The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Nuclear and radiological insecurity in South Asia

safety-symbol-SmThe terrifying geography of nuclear and radiological insecurity in South Asia, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 22 JANUARY 2017 Hannah E. Haegel and Reema Verma Terrorism involving nuclear or radiological materials remains one of the gravest threats to humanity and to global stability. It was a central concern throughout President Obama’s tenure, with efforts to harness international initiatives coming to the fore at the Nuclear Security Summits. The incoming administration, however, should take a fresh look at a region of the world that hosts two states with nuclear weapons and a serious terrorism problem: South Asia.

Analysis on South Asia tends to occur in silos that focus on either nuclear risks or terrorism risks; fewer studies investigate the overlap between the two.

But we’ve mapped the geography of high-risk locations and violence by non-state actors—that is, the target threat environment—in South Asia’s two states with advancing nuclear weapons programs, India and Pakistan. The low probability but high potential cost of an incident of nuclear or radiological terror merits greater attention from citizens and policy makers alike, and the requisite means, motive, and opportunities for an incident of terror via weapons of mass destruction or disruption converge in South Asia.

The upcoming Summit on Countering WMD Terrorism, to be hosted by India in 2018, offers an opportunity bring attention to the issue. But preparations must begin well in advance of that summit, if the slow-moving machine of bureaucratic change is to be turned to address the institutional and governance problems India and Pakistan exhibit in regard to countering WMD terrorism.

Means to achieve mass destruction or disruption. South Asia is home to expanding and maturing nuclear weapons programs and widespread, frequent, and organized domestic and cross-border terror attacks. Recent incidents include a September 18 assault by terrorists who crossed the border from Pakistan to attack an Indian Army camp at Uri. This incident was followed by Indian retaliation, in the form of a publicly touted “surgical strike.” But this clash is one of many. Overall, the region (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) was host to 22,077 terrorist incidents between 2010 and 2015, some 36 percent of the global total. Nearly half of all terrorist attacks in 2015 occurred in four countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, India, and Pakistan. India and Pakistan alone suffered a total of 13,322 incidents and 5,471 fatalities between 2010 and 2015. The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland classified 30 percent of those attacks as armed assaults.

The different modalities of nuclear or radiological terrorism include: an attack on a nuclear facility, theft of nuclear or radiological material and construction of a “dirty bomb,” and theft of a nuclear weapon. A fourth, and often overlooked, path by which terrorists could precipitate a nuclear incident is to stage escalatory attacks that draw two states into a nuclear crisis or conflict.

The conditions for all four routes are prime in South Asia’s nuclear and radiological threat environment.

The motive for a nuclear or radiological terror attack. A number of violent non-state actors have alluded to their interest in pursuing WMD or precipitating a nuclear event. Some have been even more explicit, demonstrating intent to target a nuclear facility…….


January 25, 2017 - Posted by | ASIA, safety

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