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Nuclear Terrorism and Nuclear Intimidation - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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No rational person can disagree with the argument that one of the biggest threats the world might face is nuclear weapons falling into the hands of a terrorist group or a criminal organization. This was the central topic of the nuclear security summit hosted by US President Barack Obama. But at the same time, no one can argue that nuclear security can be reduced to the issue of terrorism alone because that would be simplifying matters to a large degree. The issue of nuclear security is far more vast than that, and as long as there are nuclear weapons, regardless of who owns them, the security threat to the world still stands and is imminent. History is testimony to that.

Isn’t the United States – a democratic and liberal country – the only country in the world to have used a nuclear weapon? In other words, the nuclear threat is not linked to whether the country that possesses the nuclear weapon is democratic or dictatorial. The former Soviet Union owned the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and was not a democratic regime but it only used its nuclear weapons to intimidate [other countries]. Similarly, communist China and democratic India have never used their nuclear weapons.

In addition, the nuclear weapon does not become a threat just because it is owned by an Islamic state; Pakistan is a Muslim country that fluctuates between dictatorship and democracy and it has never used its nuclear weapon. The threat with regards to Pakistan’s nuclear weapon is not in the fact that it is a Muslim country but rather due to its fragile regime. It is threatened by fundamentalist extremist groups, such as the Taliban, challenging the central authority.

It is true that the terrorist groups represent a greater and a real threat because they do not adhere to the rules that countries adhere to and they have a tendency to use all kinds of weapons without control or restraint. The Al Qaeda organization used hijacked civilian planes as missiles in the 9/11 attacks in order to incite terror and cause the largest [possible] number of victims. Moreover, in terrorist attacks carried out in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan the organization used women and children to hide [behind], and in Iraq and Afghanistan it used them as human bombs. It is no secret that the organization sought to use a dirty bomb and will not hesitate if the opportunity arises to try and posses or use a nuclear weapon.

From here, establishing and implementing policies to prevent nuclear materials, such as uranium and plutonium, from falling into the hands of terrorist groups or organized crime networks is an urgent and necessary matter, especially as the world witnessed the smuggling of radioactive materials by organized crime networks immediately after the fall of the former Soviet Union. We actually saw a country voluntarily hand over remnants of a nuclear weapon to have them destroyed, or [hand over] the remnants of radioactive materials to keep in other countries that have secure means to preserve them or dispose of them. But all of this only represents one step on the “nuclear security” path that the entire world, not just part of it, needs. In order for there to be “nuclear security” one cannot deal with the issue only from the terrorist angle; it must also be looked at from the angle of intimidation (the countries that own nuclear weapons to intimidate others) so that other countries do not find a justification to own a nuclear weapon in the framework of the so-called “balance of terror.” For example, the call for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons does not seem convincing because of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and focusing on Iran whilst turning a blind eye to Israel raises questions that cannot be ignored, and the attempts of rational-minded people who want to keep the already troubled region away from the dangers of a nuclear race are facing difficulty.

The slogan “nuclear security” is eye-catching and moral; however in order to achieve it there must be other serious steps towards nuclear disarmament from every party that possesses nuclear weapons. As long as there are nuclear arsenals, the nuclear threat remains, even if that is due to [the risk of] accidents at power plants such as Chernobyl, otherwise as a result of military use such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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