Tackling the West’s anti-nuclear campaign
The Nation
September 9 1997
In a recent NBC television interview, former Russian national security advisor Alexander Lebed claimed the Russian army had lost track of some 100 suitcase-size nuclear bombs, every one of which can be detonated within half an hour and can kill up to 100,000 people. Even though denied officially by Russia, Lebed’s sensational disclosure is bound to boost US-led Western bids to exaggerate post-Soviet nuclear proliferation risks and discourage nuclear aspirant nations like Pakistan from their nuclear quest.

General Lebed, who was dismissed from service in 1996 by Russian president Boris Yeltsin, had also told US Congressional delegates visiting Russia in May 1997 that some 84 one-kiloton nuclear bombs were “unaccounted for” in the Russian army’s nuclear arsenal. Aspiring for political power at home, General Lebed is known for his pro-Western leanings. For instance, officials at the NATO headquarters, which I visited recently, appear to have a lot of praise for him. Just before his dismissal, he had visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels and publicly criticized president Yeltsin for delaying for two years the Russian participation in the US-sponsored NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme.

In the NBC interview, General Lebed speculated that the missing Russian missiles “could be somewhere in Georgia, somewhere in the Ukraine or somewhere in the Baltic countries. May be outside those countries....Terrorist groups would love to have them. We know they have been trying to buy long-range offensive weapons and nuclear capability from Russia.” All this can make an excellent story for a Hollywood movie or a best-seller fiction novel; but, in reality, the United States itself has helped Russia in the last over half decade to exercise a far more strict control of nuclear sites than was the case before the Soviet fall. The transfer of nuclear missiles and bombs from ex-Soviet nuclear republics-Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus-has taken place in a similar fashion.

If an American media hype also followed General Lebed’s disclosure, then all those countries which have been targeted by the US-led Western anti-nuclear proliferation campaign, including Pakistan, should be prepared for yet another round of international media criticism of their alleged nuclear pursuits. The “missing nukes” can allegedly be traced to be in Islamabad, Tehran, Baghdad or Tripoli.

In the American perception, these are the places from where international terrorists originate. In the post-Cold War period, South Asia has specifically been targeted by US mediamen and academics as far as the various Western perceived risks associated with nuclear proliferation are concerned. South Asian expert Selig Harrison and columnist William Pfaff may be two exceptions-as they argue for accommodating the security concerns of both India and Pakistan in the nuclear debate-but, by and large, all American nuclear thinkers tend to portray South Asia as a region most prone for nuclear catastrophe.

Iran is another country which, for the last some years, has been a target of the US-led West’s anti-nuclear proliferation campaign. Iran is a signatory of the NPT, which bars five declared nuclear powers from assisting non-nuclear states with such technology and material as can be used by the latter to acquire nuclear weapons capability. As a member of the NPT, Iran is constantly monitored by the IAEA. Despite this, in several alleged cases of smuggling of nuclear material from former Soviet republics directly or through Germany that the Western media claimed to have unearthed, Iran’s name is on top. A similar Western campaign has targeted two other Muslim countries, Libya and Iraq.

Israel, India and Pakistan are categorized as three threshold nuclear states in the world, countries that have achieved nuclear capability but have not yet officially declared it. Unlike the other two, Pakistan pursues a nuclear policy that often becomes a victim of individual political pursuits of its leaders. An American media hype following General Lebed’s sensational disclosure may be an imaginary scenario, but the US-led West will continue to propagate against our nuclear quest.

For our part, we should continue portraying ourselves as a nation that has no interest in developing missiles or acquiring nuclear weapons, and to continue declaring that it is India which is forcing us towards this end. Those who try to project a macho man sort of an image of our country by making irresponsible statements on our nuclear and missile programmes are not helping the matter. Even if we have achieved all what our leaders have so far claimed, let’s keep this a secret, as the Israelis and the Indian do; otherwise, we will just be falling into Western trap.