India And Nuclear Terrorism: Meeting The Threat – Analysis
By PR Chari
Nuclear Terrorism: Is the threat exaggerated?
To play the Devil’s Advocate, it is not easy for unauthorized persons to acquire nuclear weapons or nuclear materials. Being crown jewels, they would be closely guarded by trusted cohorts. Even if they are subverted, the terrorists would have to overcome many other problems. Nuclear warheads are maintained in an unarmed state, and armed using electronic codes to ensure against accidental detonation. These codes are kept secret by the ‘release authority’, obviously the Chief Executive in the nation. Further, in the case of India and Pakistan, nuclear cores are kept separate from the warheads and delivery vehicles; hence several steps have to be taken by different bodies to arm these weapons. Could all these hurdles be surmounted by a terrorist group?
Second, the problems faced to acquire nuclear materials is no less acute. Arrangements for their protection would be equally stringent. Should a terrorist group somehow gain access to weapons-usable nuclear materials, fashioning it into a deliverable nuclear weapon is not a trivial task.
Third, scenario builders have also visualized terrorist organizations gaining control over the nation, and accessing its military nuclear program and nuclear weapons. But the probability of all these events occurring must be rated low.
Nuclear Terrorism: Low Probability, but High Consequence
Despite the above, it is known that senior Pakistani scientists were in touch with Osama bin Laden. The CIA has highlighted al Qaeda’s general interest in weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. Al Qaeda’s branches and franchisees span the world. Moreover, several instances are known of missing nuclear materials being recovered. More alarmingly, nuclear materials have been found to be missing after they were recovered. Nuclear terrorism remains a discrete possibility; hence it should be designated a low probability high consequence event.
An imperative need consequently for the upcoming Netherlands Nuclear Security Summit to work towards establishing tighter international controls over nuclear materials; seeking greater transparency on national measures to enhance nuclear security; gaining more adherents for international agreements pertaining to the physical protection of nuclear materials; reducing the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium in national nuclear programs; registering the sources of radioactive materials that have extensive medical, educational and research applications; and strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).