wmd proliferation

The implicit assertions made by erstwhile US Presidents- Bush and Clinton Administrations with regard to the emerging security threat from Weapons of Mass Destruction is a “new nexus of networks” in which a burgeoning host of radical extremists or hostile state actors are prepared to use any means of violence to have facilitated access to such WMD technologies. The “intersection of radicalism and technology” effectively implies that today terror networks and potentially hostile States can interact through information sharing and communication system transfers in order to gain access to destructive technologies much more easily than in  recent history. In other words, with the gradual technological and industrial development, the ease of accessibility has exponentially increased making international politics a complex array of networks among various actors of international politics. 

However, it’s not just that terror networks and hostile States can gain access to these weapons by tapping into the global flows. Some scholars assert that powerful emerging global networks associated with organised crime, money laundering, nuclear smuggling, human trafficking, drug smuggling, and other nefarious activities are providing certain terrorist organisations with new vehicles to ply their trade. Moreover, the “new nexus of networks” provides hostile non-state actors with the capacity to effectively channelize a global backbone of illicit transfers that can potentially be used to traffic in WMDs and/or  WMD technologies.

The enforcement of any policy of proliferation remains under the domestic jurisdiction of  States which is perhaps the case with most non traditional security issues in the current world paradigm, while immense hurdles remain for non-state actors either to acquire and/or manufacture WMDs for use as an instrument of heavy collateral. The States that don’t offer a strict system of resilience against the violent non state actors, often collapse to such illicit acquisition and transfer. This is certainly the case for the assembly of nuclear weapons, which requires a significant level of infrastructure consisting of labour, money, and research and testing facilities. To date, there have been remarkably few incidents of non-state actors mounting attacks using chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological agents. 

The ‘sarin’ gas attack by the Japanese group ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ on the Tokyo subway system  in March 1995 resulted in 10 casualties and is regarded as the dawn of the era of modern warfare where even the non state actors possess the deterrent force of WMDs. Similarly, law enforcement and counter-terrorism operations have broken up attempts by Islamic extremist groups to weaponise ‘ricin’ in London in January 2003 and a derivative of ‘cyanide’ in Rome in February 2002. There also exists several factions affiliated to Al-Qaeda that are infamous for undertaking efforts to acquire WMDs and proliferate across Central Asia and Middle East. Several instances of Islamic States use of WMDs have also been of rising significance that add to the turmoil in the Syrian Arab Republic. Chemical agents such as sarin and other sarin like substances have been used regularly in militant rich areas while reports have also suggested that USA themselves have also been guilty of using ‘white phosphorus’- an unlisted chemical agent under the Chemical Weapons Convention. The problem with such weapons is the fact that its usage results in unsurmountable damage to an extent that cannot be prompted or inferred. These weapons aren’t target specific and often result in huge civilian losses. No actor in international politics can justify the use of WMDs in the context of jeopardising international humanitarian laws present. 

One of the most critical proliferation threat of the 1990s came not from terrorists but from a WMD supply network based in a state, and which took advantage of offshore procurement and production possibilities afforded by global economic integration and interdependence. The global procurement and production network administered out of Pakistan by the Pakistani physicist- Abdul Qadeer Khan has produced and delivered nuclear centrifuges and centrifuge designs to Iran and Libya, and it is believed that he had also approached Iraq in the early 1990s offering his services to Saddam Hussein as well as cooperated with North Korea on ballistic missile programs. It is however difficult to believe that AQ Khan single-handedly transferred all technology from Pakistan to North Korea, Libya and Iran as it was a high-security installation in Pakistan and guarded with very fearsome amount of policing and military intelligence surrounding it. Moreover, the centrifuge weighs half a ton each and it is not possible that these could have been smuggled out in a match box, so certainly there was complicity at a very high level. In return for the centrifuge that Pakistan supplied to North Korea, it received liquid-fueled missiles so-called Dudong missiles which were taken over by the AQ Khan laboratory and were renamed “Ghouri” missiles.

While there has not yet been a high-profile proliferation network akin to the A.Q. Khan network, the success of his efforts is a rather incredible testament to the outcome of individuals willing to sell dangerous technologies with few questions asked. History suggests that these procurement networks can make the detection of WMD proliferation extremely futile to the administrative capacities of most nations especially those that are struggling to cope up with ideals of ‘good governance’ and ‘democracy’ but, history is a bad driver- it never signals before making a turn, rather optimistically, a mechanism to prevent this issue of international concern from recurring is probably just a matter of time and some form of injury to the immediate national interests of USA and the few other nations that have the necessary capacity to administer any policy regarding the same.

While India has continued to have “a very robust track record” so far as nuclear non-proliferation regimes are concerned, Pakistan of course has been called out by the international community for the AQ Khan network and the proliferation of both nuclear and missile technologies to various parts of the world including North Korea. That is precisely why the US made that special exceptions in terms of the civil nuclear agreement to draw India into the international nuclear architecture.