that Russia would not want proliferation to take place as it could seriously change the regional balance of power for Russia, as elaborated by the Russian State official. 'Russian government is active on the issue of proliferation, and is doing everything in its power to upgrade any defaults in the security system.58 Time after time, fear of unaccounted fissile material in Russian Nuclear Laboratories is brought on the front, thus an equal security dilemma exists about the American and European Nuclear Stockpiles.
There is too much unaccounted for: In the US alone, at least nine thousand pounds were missing from the books through 1981 ... Some 260 commercial nuclear power plants are operating in the non-communist world today and each has the capacity to produce bomb capable plutonium, some upto 300 kilograms a year - altogether a total of about 45 tonnes a year, equivalent of atleast 6,000 nuclear weapons. It is projected that amount of civilian plutonium in the world will exceed 'super powers' military stockpiles within the next decade. Transport of so much dangerous material in open commerce may well turn out to be 'Achilles heel' of the nuclear industry and a prime target for terrorist theft'.59
The above given facts, elaborate the point that if nuclear theft is to take place and terrorist can have an access to nuclear fissile material, it is not necessary that the only avenue open to them would be from the Russian Nuclear Industry as the sites in west are as susceptible to theft as are their Russian counterparts. On the contrary, due to such extra-ordinary threat perceptions of the US and the west to Russian problem, the level of scrutiny on the Russian side makes it comparatively far more difficult than from anywhere within the USA.
A rusty freighter, controlled by extremists willing to inflict mass slaughter to publicize their cause, heads towards New York city. The entire world media is focused on New York, as the terrorists put forward their claims and demands, a crisis situation prevails in the entire United States. With government in Washington in dire circumstances. The terrorist either belongs to the category of militant Islamic fundamentalists or a former Soviet General, who is humiliated at Soviet Union's current situation and wants to avenge his country's collapse from the leader of the capitalist world, that is, United States of America.
The above given scenario is nothing else than the manifestation of the American fear, of nuclear terrorism. The reality calculus of the situation, has seemed to have gotten a new impetus, due to the break up of former Soviet Union. Leakage of nuclear fissile material and the greater possibility of nuclear devices used by terrorists, rouge states or the threshold states.
American media is rampant with stories of nuclear proliferation from Russia and its future possibilities and anticipations.60 American print media is not alone in its crusade against 'Nuclear terrorism and the Loose-Nuke problem', American electronic media, is closely followed by its allies, fosters the same cause. It is further supported by American intelligentsia and the US State Department's official apprehensions and responses to the 'Loose Nukes' problem, from fictional writings such as the 'The Fifth Horseman' by Fedrick Forseyth (written way back in 1980s) to Movie mania of 1990s ranging from productions such as 'Broken Arrow', 'True Lies' 'Airforce One' 'Under Siege II' 'Golden Eye', 'Hotshots II', 'Austin Powers' etc. The four part presidential campaign of Dick Lugar in which scarce tactics about the threat of nuclear terrorism are used to try and get people to vote for him.61
It seems as if America is preparing itself for the improbable future. The possible use of a nuclear device by terrorist falls into high risk, low probability category. The possibility of nuclear terrorism remains more fancy than facts. It is, however, the favourties bogie man of the threat mongers. Even the bulletin said a year ago in an editorial that 'The possibility that a terrorist group might obtain nuclear weapons is a real danger' a real danger meaning that it is more likely today than in the 1970s when terrorism was far more prevalent and nuclear weapons were stored worldwide, not counting nuclear-armed ships routinely visiting foreign ports.'.62
Nuclear terrorism is a wild card which the Americans are bent upon using in the post Cold War scenario, to get the high moral ground, and to wriggle themselves out of any unwanted policy situations regarding their nuclear policies and nuclear arsenals.
It is a card which the Americans have been using for quite sometime. However, in the post Cold War era, the frequency of the use has on the average been more high.
It is worth remembering that, US governments since a long time have been, over inflating threats to justify to the home public, their level of expenditures on military arsenals especially for the nuclear arsenal.
The justifications given for proceeding with some type of strategic defence initiative, did not concentrate on the threats of a deliberate nuclear attack, but instead emphasized the threats posed by other nuclear states and the ever present possibilities of an accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. President Bush once expressed the need for strategic defences by warning against the danger of renegades.63
Justifying the counter proliferation initiative taken by President Clinton, in the executive order declared the threat of nuclear terrorism as the number one security threat to the United States. Currently Clinton Administration is trying to analyze the viability of a national Threat Missile Defence (TMD) which is viewed by the Russians as an undermining of Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM). In the post Cold War scenario, the enemy is no more as clear for the United States as it was during the Cold War era. Bush acknowledged that the US was no longer facing a monolithic Soviet Union but rather 'the enemy is uncertainty, the enemy is unpredictability.64 And in this climate of uncertainty the 'Loose Nuke' problem, to greater extent, is defined as the new security threat to US and the rationale for continued US Nuclear Superiority even after the Cold War. The counter proliferation is just a step ahead in the same direction. However, the dichotomy present between non-proliferation regime and the spectrum of the new thinking in Washington, based on counter proliferation is a bit hard to comprehend. According to risk analysts, the break up of former Soviet Union has increased the risk of proliferation to non-state actors as well as to rouge and threshold states. As traditional non-proliferation structures have not been and are not fully able to curtail the proliferation problem. The most ardently quoted actors are India, Pakistan and Israel etc.
Parallel transitional contingency of the new spectrum of thinking on proliferation trends concludes that in the post-cold war era non-proliferation regime has had the most success. The recent indefinite extension of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underscores the fact that the vast majority of states continue to see that their security is best served workout nuclear weapons.
States that have eliminated their nuclear programmes or halted them include Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Kazakistan, South Africa and Ukraine. Even North Korea and undeclared nuclear states of India and Pakistan have demonstrated considerable restraint.63
Proliferation studies in the post-Cold War era show a decreasing trend in proliferation practices rather than an increasing trend. Before the end of Cold War and the collapse of Soviet Union, non-proliferations advocates tended to over rate the breath and immediacy of the threat of nuclear dispersion, partly to raise the visibility of the issue on the western security agenda, where it usually came second to the Super Power competition.
'With the transformation of the international system in 1989-91, concern for 'Loose Nukes' assumed top billing on the US-security agenda. Not only did US non-proliferation policy have to cope with previously suspected proliferants, it now has to contend with ex-Soviet weapons in three former Non-Russian Republics, plus nuclear expertise which might migrate from the territory of the former Soviet Union.66
Similarly US National Security Surveys (1993-95) about nuclear security issues in post Cold War era concluded that there has been a rising trend in the belief of nuclear terrorism. Fear of an all-out nuclear attack against US has been replaced by the fear that nuclear weapons will fall into the wrong hand and be used against the US by some smaller country or by extremists and terrorists.67
The above stated perception of threat by the American Public seems to be in direct contrast to the realities on ground. The fact of the matter is that American public has been exposed to the fear of nuclear annihilation for so long that it has become indebted in their psyche to perceive even a very less probable factor relating to Nuclear threat as a very real and live phenomenon.
Ever since the atomic bomb was used on Japan, 53 years ago, Americans have wanted to forget Hiroshima, yet its legacy has seeped deeply, if subtly, through the pores of culture and consciousness.68 Fears of nuclear war was seen differently from the fear of war as it meant the end of the world. The American public went through various stages. Initially it was total denial, closely followed by acceptance and then hysteria due to the Russian accession to Nuclear Club in 1950s. However, during the Cold War it was more a case of 'Psychic numbing' which was to find a safe haven in the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and the concept of deterrence. The end of cold war has once again left the American people with the fear of the unknown but nevertheless the 'psychic havoc' of the bomb subsided (i.e. after Cold War) and almost nobody actively worries about nuclear war any more.69 The American nuclear export controls, have almost followed a similar route to that of American Psycher as elaborated by David Fisher (1) total denial 1946-53. America was coming to terms with its new found power, however, the quick proliferation of nuclear weapons to Russia in close proximity with American allies, France and Britain, followed by China. America changed its policy of 'Atom for peace' to the construction of Non-proliferation regime. Making it sure that the horizontal proliferation is curtailed at all cost, the preceding years after 1967 till present show this perception with ample amounts of evidences to back this view.70
American controversial nuclear non-proliferation policy has been actually a by-product of policy of preponderance which has been actively pursued by the Americans since 1945.
'The link between America's security, its preponderance, and an American led world order was articulated in 'NSC-68', which states that the purpose of American power is to foster a world environment in which American system can survive and flourish and the strategy of preponderance is a policy which (United States) would probably pursue even if there is no Soviet Union'.71
The strategy of preponderance assumes that US has a vital milieu interest in maintaining stability in the international system, underlying the strategy is the fear of what might happen in a world no longer shaped by a predominant US power.71 The post-cold war environment, has given America, the predominant power as far as the nuclear arsenal is concerned. But multilateralism is likely to become an important feature of nuclear politics. It seems as if American obsession with preponderance has led to this paranoia. The threat of 'Loose Nukes', is in fact a keynote of the nuclear politics in the post Cold War era, rather than the actuality on ground. According to George Lanham, former Vice President of RAND Cooperation (a think tank), 'Terrorism is vastly overrated threat in US Society'. He further stated that 'Terrorism is vastly over exaggerated in the US and terrorists are not as real or serious a threat as is claimed'.72 The point brought home from the debate on nuclear terrorism compounded by 'Loose Nuke' problem is that it is in fact a crisis situation in which the low probability of the reality factor is blown out of proportion to justify certain courses of action and policy stands taken by the USA, ranging from exertion of diplomatic pressure on Ukraine. Belarus and Kazakistan to accede to nuclear non-proliferation regime as non-nuclear states, to actual use of power against Iraq to some extent and the excuse for and continued sanction against her, to economic embargoes on Iran, to justify of billions of dollars expenditure on Clinton's counter proliferation initiative, to exertion of pressure on Russia to ratify START-II Treaty, to the need or the desire to put a theatre missile defence (TMD) throughout the US soil. It seems that the 'Loose Nuke' problem has given America the essential pedestal for the High Moral ground of its foreign policy imperatives and the much needed new impetus for America to continue to play a better role in the nuclear politics of the post-cold war era. Because it seems a bit difficult to perceive the correct dimensions of a scenario of nuclear terrorism, which has had no example to show for its glorious past. The underline fact about the Loose Nuke Theory is: that reality exists but its probability to happen in future is very low (as its entirely based on the theory of nuclear terrorism). Though the reality factor is pretty low but the Americans have cried wolf for so long, there exists a fear that it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the highly dynamics security scenario of the post Cold War era where change is the only constant factor, to predict the future, is a highly speculative phenomenon. However, the past and present dimensions of the 'Loose Nukes' problem conclude that its more a matter of threat perceptions and stereotype images rather than a possible threat scenario of the near future.