In 1953, President Eisenhower initiated the "Atoms for Peace" programme, thus introducinghuge amounts of information, training and nuclear aid for civilian purposes. Countries like Canada, UK, France and USSR followed. In 1957, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was formed to promote peaceful
nuclear applications. An autonomous UN agency, the IAEA reported to the UN General assembly and the Security Council. Countries which accepted the nuclear aid had to open their nuclear installations to the IAEA review. Once they had this foreign nuclear aid coming, there was a threat -- the shut-down or embargo on all nuclear dependant industry in case of martial hanky-panky.
One of the chief problems that keep IAEA forever busy is that the Uranium in the nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes, like generating electricity, can be enriched to make nuclear warheads. Less then 20 percent of enriched Uranium is used for civilian purposes, cross the boundary a little and crude, small weapons are ready. It is, of course, not simple but many nations have been across already.
In the 1960s, safeguards and verifications were introduced under additional protocols and treaties to monitor nuclear materials and actions. Though this remains the cornerstone of IAEA's efficiency, it can detect the malice, not prevent or thwart it. In 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty arrived, to prevent nuclear propagation and promote disarmament.
NPT required the existing nuclear powers to cut down their stockpile towards complete disarmament. The non-nuclear signatories were to remain non-nuclear and be monitored by the IAEA. Around 189 signatories emerged. Yet, just like the half-cooked pie can't be force-fed to the guests, countries can't become enforced signatories, and those which don't sign are the real trouble. Non-signatories like South Africa, India and Pakistan secretly developed nuclear weapons.
The biggest bone of contention is the Article 6 in NPT. It required a decrease in nuclear weaponry by the "Big 5" out of "good faith". The good faith never arrived, nor did a substantial armory reduction. In 1970, some 39,700 nuclear weapons in the "Big Five" were increased to 43,200 in '95. The weapon delivery systems, range, accuracy and reliability became more computerized; hence lethal, despite the end of the Cold War.
The NPT was to expire in 1995, but was extended for an indefinite period of time, the loudest supporter being USA. The NPT sweetly advises the nuclear powers to disarm but threatens the non-nuclear world with severe sanctions and diplomatic lashing in case of a slip.
The situation is all suited to the west, especially the US. Rigid silence is observed over the Israeli nuclear proficiency, whereas Iran is under fire because the former is a US ally unlike the latter. In fact, many times, like in the '73 Arab war, Israel blackmailed the US to give it military support or else it will use the nuke.
"Arabs may have the oil, but we have the matches," Ariel Sharon said once.
"Israel has dolphin submarines," says political analyst Ejaz Haider. "The SSPS is a submarine with nuclear reactors. It doesn't need to surface for re-fuelling. So, even if you annihilate Israel, a second strike will be launched from its sea."
Sometimes an East verses West conspiracy is suggested in the NPT review conferences.
The NPT does not control the wide variation of biological, chemical and even hydrogen weaponry being tested out. Neither can it manage the arms of terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda. In modern warfare, boundaries are often crossed. Illegal weapons have been used for unjustifiable reasons, with no reports of the collateral and civilian damage. (Iran, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Vietnam are examples). Even in the Iraq war, cluster bombs, bunker busters and depleted Uranium was used. These explode on human touch, and stay radioactive for long. Ironically, illegal nuclear arms were used against a country which was falsely suspected of having nuclear arms.
Yet, the NPT cannot be deemed a failure. Brigadier Salik, former director of Arms Control and Disarmament, says, "In the '60s, President Kennedy declared that within one decade two dozen states will have the nuclear capability. However, in 2010, we have less than a dozen. Uniting 189 signatories proves that the NPT has a universal appeal."
What drives these states, even poor ones like India, Pakistan and Iran, to seek this multi-billion-dollar, notorious and difficult technology made to wipe out chunks of humanity? A possible answer is deterrence -- the Cold War strategy of preventing war by creating the fear of your retaliation in the enemy's heart.
Almost all nuclear bombs today are meant for a particular enemy. The US against the USSR, Israel against the Middle East, Iran against Israel, India against Pakistan, and so on. This is, of course, a mere assumption that balance of power will prevent coercion. However, in cases where one party has the nuclear competence and the other doesn't, things can grow risky, since one state faces far less consequences than the other.
But balance of power is very difficult to achieve. The sea-saw keeps moving, escalating the arms race and never ending insecurity. A nuke-free world is impossible without the resolution of regional conflicts. In the chess board of international politics, with regional interests and economic threats, hardly anyone pauses for World peace.
Since each bomb is made with an enemy in mind, disarmament isn't straightforward. Actually, disarmament in the true sense doesn't exist.
According to Brigadier Salik, "Disarmament doesn't mean the bombs are gone. They merely separate the fissile core from the trigger mechanism. This will delay the usage, but not stop it when the time comes."
Terrorism has added a new avenue to this armed insecurity. Rogue elements can catch the nukes. Of late, Pakistan has often been questioned about its arsenal security. Rogue elements have existed everywhere and for a long time. But this is one crucial question for any state -- how secure are your nukes -- especially when a sunken economy like Pakistan is scrutinised by the US, which gives it several billion dollars of aid. This might remain a pressure point on us for sometime now.
But Ejaz Haider offers some consolation: "Every atomic bomb in the world is equally insecure. There is nothing fool-proof, since for every proof, there is a fool."
Other than theft or misuse, the nuclear reactor is a hazardous thing. Persistently carcinogenic radiation is leaked and accidents can result in disasters like Chernobyl in USSR which eventually caused over 4,000 cancer cases. One of the chief anti-nuke arguments is the permanent ecological and genetic damage a nuclear explosion can cause, which is often not limited in geography. The winds from Chernobyl traveled to whole of Northern Europe.
"Nuclear proliferation is suicidal. If a bomb explodes in Delhi, Lahore isn't immune," Dr Dhirendra Sharma, member of the Anti-Nuke Movement in India, is quoted as saying. "Our political leaders have a narrow perception and are used by greedy scientists."
The lesser developed world is politically volatile and far behind the west in terms of social security and education. A common demand by peaceniks is to deviate the defense spending on social institutions. "Conventional weapons are sufficient protection," wrote Pervaiz Hoodbhoy in a May 2009 article. "The bomb cannot help us recover the territory seized by the Baitullahs and Fazlullahs, nor bring Waziristan back to Pakistan." The cases of Dr Afia and Faisal Shahzad prove how the threat has changed. We need a lot more than nuclear stockpiles to combat this evolving enemy.
This piece was first published in The News on Sunday.