pre-emptive strike against nuclear terrorism
By Ameen Izzadeen
The direction of the global war on terrorism, sadly,
has been monopolised by the United States, with countries being
warned that they will be deemed supporters of terrorism if they
do not toe the US line.
you are with us or with the terrorists," thundered President
George W. Bush in an address telecast worldwide in the aftermath
of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. The statement left no room
for one to adopt a position that he or she is neither with the United
States nor with the terrorists.
than three and a half years after the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Bush's infamous
statement is proving to be more rhetoric than a true expression
of his intention - and his war on terrorism more an extension of
US foreign policy aimed at fortifying its global dominance than
an all-out crusade against terrorism in any form.
the approach of the United States and the West to the question of
terrorism smacking of duplicity and double standards, the challenge
before the United Nations in tackling the real issue assumes added
Proving that the world body still has reason for existence
in today's unipolar world, the United Nations is tackling the question
of terrorism, by framing laws covering a wide-range of terrorism
related crimes. The United Nations adopted on Wednesday a convention
aimed at saving the world from nuclear terrorism. A welcome achievement
indeed by the beleaguered UN, which has in the recent past been
bombarded by allegations ranging from inefficiency and sex crimes
by UN peacekeepers to corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food programme
and being subservient to the United States.
years of hard work by a UN ad hoc committee, headed by Sri Lanka's
Rohan Perera, a distinguished diplomat and the Foreign Ministry's
Legal Advisor, were brought to fruition on Wednesday, when the UN
General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Suppression
of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, making it a crime to possess radioactive
material or weapons with the intention of committing a terrorist
UN has adopted the convention at a time when nuclear terrorism is
perceived as a possibility. Remember, nuclear terrorism was one
of the reasons that President Bush cited in justification of his
war on Iraq.
Bush administration carried out a campaign to convince the world
that there existed a nexus between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Al-Qaeda
terrorists and that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would find
their way into Al Qaeda hands and that this posed a grave threat
to world peace and security.
the US has failed to find even a single WMD or prove that Iraq had
links with Al-Qaeda after more than two years of US occupation of
Iraq, the convention does not lose its relevance. On the contrary,
it is regarded as a pre-emptive move to thwart possible nuclear
attacks by terrorists.
fact it is the first anti-terrorism treaty that has been adopted
by the international community even before a crime covered by the
treaty has taken place," Dr. Perera said.
previous 12 anti-terrorism treaties such as the Convention of Unlawful
Seizure of Aircraft (1970) and the International Convention for
the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (2000) were adopted
or came into force only after the crimes covered in the treaties
had been committed, he said. (See Guest Column by Dr. Perera.)
convention is also the first international treaty on terrorism to
be adopted after the 9/11 incidents. It will be opened for signatures
on September 14 - the day world leaders gather at the United Nations
for a summit on reforming the world body - and must be ratified
by 22 countries to come into force.
convention provides for a definition of acts of nuclear terrorism
and covers a broad range of possible targets, including those against
nuclear power plants and nuclear reactors.
convention was based on an instrument originally proposed by the
Russian Federation in 1998, during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin.
Causes for concern
The Russian proposal came against the backdrop of a chilling revelation
by Alexander Lebed, President Yeltsin's national security advisor,
that there were about 100 suitcase-sized nuclear weapons of the
former Soviet Union missing or unaccounted for.
suitcase bombs, weighing about 75 pounds each, were said to have
been made for the KGB, the Soviet secret service, to be used in
case of emergency during the Cold War. However, these weapons were
not included in any post-Cold War inventory. Neither were there
records that these weapons were decommissioned.
have all these nuclear weapons gone? It is not only these missing
weapons that cause concern, but also the ability of terrorists to
make crude nuclear bombs. The busting of the network run by Pakistan
nuclear scientists Abdul Qadeer Khan bears testimony to the possibility
that fissile material could change hands between non-state actors.
cause for concern is the ability of terrorists to target nuclear
facilities such as reactors. The 1986 nuclear reactor accident in
Chernobyl, Ukraine has so far killed 25,000 people who have been
exposed to radiation.
explosion at Chernobyl released 100 times more radiation than the
atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Another possibility
is a country could hire the services of an ideologically driven
terrorist group to set off crude nuclear bombs in an enemy country.
The new convention attempts to address all these concerns.
the convention, the alleged offenders must either be extradited
or prosecuted. It also encourages states to cooperate in preventing
terrorist attacks by sharing information and assisting each other
in connection with criminal investigations and extradition proceedings.
nuclear terrorism convention will play a crucial role in preventing
terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction, the
use of which could lead to catastrophic consequences. It will contribute
to strengthening the international legal framework for the suppression
and combating of terrorism, as well as promoting the rule of law
in general. It will become a valuable addition to the existing 12
universal anti-terrorism conventions," a statement from the
ad hoc committee said.
the adoption of the draft convention, Secretary-General Kofi Annan
said the committee's efforts were helping the world to become a
safer place. "The convention would help prevent terrorists
from gaining access to the most lethal weapons known to man. It
would strengthen the international legal framework against terrorism,
which included existing universal conventions and protocols."
chairman Dr. Perera told journalists in New York that the finalization
of the convention marked the end of a long, arduous and challenging
journey that began in 1998. "This is indeed a significant and
commendable step forward in the global fight against terrorism,"
in Colombo, he told The Sunday Times that the finalization and the
adoption of the convention demonstrated that it was the United Nations
General Assembly that should be the real law-making authority. He
was obviously referring to the dangerous trend of binding resolutions
being passed by the 15-member Security Council, which is dominated
by the United States and the other four veto-wielding countries.
committee had overcome roadblocks and barriers, and sent a strong
signal to the international community, in unequivocal terms, that
the General Assembly and its bodies had the capacity and the political
will to meet current challenges and duly discharge their norm-creating
responsibilities," the ad hoc committee statement said.
The committee's success in drafting the anti-nuclear terrorism
convention augurs well for the completion of the ad hoc committee's
main task - drafting a comprehensive anti-terrorism treaty.
task of drafting the comprehensive treaty was begun before the work
on the draft of the anti-nuclear terrorism convention began. However,
deliberations are still said to be bogged down in definitional disputes.
terrorism has today become one of the most pressing problems of
the world, the adage that one's terrorist is another's freedom fighter
has still not lost its relevance. For instance, Islamic and Arab
countries lack political will to brand groups such as Hizbollah
of Lebanon and Hamas of Palestine as terrorist groups. These countries
also raise the question of state terrorism and call on the ad hoc
committee to deal with this problem as well.
up the position of the Islamic countries, Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador
Munir Akram said on Wednesday that any agreement on a definition
of terrorism must not prejudice the legitimate rights of the people
to struggle against foreign occupation and for self-determination
and national liberation nor exclude state terrorism.
committee chairman Perera is hopeful that the comprehensive convention
against terrorism will be finalised by September this year when
the UN begins celebrating its sixtieth year of existence amidst
heightened calls for the restructuring of the world body.