In some circles, ‘nuclear terrorism’ is linked to the acquisition, possession, proliferation and utilization of nuclear weapons by terrorists. However, for the victims of a nuclear attack, it does not matter whether the perpetrator is a terrorist organization, or a state that possesses nuclear weapons. A nuclear attack is nuclear terrorism.


The harrowing accounts of some of the survivors of the bomb attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki, —the Hibakusha —- are testimony to the terror that griped the citizens of these two Japanese cities on 6 and 9 August 1945. One such Hibakusha, Setsuko Thurlow, who was then a 13 year-old schoolgirl in Hiroshima, narrates how her schoolmates “were incinerated and vaporized without a trace…” And the perpetrator of that terror was not a conventional terrorist. It was the United States of America.


This is why the attempt to present the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists as a much greater threat to humanity than the possession of nuclear weapons by states, is fallacious.  Both portend calamity. While no terror outfit has as yet gained access to nuclear weapons, there are at least eight or nine nuclear weapons’ states.  Apart from the fact that it is a state that had deployed its nuclear arsenal with devastating consequences on two occasions, it is also a state that has allegedly threatened to flex its nuclear muscle on at least four occasions. Besides, if terrorist networks seek nuclear weapons, it is because there are a few states that monopolize nuclear weapons. Indeed, it is because there is a nuclear states’ club, that other states are also determined to acquire the capability to produce nuclear weapons.


What this means is that the only way to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including their spread to terrorist groups, is to eliminate all nuclear weapons. That there is no alternative to complete and comprehensive nuclear disarmament is a hackneyed cliche that is worth repeating over and over again. In this regard, the New Start (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed between the US and Russia in Prague on 8th April 2010 which pares down their arsenals to 1,550 warheads each is a modest step forward. At the 47 nation nuclear summit hosted by the US, its president, Barack  Obama, renewed his pledge to work towards a world without nuclear weapons. He sees it as a quest that will go beyond his generation.


Perhaps this is the right moment for citizens’ groups all over the world to accelerate and expedite the mobilization of the masses for a global campaign for total disarmament. A signature campaign that targets millions of people may be an idea worth pursuing. The signatures could be presented to governments and the United Nations.  Groups that have been conducting such campaigns on the nuclear issue, and on other issues, should come together to plan this mass mobilization. Our expanding gamut of information and communication technologies (ICT) could play a major role in this endeavor.


Total disarmament is part of the UN Convention on Nuclear Security proposed by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, at the recent nuclear summit in Washington. A UN Convention would presumably make the elimination of all nuclear weapons the responsibility of the entire global community and not just a matter to be resolved through bilateral negotiations between nuclear powers. It should not only provide for the effective monitoring of the disarmament process but also prohibit the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. At the same time however the Convention should reiterate the right of all nations, big and small, to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.


For the Convention to succeed, and for nuclear disarmament to become a reality, one has to draw upon a resource that has seldom been utilized in the quest for a nuclear weapons free world. This is religion. It is potentially a powerful resource since more than 80 percent of the world’s population is attached to some religion or other. Besides, religion has a greater capacity to change an individual’s outlook and attitude than most other instruments of transformation.


The values and principles embodied in all our religions suggest that the manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons is an unconscionable act. From an Islamic perspective for instance there are at least three reasons why nuclear weapons are morally reprehensible. One, they kill indiscriminately: the vast majority of the victims are bound to be civilians. Two, they harm and injure unborn generations, as we have seen in the progeny of some of the Hibakusha. Three, nuclear weapons devastate the physical environment.


Of course, there are Muslim jurists, just as there are Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist theologians who endorse nuclear weapons. Their stance is influenced more by  power and ego than by the enduring humane and compassionate values and principles that lie at the heart of their faiths. On the nuclear question, as with many other issues of great import that confront us today, it is these values and principles that should triumph.




Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia and President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) based in Malaysia.



19 April 2010.


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