A Closer look at the Worldwide Nuclear Weapons Program and Security Threats
By Saberi Roy
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has provided a historical overview of the countries that already have or seek to have nuclear weapons. The countries noted are the five nuclear weapons states – United States, Russia (after former USSR), United Kingdom, France, and China. Other countries with ongoing nuclear weapons program are India, Pakistan, and Israel. North Korea, Iraq and Iran are or were suspected of actively seeking nuclear weapons capabilities and some of the ‘fringe’ countries so to speak which may develop nuclear weapons or have raised some suspicion include Libya, Algeria, South Korea and Taiwan. South Africa is the only country that has dismantled its nuclear weapons program after the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970. Among all these countries, Pakistan and Iran are the only countries that began an active nuclear weapons program after the non-proliferation agenda was introduced in the1970s. For categorization purposes, I have delineated four tiers.
The Tier 1 nuclear states comprise of the nuclear club members the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China. The United States has a total 9, 938 active and inactive nuclear warheads which are to be reduced to 5,047 by 2012. Russia maintains 20,000 nuclear weapons with 7,000 strategic warheads which are to be reduced to 2,200 by end of 2012. United States and Russia are both signatories of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and actively reducing the size of their nuclear stockpile. The United Kingdom is also a nuclear weapons state and signatory of the NPT and also the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and has about 200 strategic and sub-strategic nuclear warheads. China has also signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (CTBT) since its nuclear weapons program began in 1955. China maintains about 400 tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. Finally, France being a nuclear weapons state and having ratified both the NPT and CTBT has about 350 nuclear warheads. Among the five members of the nuclear club, Britain seems to have the least number of nuclear warheads and being a signatory of both the CTBT and NPT, has clearly paved the way for peace in Europe. The Treaty of Moscow signed between the United States and Russia focuses on strategic arms reduction and both the countries are required to reduce their active nuclear warheads to 1700-2200 by 2012. Considering that both the United States and Russia will comply with the Treaty of Moscow, there will be a significant nuclear stockpile reduction in Europe and America in the coming years. All Tier 1 countries have thus signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and are in the process of reducing their nuclear capabilities.
The Tier 2 nuclear states are the known nuclear states that have an active nuclear weapons program but have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty comprising of India, Pakistan, and Israel. India has a nuclear power program and a nuclear explosive program and carried out nuclear weapons tests in May 1998. India has a stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium that could be used to manufacture 40-120 simple nuclear weapons. Since the introduction of the NPT and CTBT, India has carried out nuclear tests in 1974 and then in 1998. India is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has not signed the CTBT, although India is a signatory of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT). Pakistan embarked on a uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons program in the 1970s and acquired capabilities of generating nuclear devices by 1990s. It has a stockpile of highly enriched uranium that can build 30-50 nuclear fission bombs, although its nuclear warheads estimates are generally 60-100. Pakistan is not a signatory of the NPT either. In the Middle East, Israel has the most well developed and advanced nuclear weapons capabilities and considering its plutonium production and stockpile, the country has an estimated 100-200 nuclear devices. Israel has also not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. All the three countries in this Tier 2 have not signed the NPT and continue to increase their nuclear capabilities. The increased nuclear and defense spending of these countries have added to tension in South Asia and Middle East. However all three countries have cited security concerns for justifying their nuclear stockpile. Whereas the nuclear ambitions graph is clearly on the decline in the West, it seems to be rising in Asia and Middle East.
The Tier 3 countries which have been actively seeking to increase their nuclear capabilities include North Korea, Iran and Iraq. North Korea signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1985 but withdrew in 2003, successfully testing its first nuclear device in 2006. Following Six-Party talks North Korea’s nuclear facilities have been considerably dismantled in 2007. In 2005, Iran resumed its nuclear activities suggesting a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and most of its equipment has been imported from Pakistan. According to Intelligence reports, Iran does not have an active nuclear weapon at this time but considering its uranium enrichment program, it can build nuclear weapons between 2010 and 2015. All eyes are now on Iran’s nuclear ambitions because of two reasons – the gross non-compliance with the NPT and fears of destabilization of the Middle East with weapons reaching the hands of terrorists. In the early 1970s, Iraq developed an active nuclear weapons program although Saddam Hussein’s regime maintained a highly guarded and secretive nuclear weapons program which has now ended. Iraq, like Iran is also a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and was accused of not complying with the NPT. Thus among the three Tier 3 countries which sought nuclear weapons capabilities, the threats from North Korea and Iraq have considerably reduced although Iran’s nuclear activities are in gross violation of the NPT. Thus all Tier 3 states have not complied with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have been actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
The Tier 4 states that are considered as ‘possibly’ trying to develop a nuclear weapons program are Libya, South Korea, Algeria and Taiwan. Libya has employed chemical weapons and has sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Libya’s ambitions are in response to Israel’s nuclear program although Libya revealed and renounced its nuclear weapons in 2003 as it has already ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Libya still has a research reactor though. South Korea has an active ballistic missile program and chemical weapons stockpile although it has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and also a ‘Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula’ with North Korea. Seoul currently maintains civilian nuclear power reactors for generation of electricity but considering the tension with Pyongyang, there are reports that South Korea may just be restarting its nuclear program by stockpiling uranium, in a clandestine manner. In 1991, there were concerns that Algeria was developing a nuclear weapons program especially to counter threats from Libya. Algeria asserts that its nuclear reactor is mainly used for research and electricity purposes and also signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995 and is suspected of having some uranium stockpile, although not significant. Taiwan does not have a nuclear weapons program but produces plutonium and maintains nuclear technologies that could be capable of nuclear weapons development in the future. Taiwan is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and although the country had a nuclear weapons program in the 1960s, after China carried out a nuclear test, its present nuclear research is mainly for medical and electricity generation purposes. Thus the Tier 4 countries have all signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and all maintain some nuclear capabilities, although mainly started after a perceived threat from a neighboring state, and now specifically intended for research purposes.
This shows that the Nuclear weapons program in different nations are in different stages and the four tiers represent these stages. In terms of danger to the region and world security and stability, the Tier 3 countries especially Iran seem to pose immediate threats. Iraq being now in a different situation, Iran and North Korea are being watched, mainly because of their gross violation of agreements. The next level of threat is posed by the known nuclear states or Tier 2 countries, none of which have signed or ratified the NPT or CTBT, and they are unlikely to do so because economic development of Asia being very rapid, maintaining a nuclear weapons program seem to add to the clout of these nations. Nuclear weapons indicate power and both India and Pakistan are in a power race, which should of course, have its limits and associated responsibilities. Israel’s nuclear aspirations and capabilities have also triggered an arms race in the region but all other countries being in the Tier 4, Israel still remains the dominant nuclear power in the Middle East. The Tier 1 and Tier 4 countries do not destabilize the regions with their weapons or research program so the Tier 2 and Tier 3 countries will have to comply with the NPT sooner rather than later. Pakistan and Iran pose additional threats of terrorism and nuclear weapons reaching the hands of terrorists so there is a substantial additional danger. Israel and India may help to balance the power game by maintaining their own nuclear capabilities but ultimately running an active nuclear weapons program not only puts pressure on the economy but also continues political hostility in a region. Maybe, this is the price some countries like India and Pakistan pay for transitioning from developing to developed nations.