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(en) The Energy Route to Weapons

From "Dave Cull" <dcull@island.net>
Date Sun, 24 May 98 13:45:28 -0600

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

This item received from Surendra who lives in a village in India. (I'm
having name & email difficulties) needs to be shared on the list. A BITNET
address, I think.  anumukti.ilbom.ernet.in!admin@ilbom.ernet.in
Also available formatted at http://www.pgs.ca/pages/nl/sm980520.htm

Ross Wilcock

The Energy Route to Weapons: Can anything be done about it?


[Presented at the INESAP conference in Shanghai, September 1997]

Nations like people hanker after security. Rulers of some nations feel that
their security is best secured by possession of weapons of genocidal mass
destruction. Since as a class, rulers usually have a deadly fascination for
insane ideas, and since in our insane world, nations possessing these
weapons are accorded prestige and power, rather than the disgust and boycott
that they deserve, there are many others who want to follow.

There are many ways for a nation to acquire nuclear weapons.
First of all is the direct route. All the declared nuclear weapons states
have followed this path. But like passengers in third class compartments in
Indian railways, once in, they are loath to allow others to get in and thus
there is now a no-traffic sign put up on especially this route.

Next there is the alignment route. This is the presently approved way for a
country to have the vicarious pleasure of hosting nuclear weapons and
becoming a target for other nuclear weapons. Nations join military alliances
with nuclear weapons powers and that can mean deployment of these weapons on
the country's territory. However, this is somewhat unsatisfactory since
deployment unlike possession does not imply control. In fact, countries such
as Britain and France which were aligned in NATO with USA preferred to
develop their own independent nuclear arsenals. However, many nations
especially in Europe have tried and are still trying this route.

There is also the bribery, smuggling stealing and outright buying route.
Fortunately nobody seems to have successfully traversed this path or if
someone has then they have mercifully not advertised the fact. But best of
all there is the energy detour. In this what is required are pious
declarations that the nation is not interested in weapons at all but only in
the "peaceful" uses of atomic energy and will not give up this wonderful
source of energy needed so desperately for development.

Having acquired the expertise and the know-how and having a large trained
cadre in hand, the country goes on to develop an independent capacity for
the various steps in the nuclear fuel cycle, so that all the elements for a
weapons' program are in place and the decision to go overtly nuclear or not
is entirely in the hands of the national leadership.

All the threshold nuclear states and a number who are not counted as
threshold states have traveled at least some distance on this energy route.
But before going into what can be done about the energy path let us first of
all, note down some common features amongst all nuclear weapons programs.

1. Fear is the key

All the countries, which went in for a nuclear weapons program, did so out
of fear. There was the fear that Hitler might acquire the bomb and with it
world domination. There was the fear of becoming a third rate power of
little standing after having ruled the world for two centuries. There was
the fear of not having an independent voice and becoming an appendage of the
Americans. There was the fear of being subjugated to nuclear blackmail in
the absence of a credible nuclear deterrence.

2. Impossible without international cooperation

Despite the overwhelming nationalistic fervour, despite the mind stifling
secrecy involved in the projects, despite the later jingoistic claims, all
weapons programs have been possible only as a result of partnership between
individuals and organizations of many nationalities. In fact, without the
(usually willing) collaboration of many, bomb efforts would not have
succeeded. Thus, for instance, Manhattan project depended on the inputs of
European scientists of many nationalities along with the labour of Congolese
uranium miners under the rule of Belgium and Canadian refiners. Similarly,
the Russian effort gained enormously from the efforts of German scientists
and the uranium gathered from the mines of Czechoslovakia and the eastern
part of Germany. The British and the French efforts benefited greatly from
colonial inputs. The Chinese were initially helped by the Soviet Union.

3. Pregnant with anti-democratic tendencies

By their very nature, nuclear weapons programs give rise to small coteries
wielding enormous power who begin to take decisions on their own initiative
without any thought of any sort of participatory democratic process. Thus,
for instance, even Truman, who was Vice President of US at the time, was
deliberately kept ignorant of the whole bomb project and came to know of it
only when it became unavoidable following his ascension to the presidency.
Similarly, in France, the decision to embark upon a full-fledged nuclear
program was not taken by the political leadership but was the result of the
initiative of the scientific-military establishment doing things on its own
and waiting for a favorable political leadership to emerge.

4. The costs have been borne mainly by indigenous populations.

The real costs of weapons in terms of people's health and the degradation of
the environment have been borne disproportionately by indigenous people and
sub-nationalities and colonial populations within the nations involved. The
French and the British being old imperialists have been the most blatant
about this but even the "people's democracies" like the Soviet Union and
China have also located their testing sites on lands of indigenous tribes.

5. Acquisition of weapons has not contributed to an increased feeling of

The country with the most sophisticated arsenal of nuclear weapons feels the
most insecure and continues to produce new weapons, new weapon systems, and
refuses to give a categorical undertaking of no-first use. Thousands of
nuclear weapons were unable to prevent the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Besides these common features which are shared by all, the countries
specializing in using the energy route to weapons also share at least one
other common feature.


While the leaders sanctimoniously and frequently proclaim their peaceful
intentions, they simultaneously allot disproportionate resources to dual use
technologies and the scientists involved in the effort are placed on a
different pedestal and are not held accountable to normal bureaucratic

The direct route to weapons can be likened to a village pathway. One person
travels and makes a clearing. Others feel curious and follow the footsteps.
Over time and after a great deal of effort has been expended, a clear
pathway can be distinguished. But it is an effort to walk on this route and
one needs to be always ready to make a clearing whenever the need arises.
This is not to say that more countries besides the ones that did would not
have traveled on this route.

The energy route is fundamentally different. It can be likened to a highway
meant for efficient forms of transport. So once the energy route became
available the temptation to take that was too strong.

How did the energy route come into existence?

The energy route came about as a result of deliberate act of policy. It
meant the declassification of enormous amounts of hitherto secret
information, much of it of direct relevance to bomb making for example the
PUREX process for obtaining weapons useable plutonium from reprocessing
spent fuel from research reactors. It involved the training of hundreds and
thousands of scientists and engineers from many countries. In essence, it
meant the creation of the entire nuclear-industrial complex. This was
deliberately done basically for two reasons. One, was to have public
acceptance in peacetime for continued and accelerated nuclear weapons
program and the other was to win propaganda advantage in the by then deadly
Cold War. However, the program itself introduced a new-industrial and
commercial-link to what had been hitherto been a
politician-military-scientific complex till then.

Atoms for Peace spawned the civilian nuclear power industry. True to the
hype and falsehoods attendant upon its birth it has always been a hoax. The
passage of time has cruelly exposed its claims of being cheap (Too Cheap to
Meter), safe ( Defence in Depth) and clean. It no longer is able to compete
economically in the marketplace despite massive subsidies and orders for new
reactors have dried up in the West. It has always had to invent new excuses
( A solution to global warming) as old claims are exposed for the lies they
are, to justify continued existence.


There has been no uniform response of the non-nuclear states to the energy
route to weapons. Some have not traveled at all either because their threat
perceptions have been different or because they have greater democratic
control over their scientific and military establishments or because they
have evaluated the energy hoax for what it is. Some have not traveled yet
but might do so in the future. In fact, there is a very strong commercial
effort from nuclear pushers to get new countries hooked on. This is coming
about especially in Asia as a result of the demise of the nuclear industry
in the West. Again the decisions which prompt new countries from going down
the nuclear path are taken by small coteries of power brokers. The major
motivating force here are usually the hefty commissions involved. (e.g.
Marcos and the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant). But it needs to be added that
the people making these decisions are not oblivious to the weapons potential
(e.g. Iran or Korea both North and South).

Some countries have traveled some distance along the energy route and then
stopped (Sweden) and some have traveled further and then turned back like
South Africa or Brazil and Argentina. Deep study needs to be done as to what
caused this reaction amongst these nations.

The threshold states are countries who have traveled the route and have gone
on and on. Israel is the prime example, though India and Pakistan have not
lagged behind at least in intention if not in capability.

Preventive Efforts

Having created the energy route and made all arrangements for all and sundry
to travel on it the nuclear powers soon realized that more in this case was
not merrier and a proliferative world was a terribly insecure world. Ideas
such as deterrence lost whatever little validity they had when the number of
players with access to these weapons became much larger than two. Also with
the passage of time, the ossification and the final winding down of the Cold
War, the original reasons behind establishing the energy route of propaganda
advantage and getting public support for accelerated bomb making effort in
peacetime, were no longer as compelling. On the other hand were the
commercial considerations of nuclear suppliers which are mainly all powerful
multinational companies with their origin in these very countries. Hence,
since late 1960s there has been an effort to prevent nations from travelling
the full distance on the energy route. NPT, London Suppliers' Group, CTBT,
Fissban are all parts of this scheme. The attempt is to somehow create
roadblocks in the path of international collaboration. However, these
efforts are based on two fallacies:

They presume that only the nuclear weapons states have legitimate grounds
for fear which need nuclear weapons as a security measure and the security
fears expressed by others are not legitimate and are somehow a cover for
regional hegemony.

Nuclear energy despite its abysmal failure as a competitive energy source is
still a valuable energy source and needs to be promoted. Despite almost 30
years of intensive non-proliferation efforts, nuclear non-proliferation
remains a rather fragile entity.

Can Anything Be Done?

The answer unfortunately is; very little in the present paradigm. The
nuclear weapons states continue to feel both insecure and feel that nuclear
weapons contribute to their security. They continue their efforts to produce
new generations of nuclear weapons. They have not taken any real and genuine
steps towards nuclear disarmament. Mere reductions from many thousands to a
few thousands or a few hundreds are no substitute. Today their actions
engender a feeling of insecurity and make for an unstable world climate in
which the ruling elite of the threshold states will feel morally justified
to continue on their own immoral ways.

Secondly, for the sake of commercial gain, the myth of nuclear technology as
a sensible energy option is still being promulgated. Unless, this is
debunked and its spread into newer and newer areas curtailed, its
proliferation will automatically produce the small undemocratic coteries of
power hungry nationalists who given time will become more and more hawkish
and force their nations to exercise the nuclear option.

What needs to be done?

Non-proliferation efforts driven by nuclear weapons powers are a sham. The
last thirty years have shown that the present is the best that they can
achieve. Thus to give more time to the nuclear powers to show the way, is a
sure recipe to remain in the present mess.

To get out to a world free of genocidal devices of mass destruction the
initiative will have to come from people.

All nations including the nuclear weapons states will first of all need to
realise that like people they too have to confront and address their fears.
Secondly, it is high time that the energy route needs to be demolished. It
has lost whatever little legitimacy it had in the marketplace and efforts
need to be made to channelise international co-operation into sensible and
sustainable energy paths.


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