Surrounded by nuclear weapon states | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 18, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 18, 2010

Surrounded by nuclear weapon states


Too close for comfort. Photo: pauliddon

IT started with India, our nearest neighbour, which tested its first nuclear weapon on May 18, 1974, described by the Indian government as a "peaceful nuclear explosion." After a pause of twenty-four years, India carried out five more nuclear tests, between May 11 and May 13, 1998. One of the five explosions is believed to have used a thermonuclear device.
The Indian nuclear explosion of 1974 prompted Pakistan, its arch-rival and neighbour, to enter the race for acquiring nuclear weapons. On May 28, 1998 Pakistan conducted five nuclear tests in response to the same number by India more than a fortnight earlier.
North Korea is believed to have obtained nuclear secrets from Pakistan in exchange for its missile technology. The secret pact served a mutually beneficial two-way purpose. Pakistan gained the missile technology and North Korea the nuclear technology. On October 9, 2006 it announced that it had conducted a nuclear test followed by a second one on May 25, 2009.
Israel never claimed to have tested any nuclear device though it is widely believed that it has an arsenal of a good number of nuclear weapons. This enables it to bully its weak neighbours like Lebanon and Palestine every now and then.
Now there is more disturbing news. According a human rights and democracy group based in Norway, Myanmar's military dictatorship is working on nuclear weapons with assistance from North Korea. So the chain reaction of nuclear proliferation has set in! Myanmar lies between two nuclear powers, India and China and is our second nearest neighbour.
Myanmar's involvement in nuclear weapons was revealed in a report by Robert Kelley, a former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) based in Vienna, who analysed evidence supplied by Sai Thein Win, a former major and defense engineer of Myanmar.
The news prompted Senator Jim Webb, a democrat from Virginia, to postpone his trip to Myanmar, and the United States raised concerns about "growing military ties" between North Korea and Myanmar. The military junta in Myanmar promptly denied it was developing nuclear weapons, decrying such allegations as “groundless and politically motivated." The reaction of the Bangladesh government to the reported news of Myanmar's nuclear weapons program is not clear or, at least, has not been made public.
As a next-door neighbour, are we not concerned about this development? Can we remain indifferent to being surrounded by nuclear weapon states not only in the region but also all along our borders? What is our defense if, God forbids, we have a border conflict with anyone of them? Did we not confront conventional navy ships from neighbouring countries in our territorial waters in the past for one reason or another? How shall we confront in the future if such ships are equipped with nuclear warheads?
No, I am not suggesting that we too should do what others in the region are doing, but we must have an effective defense system to protect our territory and our sovereignty.
It may be mentioned here that, like Israel, neither India nor Pakistan is a signatory to either the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). North Korea withdrew after signing NPT and never signed CTBT. Myanmar is a signatory to both NPT and CTBT.
Bangladesh, from its birth, has been a proponent of peace in the region. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, declared that Bangladesh would be the Switzerland of the East. Accordingly, Bangladesh signed all international protocols like NPT and CTBT without any reservation.
Bangladesh refrained from any nuclear weapon program even though it had the necessary manpower in early 1970's to undertake such a program. Now the question is, who will come to protect us if any of our neighbours flexes its "nuclear muscles" to cow us down in case there is a conflict?
Is there any provision in NPT or CTBT that provides security to the signatories by the five nuclear weapon states if they are attacked by a non-signatory nuclear weapon state? No, I have not seen any. The instruments only have provisions for sanctions, which proved to be ineffective in cases of India, Pakistan and North Korea. Likewise, the sanctions are likely to be ineffective in cases of Iran and Myanmar too, if they really pursue nuclear weapon programs.
Under such circumstances, time has come to review and, if necessary, amend the provisions of NPT and CTBT to include a collective guarantee of "nuclear security" by the five major nuclear weapon states -- US, Russia, China, France and UK -- to any signatory non-weapon state in case its sovereignty and integrity are threatened by any non-signatory nuclear weapon state.
If this is not done now, mere provisions of sanctions will not stop nuclear proliferation. The chain reaction of proliferation that started from Pakistan will continue to spread unabated to other aspiring countries.
Pierre Trudeau, former prime minister of Canada, once said about its next-door neighbour US: "Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." No peace loving country, like Bangladesh, will feel comfortable in the company of so many nuclear weapon states, no matter how friendly they may appear today.

Dr. Abdul Matin is a former Chief Engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.

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