World’s 5 Major Nuclear Weapon States Now Involved in Syria
With the latest addition of Russia, the world’s five nations with the largest holdings of nuclear weapons are now involved in the Syrian Civil War. An infographic by the Federation of American Scientists can be seen below.
Russia recently joined the fight in the Middle East, with Putin pledging to help root out ISIS in Syria. However, Russian actions seem more inline with propping up the beleaguered Assad regime by attacking Syrian rebels supported by the United States. The New York Times writes:
Russia expanded its bombings on Friday, saying its warplanes struck seven targets, including a command post and training camp near Raqqa, the northeast Syrian city that the Islamic State has converted into the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq. Until now, Russia had hit territory that was not dominated by ISIS but, in some cases, where American-supported rebels were located.
With Russia’s latest actions, nearly 20,000 nuclear bombs are now possibly at play in the Middle East.
Published on 3 August 2014
A new log of incidents obtained from the MoD reveals vehicles have suddenly broken down, fuel has leaked, brakes have overheated, alarms have malfunctioned and many other vital systems have failed in convoys on the move between July 2007 and December 2012.
The convoys, which ferry Trident nuclear warheads to and from the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport on the Clyde, have also gone the wrong way, been delayed, been diverted and lost communications. Incidents have happened on average more than once a month, with by far the highest number – 23 – logged in 2012.
The revelations have drawn fierce criticisms from leading Scottish Nationalist and Labour politicians, as well as campaigners concerned that the convoys’ cargoes pose unique and unacceptable dangers, but the MoD insists they are safe.
Perhaps the most serious incident occurred late in the afternoon of July 25, 2011, when a convoy command vehicle broke down on the northbound carriageway of the M6 near junction 20 in Cheshire.
The commander’s official report of the incident, released with large sections of text blacked out by the MoD, gave a vivid description. The vehicle “suffered a sudden and dramatic loss of power and was forced to pull onto the hard shoulder of the motorway together with the rest of the convoy assets”, he wrote. Nuclear warhead convoys can include up to 20 vehicles.
This blocked the busy road and, according to a truckers’ website, closed two lanes and caused 10-mile tailbacks. The MoD said the vehicle had suffered a “fuel system failure” that turned out to be a manufacturing fault which had to be rectified across the whole fleet.
During a convoy trip in January 2012, five incidents were reported by the MoD, including a “fuse-box failure” and “security system air leak” on the heavy-duty nuclear warhead carrier; a “fire tender brake fault”; and “reduced braking” on a command vehicle. The gun port flap of an escort vehicle also “opened inadvertently”.
A June 2012 convoy ran into problems after it was halted because of a “suspension system defect” in an armoured escort vehicle. “During an unplanned stop to investigate above incident,” the MoD reported, “a manhole cover collapsed under a further escort vehicle.”
In January 2009, a nuclear warhead carrier suffered an “fuse-box failure, meaning a spare truck had to be used. In November 2010, the spare truck itself suffered an “unspecified break down”.
During a rest break in April 2008, a fuel leak was discovered from an escort vehicle as well as an oil leak from a warhead carrier. An escort vehicle’s brakes reportedly overheated in September 2008.
In March 2012, the convoy had to be diverted because of the “proximity of low-flying at MoD establishment”. According to the MoD log, it was often diverted or delayed because of bad weather, traffic congestion, road works or accidents.
Computer software also had to be upgraded after four false alarms wrongly suggested the warhead carrier was overheating. In 2010 and 2011, the convoy’s blue lights, speed sensors, sirens and warning lights failed 11 times.
The locations of most of the incidents have not been disclosed by the MoD, but many will have been on the regular convoys that carry nuclear weapons for maintenance between Coulport and the bomb plants at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire. The convoys have been seen travelling through Glasgow twice this year, on January 29 and early on July 11.
As well as the M6 and the M74, convoys have used eastern routes including the A1, the A68 and the M9. Other cargoes transported around England as part of the UK’s nuclear weapons and submarine programme include plutonium, highly enriched uranium and tritium.
Details of the nuclear convoy mishaps, divided into 56 “engineering incidents” and 14 “operational incidents”, were released to the monitoring and campaign group, Nukewatch, in response to Freedom of Information requests. Details of a further 67 safety incidents during nuclear convoys between January 2000 and June 2007 were previously provided to the Sunday Herald.
“Some of the safety incidents on the MoD’s list were relatively serious and, had bad luck caused events to play out in a different way, could have resulted in harm to motorists, or the convoy crew, or damage to the deadly cargoes,” said Jane Tallents from Nukewatch.
“It only takes a moment’s thought to see that, far from being a benign insurance policy which keeps the public safe, nuclear weapons actually increase the risks that we all face. The MoD should not be moving nuclear weapons around the country if it can’t guarantee to do so safely.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader and defence spokesman, Angus Robertson MP, angrily condemned the MoD’s safety record. “Any one of these incidents should be of huge concern – a catalogue of 70 is utterly unacceptable,” he said.
“In the same month we find out that nuclear bombs trundled through Scotland’s biggest city under cover of darkness, it is revealed that previous convoys have actually gotten lost, suddenly lost power, suffered brake failures and breakdowns.”
He added: “It is dangerous to pull over on any busy road, but unquestionably more dangerous if you are transporting nuclear warheads. If the MoD cannot read a map properly or do basic maintenance, I have virtually no faith that it could respond in a serious emergency.”
Glasgow Labour councillor and former MSP Bill Butler, who convenes Scotland’s nuclear-free group of local authorities, welcomed the Sunday Herald’s revelations. He also highlighted the 20-vehicle nuclear warhead convoy seen going through Glasgow two weeks ago.
“I shudder to think what would have happened if this convoy had been involved in a serious traffic accident or a malicious incident. We now know that convoys are regularly involved in incidents that could easily have become more serious,” he said.
“I urge the MoD to improve its safety record, talk to council emergency planning officers more regularly and reduce the number of convoys running through Scotland. It is another reason why we need to get rid of nuclear weapons.”
A major emergency exercise run by the MoD and other public agencies in September 2011 imagined a nuclear convoy becoming embroiled in a “catastrophic” pile-up on the M74 at Bellshill, near Glasgow. The scenario envisaged a warhead carrier overturning, catching fire, leaking plutonium and uranium, killing two people and contaminating 100 with radioactivity.
In July 2005, the Sunday Herald revealed an internal MoD report warning nuclear warheads could accidentally explode if involved in a major crash. A bomb’s key safety feature could be disabled, enabling a nuclear reaction to unleash a burst of lethal radiation, termed an “inadvertent yield” by the MoD.
But last week the MoD denied that public safety was under threat from nuclear convoys. “The safety of the public is our priority during any movements of our nuclear material, and we monitor all convoys closely,” said an MoD spokeswoman.
“Any incidents, however minor, are recorded and investigated thoroughly and action is taken where appropriate. At no point has the public been put at risk and our nuclear convoys continue to operate safely accompanied at all times by military police.”
President Barack Obama has quietly agreed to a secret ten-year deal with the United Kingdom to collaborate on nuclear weapons technology and materials—sparking concern among advocates of nuclear disarmament, who say the countries should be cooperating to dismantle—not develop—their arsenals.
The deal would extend the terms of a “Mutual Defense Agreement” struck in 1958 between the U.S. and the U.K. that has been renewed regularly since it was formalized, with the most recent renewal in 2004. The agreement has played a critical role in building up the nuclear arsenals of both countries and stems from nuclear cooperation dating to the 1940s.
President Barack Obama said in a message to Congress issued July 24 that he has signed off on a renewal of the deal that will “permit the transfer between the United States and the United Kingdom of classified information concerning atomic weapons; nuclear technology and controlled nuclear information; material and equipment for the development of defense plans; training of personnel; evaluation of potential enemy capability; development of delivery systems; and the research, development, and design of military reactors.”
Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior policy adviser to the secretary of energy under the Clinton administration, told Common Dreams that the latest renewal “will not go into force until a certain amount of time elapses and Congress does nothing to stop it.”
Obama notes that amendments have been added to the agreement regarding “nuclear threat reduction, naval nuclear propulsion, and personnel security.” However, he does not clarify the changes, and the full details of the deal are kept secret in both the U.S. and the U.K.
The U.K.-based watchdog Nuclear Information Service warns in a recent report that the deal with facilitate developments including the creation and stockpiling of nuclear warheads and submarines and the creation of new nuclear research. According to the organization, the “relationship and activities” that the deal enables are not compatible with the obligations of either country under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Alvarez said that the extension of the deal is “business as usual—standard boiler plate stuff” and is likely to breeze through Congress.
However, nuclear ‘business as usual’ has fallen under increasing criticism, with people around the world pushing their governments to move away from nuclear weapons. President Obama said in a a 2009 speech that nuclear non-proliferation would be a key tenet of his foreign policy, declaring, “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
But in his message about the deal, Obama takes the ongoing role of a “nuclear deterrent” as a given for both the U.S. and the U.K.: “The United Kingdom intends to continue to maintain viable nuclear forces into the foreseeable future. Based on our previous close cooperation, and the fact that the United Kingdom continues to commit its nuclear forces to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, I have concluded it is in the United States national interest to continue to assist the United Kingdom in maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.”
A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that, as of the beginning of 2014, the U.S. had 7,300 nuclear warheads, with the U.K. possessing 225.
The deal has whipped up controversy in the U.K., where—as Richard Norton Tailor reports for the Guardian—it is critical to the highly controversial Trident nuclear weapons system which is fiercely opposed by anti-nuclear advocates.
According to the Nuclear Information Service report, “The nuclear relationship between the USA and the US is not a partnership of equals. The UK relies on unique US facilities and capabilities for support to the extent that its nuclear weapons programme cannot be regarded as technically independent from the USA.”
It is in the UK’s national interest to keep the Trident nuclear weapons system, a group of former ministers, diplomats and generals have argued.
Maintaining a nuclear capability could help deter threats to the UK’s security in future, their report concluded.
But they said continuous patrols could be relaxed while the UK must also show it is serious about working towards further international disarmament.
A final decision on whether to renew Trident will be taken in 2016.
The decision has been put back until after the 2015 elections following disagreements between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
While David Cameron supports the like-for-line renewal of the UK’s existing submarine-based ballistic missile system, the Lib Dems say the number of submarines could be reduced from four to three to save money.
Publishing its report, The Trident Commission said it believed that “retaining and deploying a nuclear arsenal” was necessary to protect the UK and to fulfil the country’s international responsibilities as a Nato member.
It said Trident met the “criteria of credibility, scale, survivability, reach and readiness” and alternative delivery options touted “simply on the basis of possible but speculative cost savings” should not be contemplated.
The commission’s members include former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Labour defence secretary Lord Browne and former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell as well as former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Guthrie and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK ambassador to the United Nations.
Their report stated that a nuclear capability should not be justified on the grounds of it being an “insurance policy” against an uncertain future or to maintain Britain’s diplomatic standing in the world.
The rationale for keeping Trident, it added, lay in its ability to counter “credible” threats to the UK’s security.
It identified three scenarios in which such threats could arise; from a long-standing nuclear state with an “aggressive posture”; from an existing or emerging nuclear state which “enters into direct strategic competition with the UK”; a “massive overwhelming” threat involving weapons of mass destruction.
“If there is more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role in the defence of the UK and its allies in preventing nuclear blackmail, or in affecting the wider security context within which the UK sits, then they should be retained,” the report stated.
“The impact of the UK’s falling victim to ongoing strategic blackmail or nuclear attack is so significant that, even if the chances appear slim today, there is sufficient uncertainty surrounding the prospect that it would be imprudent to abandon system that have a high capacity to counter such threats.”
The commission was divided over the question of whether the current practice of always having one submarine at sea at any other time should be maintained.
Some members argued that continuous-at-sea patrolling should continue until there was an “improvement in the security environment” while others argued that without a direct threat to the UK’s interests, this could happen immediately while retaining the capacity for increased patrols at times of crisis.
But the commission was united in its call for the UK to consider what it could do to further the cause of nuclear disarmament and to discourage proliferation.
While acknowledging the steps that had been taken since the end of the Cold War, it said the UK could consider a further reduction in missile and warhead numbers, enhanced verification procedures and commitments to control or decrease stocks of fissile materials.
“The commission would recommend that the Ministry of Defence study the steps down the nuclear ladder more thoroughly to give greater confidence to the international community that we are considering such steps seriously in preparation for multilateral disarmament negotiations,” it said.
Nuclear Weapons: Toward Abolition or Armageddon?
Nuclear weapons, since their induction into arsenals, have generated many concepts. In contemporary scenario, the rationales share these concepts in analyzing the nuclear competition in South Asia. There are many questions regarding Pakistan’s national security together with nuclear capability. Why does Pakistan tend to maintain nuclear arsenal? Is India an existential threat to Pakistan? How can Pakistan’s conventional weaponry guarantee national security? Would India out-compete Pakistan? Is Pakistan’s internal writ shrinking? These questions are directly or indirectly linked to the Pakistan’s nukes.
John J. Mearshiemer maintains that the great powers maximize their relative power. He explains further that these powers do not enlarge the existing power due to power-lust but due to the compulsions of the anarchic nature of the international system. [i]
Thus, the arsenals are mainly built for pursuit of the national security. The states possibly consume their energies in order to cope with the threat. Pakistan in south Asian region exists as the second-largest state with both military and economic power potential. Its policy-making junta is keen in making sure to cope with the external threats. Since its creation in 1947, it shared antagonistic and adversarial relation with the eastern neighbor.
Given the hostility, Pakistan left no stone unturned in an attempt to ensure the national security. The nuclear weapons are the outcome of the aforesaid approach. It is worth-mentioning that the region is more stable than ever before since Qadeer Khan in an interview with Kuldip Nayyer in 1985 unveiled the nuclear capability. Thus, no one can deny the fact that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are the outcome of broad-based strategy to solidify the national security. Likewise, the established tenet of national-security policy will in future be maintained.
Similarly, Pakistan according to civilian and military leadership is still sensitive regarding the developments being made in India. It is true that the region is reported to be destabilized whenever the balance of power is disturbed. Michael Krepon is of the view that India competes with China and will compete it regardless of what Pakistan does. Now, if India asserts to compete with Beijing, ultimately it would enlarge its military power given the approach of offensive realism.
The more New Delhi increases its military power, the larger concerns Islamabad would have. With this perception, the New Delhi cannot be absorbed as normal and fraternal neighbor. Can anybody assure Pakistan of the Indian neutral behavior towards its neighbors if it becomes the most powerful nation in the world? Its presence in Afghanistan is particularly adequate to deny this optimism vis-a-vis Pakistan. Therefore, it is irrational to ignore that the perception-based policies in South Asia would forcibly be pursued.
Some analysts like Michael Krepon uphold that Pakistan cannot compete with India in subject of conventional military capability. In actuality, they observe the quantity where the latter outnumbers the former. Nonetheless, quantity matters more than quality. Under this perspective, Pakistani armed forces induct the western state-of-the-art equipment and systems that are more advanced and effective than what Indian possess the Soviet technology in the military systems.
Pakistan air force operates the mixture of the US, French, Chinese, and the PAK-China jointly manufactured systems. It can provide an immense fire power to the ground forces. In all spheres like air superiority, interception and interdiction, and ground attack, it is capable of giving surprise to the rival. Rhetorically, Pakistan, owing to the quantity, is not far behind India in the subject of conventional military capability. Nonetheless, it equally vies with India.
On the question of Pakistan’s failure against India in competition, an impartial analyst can assess how valiantly Pakistan survived during the last 14 years’ war-like scenario. On the other hand, Pakistan tremendously ensured the safety of nuclear weapons. It successfully coped with the terrorists in Swat and Balochistan. Despite of all menaces, Pakistani defense capability is safe and sound and is likely to give immense demonstration whenever the time demands.
Pakistan’s internal writ is restored. There is not a single area that is out of the central government’s writ. As far TTP’s bastion is concerned, they are disintegrated and deployed in the remote mountainous areas. It was Pakistan air force’s vigorous strike that recently forced them to come to dialogues. In presence of the certain terrorists, it is unfair to conclude that the government’s internal writ shrinks.
To wind up, Pakistan in military form is really hard to be engulfed. Its nuclear weapons are safe. Economically, it will boom up since 2015. Therefore, it is ideal to live without any rivalry. India and Pakistan should realize each other’s status. That is how the nuclear normalcy can work. Significantly, it remains still a nuclear military power that cannot be underestimated.