Volume 96, Issue 73
Friday, February 7, 2003

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Is nuclear terrorism inevitable?

Des Stutchbury
Gazette Staff

It is self-evident there is a crisis in the Middle East. At its centre, the 5,000-year failure to divide a piece of land 100 km by 400 km, which many call "the Holy Land." When using an approach built upon logical and truthful premises, and through the consultation of experts, the dire consequence of failure to achieve peace becomes clear.

The progression of global nuclear proliferation is as follows: 1945 U.S.A., 1949 U.S.S.R. (now the Russian Federation), 1952 Great Britain, 1960 France, 1964 China, 1969 Israel, 1974 India, 1998 Pakistan. In 1988, the South African government stated it could develop a nuclear weapon. The following countries have reported a nuclear weapons program in progress at various stages of development: Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, North Korea (claims it has a weapon, although this remains unconfirmed), Ukraine, Iran, Iraq and Taiwan.

The number of nuclear weapons on our planet has progressed from two in 1945 to approximately 30 or 40,000 in 2002, and there is a clear pattern of more weapons and technology in the hands of poorer nations. It must also be noted that some of the countries who possess nuclear weapons are not democratic (e.g. Pakistan). A democracy can be defined as having free elections (i.e. elections free of violence or intimidation), and requiring a free press. Throughout human history, no two democratic countries have gone to war against each other.

The existence of suicide bombers can also not be disputed. Past examples include the Kamikaze pilots of Japan and the culprits behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

Another undisputed fact is that of capital flowing into the Middle East due to oil exports. The Energy Information Administration reported the following dollar amounts (U.S.) for 2001: Iran $43 billion/year, Iraq $23 billion/year, Kuwait $28 billion/year, Saudi Arabia $72 billion/year, and the United Arab Emirates $15 billion/year.

From these facts, certain logical conclusions may be drawn. The combination of power, oil and money, continued terrorist motivation against Israel and the West, and the greater availability of nuclear weapons and technology, can only lead to the assumption that eventually someone with an anti-Israeli or anti-West agenda will acquire a nuclear device.

Currently, the United States is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in an attack, with their bombing of Japan during WWII.

John C. Thompson, president of the Mackenzie Institute, a Canadian military think-tank, said he agrees that nuclear terrorism is eventual.

A terrorist successfully hiding in a container on a freighter, along with a nuclear device, would be a relatively easy feat for a single person or group, Thompson explained. Consequently, if a suicide bomber was involved, all he or she would have to do is pull the trigger when the ship reached port. This puts every ocean port city in the world in jeopardy, he explained.

Any nuclear bomb-building team must theoretically include a physicist, a mathematician, a chemist, an electronics specialist and a good demolitions expert. At present, only grams of the fuel needed to create a nuclear weapon can conceivably be purchased on the black market, making it doubtful that terrorists could achieve their goal without the support of a country's resources.

Any country caught in such activity could expect immediate and definite consequences, including a possible regime change, confirmed Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations and director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland.

"Although, still a low probability, nuclear terrorism [has such a] high [potential] consequence that we must have contingency plans to prevent such an attack, and to deal with the possible consequences should it happen, in order to minimize the loss of life," he explained.

Martin Shadwick, a defense analyst at York University's Centre for International and Security Studies said an act of nuclear terrorism would change all the international ground rules.

"Everything is an order of magnitude – even if the nuclear device itself was fairly small, we would be crossing a scary threshold," he explained. "The consequences are therefore that much more difficult to predict for everybody in every field... economics, politics, defense, security, trade, you name it."

According to Thompson, a 20-kiloton nuclear explosion in New York harbour, "would not do that much structural damage, [but] there would be a lot of people that would be [affected]. Modern concrete structures are hard to destroy." Therefore, a full recovery from a nuclear attack could be expected within years, Thompson added.

"A 20-kiloton weapon would have done the same damage at the World Trade Center as the aircraft did," he said. "The only difference is that they would have done it instantly, so 25,000 people would have been killed [before they had the opportunity to escape]."

The effects of such a nuclear fallout would be comparable to the result of the WTC attack, in which the repercussions included bodies, asbestos and other contaminates, Thompson said.

J. Clark Leith, a Western economics professor, who specializes in international economics, stated that, although 9/11 had a dramatic effect, it was mainly "limited" to the U.S. markets and air travel security. "[Affecting] the price of oil would have more of an effect," Leith noted.

If a serious nuclear or non-nuclear terrorist threat did exist for the worlds ports, there would be consequences for the international economy, he said.

"Given the very large volume of trade carried on the ocean, the effective cost of preventing [another terrorist attack] in ocean shipping would be huge and much of that trade could not be diverted to air transport," Leith said.

"Increased costs could make some trade prohibitive," he added. "Canada's exports would be affected more seriously by higher ocean transport costs."

Shadwick speculated on the consequences of a port-based nuclear attack.

"[Canada is] a trading country – anything that disrupts ocean trade is a real threat to the Canadian economic well-being," he said. "We are one of the most trade dependent countries in the world [and] you'd have to freeze shipping [after an attack]."

Leith said an extremely adverse effect on the South American and African economies could also be expected.

"You are going to look at from where you allow cargo in. Africa might be considered less secure due to lack of money to implement security measures, lack of technology and the possibility of corruption," Shadwick explained. "The less-developed world might suffer more serious economic consequences."

"The [goal of] terrorism is [the creation of] an atmosphere of terror," Thompson said, while making reference to an old Chinese saying, "Kill one, frighten 10,000."

There would be more aggression in the world and such things as profiling would become an overnight, immediate reality and national boundaries would be irrelevant to the victims, he added.

Thompson said, following a nuclear attack, there is the possibility that war could erupt in other areas of the world (e.g. India-Pakistan, North-South Korea).

For Canadians, some solace may be found in the fact that, as Thompson stated, the normal criteria or pattern for terrorists is to attack specific symbolic targets and then look for vulnerabilities.

Canadians have a self-image of a benign country, Shadwick explained. "Why would anyone want to do this to Canada?"

Shadwick's sentiment is belied by a statement attributed to terrorist bin Laden on [Nov. 12], which states, "Why did your governments ally themselves with America to attack us in Afghanistan, and I cite in particular Great Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, and Australia. Australia was warned..." The warning for Canada is indirect, but clear.

Another counter-argument to nuclear terrorism is the belief that the Mossad (Israeli secret service), the CIA and other intelligence organizations can keep track of all the nuclear devices and all nuclear technology, and can keep all this from ever falling into the hands of a terrorist.

"This is unrealistic," Shadwick stated. "It would be nice to say it would never happen, [but] it is a real possibility that somebody at some point is going to cross that threshold."

It is reasonable to conclude, that if peace can be achieved in the Middle East, then peace may be achieved everywhere. If peace is not found in the Middle East, then there will be no peace anywhere.

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