Press Release: Acquisition and tactical use of nuclear devices by non-state actors

Pakistan’s Nuclear Minefield

The dangers of non-state actors acquiring small nuclear weapons or devices

Potential threats to global peace and stability by terrorist groups, saboteurs and lone actors acquiring nuclear material were examined at a seminar organised by The Democracy Forum on 1st June.
Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Distinguished Professor of Physics and Mathematics, Forman Christian College, Lahore, speaking at the seminar, discussed Pakistan’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. These would be situated inside Pakistan along the border. If superior Indian conventional forces crossed the border, these atomic bombs would be detonated. Thus, they could not be regarded as a nuclear attack on India because the damage would be confined to Pakistan.

PhotographDr Hoodbhoy also spoke about the nuclear capabilities and policies in India and Pakistan. “At the moment it is an open ended race – India as the superior technological partner is pressing ahead to the extent it can, Pakistan with more limited facilities and a smaller economy is doing what it can,  with both countries on auto pilot as far as nuclear policy goes – make as much as you can, the best you can, and don’t think about the consequences.” He asked why a terrorist would want to steal a bomb from the Pakistan army.  The obvious answer was that the greatest war is against the Pakistan army and against other Muslims. The target of choice would not be Delhi but Islamabad. He added “That’s not empty speculation. The Pakistan army has lost more men to Islamic terrorists than they have to all the wars that have been fought against India. So here’s a fundamental paradox: Who is the real enemy?”

Dr Beyza Unal, Research Fellow at the International Department of Chatham House, highlighted the threat from emerging technologies, the rapid spread of information on nuclear and radioactive materials to non-state actors and the relative lack of security surrounding those materials, particularly in the civilian sector. She said:

Terrorist groups can acquire nuclear material through bargaining – a country may agree to sell nuclear material … or, if the state loses control of its nuclear systems , or because of instability in the country,  certain factions inside government can get hold of the nuclear power plant, systems or warheads – this is a very likely scenario, if it happens,  in the case of Asia.

According to Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at Royal United Services Institute, the debate about non-state actors is largely focused on South Asia. He said India’s nuclear arsenal is changing very rapidly, increasing not only numbers but types of weapons, leading to increased security concerns. He instanced India’s first ballistic submarine going for sea trials:

When nuclear weapons are at sea, as countries like the UK have discovered for many decades, that creates enormous challenges of command and control.”

Humphrey Hawksley, BBC Foreign Correspondent, warned that “we are about to begin a tsunami of proliferation of risk around the world”. He said that energy supplies are questionable so everybody wants to build a nuclear power station – the security of supply of fuel has become a major issue, leading to a black market. He spoke about Operation Sapphire, a plan for an IAEA-controlled facility in Kazakhstan to provide an “international fuel bank of last resort” to countries developing a nuclear power industry – one way to counter illicit nuclear proliferation.

The seminar, chaired by Dr William Crawley from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, was held at Senate House, University of London, and was the latest in a series organised by The Democracy Forum. It was attended by around 55 people including academics, diplomats, journalists, students and business people.

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