2 January 2014, 17:37

Nuclear war more likely than ever: threat comes from South Asia and nuke terrorists

Nuclear war more likely than ever: threat comes from South Asia and nuke terrorists

The humanity has inched closer to the precipice of an all-out nuclear war than ever before, closer than it was even at the height of the historic Cold War standoff between the US and the Soviet Union.

The main reason for this is the ongoing erosion of the non-proliferation regime, experts say. The Non-Proliferation Treaty has been continuously bashed as "unfair," but it is in fact the exclusive geopolitical environment and ensuing nuclear responsibility of a handful of states that has so far kept mankind away from the total wipeout.

The theory of reciprocal deterrence wasn’t there all the time. A long two decades after the A-bomb was invented, the powers who had it in their arsenals thought of it as fair game, a weapon you could actually use in a conflict, rather than a deterrent.

The Cuban Missile Crisis came as a wakeup call. It brought home the danger of nuclear weapons and led to the non-proliferation regime as conceived by the so-called "nuclear club," which included the Soviet Union, the US, Britain, France and China. Under the NPT, only countries that made and set off a nuclear bomb prior to January 1, 1967 were granted the status of a nuclear power. Washington, London and Moscow were the first to sign the treaty in 1968, with Paris and Beijing committing themselves to it years later. But all of the signatories abided by the rules.

Those times have passed. NPT controls have become so loose and new nuclear powers so numerous, there’s no counting them anymore. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have never even applied for "nuclear club" membership. On the contrary, they created their own shadow club with no rules. The official club with all its nukes poses less threat to the human race than this bunch of neophytes. Volatility has spread, though South Asia plays a separate role in it.

"Some South Asian countries have a full arsenal of nukes," says Pyotr Topychkanov, a senior researcher at the International Security Center of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences. "They have enough nuclear warheads and vehicles. They have only one equal in the Middle East, which is Israel. Iran has no nuclear weapons yet."

"The same is true of North Korea, which has weapon-grade fissile nuclear materials. They have built and tested explosive devices, but it’s still a long way to fully-fledged nukes for them."

"The countries that really cause concern are India, Pakistan and China. China and Pakistan are longtime partners, including their nuclear agenda. India borders on China and Pakistan and is certainly aware of this partnership. It doesn’t have faith in either. Were a conflict to spark off, it would be trilateral and include not only India and Pakistan, but India, Pakistan and China."

About 30 to 40 countries are on their way towards nuclear status. Many of them are inches away, like Germany, Japan and Canada, who could have had an A-bomb long ago – but simply didn’t wish to. The Sunni Saudi Arabia has hinted it will make a bomb the moment the Shiite Iran lays its hands on one.

The principle of uncontrolled nuclear proliferation was formulated back in 1965, when Pakistan’s foreign chief Zulfikar Ali Bhutto said: "There’s a Christian bomb, a Jewish bomb and now even a Hindu bomb. It’s high time we got a Muslim bomb."

Nuclear terrorism is yet another problem. Terrorists can’t make a nuke. But they do know how to pit countries and eventually provoke them to an inadequate response. There’s no lacking of short-sighted politicians who can take that last step, for instance Republican Senator Steve Buyer who nudged the government after 9/11 to nuke Tora Bora caves, instead of sending a task force to Afghanistan.

In that sense, the threat of a full-scale nuclear war has transformed into the menace of a local nuclear conflict, or even a string of them. You shouldn’t be lulled by their seeming locality though, since a precise nuclear strike will be felt globally, says PIR Center Internet Project Director Andrei Baklitsky.

"A nuclear conflict will have dramatic consequences for all of us, because nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction. They are not selective. A nuclear attack in the Middle East would be most tragic, first of all, because of its huge oil fields, and a burning oil field is a big trouble. Secondly, any strike on the Middle East will skyrocket oil prices across the world and plunge the global economy back into an even worse economic crisis that before.

The consequences of using an A-bomb in an Indo-Pakistani conflict would be just as grave for these densely populated countries, driving millions of refugees out of their homes and turning agriculture lands into barren wastes."

Unfortunately, the world is home to many paradoxes. Despite a drop in amounts of nuclear weapons worldwide, the collapse of the bipolar world has made the risk of a manmade apocalypse palpable.

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