Preventing a Nuclear Nightmare
Now it is well known: We are in a race to the finish line with agents of terror, and it’s unclear which side will get there first.
Time is running out for the Unites States to develop a defensive system against nuclear and radiological attack before Osama bin Laden and others of his ilk successfully acquire the deadly means to kill more innocent civilians.
One avenue for such an attack is an offensive nuclear weapon. For this reason, President Bush’s missile defense program, when deployed, may come to be regarded as one of the most significant efforts in the interests of peace in recent history.
And the community of nations must immediately address another issue of great significance to the safety of the world: radiological terrorism.
Deployment of a so-called “dirty bomb” – a conventional explosive packed with nuclear material – could contaminate all of Washington, D.C., if deployed to maximum effect. Such a bomb would require an amount of plutonium no bigger than a human fist to be effective. Experts say that the radioactive emissions from such an attack could keep the nation’s capital uninhabitable for years, perhaps decades.
For some time, we have known of glaring lapses in security at nuclear facilities in countries such as Russia. A report issued early this year by former Senator Howard Baker and former White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler documented a system highly vulnerable to sabotage and outright theft of radioactive materials. International agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency report nearly 200 instances in the last decade alone of attempted smuggling of nuclear material from sites in the former Soviet Union.
Frequently attempts by al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks to obtain crude nuclear weapons are also well known. There are public reports from al-Qaeda defectors of attempts by bin Laden to obtain uranium and similar materials from former Soviet republics. If al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks haven’t obtained nuclear and radiological capabilities yet, there is no question they will keep trying. And they will unleash them once given the opportunity.
Two nuclear scientists who played a key role in building Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal are in the custody of the Pakistan government, according to published reports, and are being investigated for their work in Afghanistan and ties to al-Qaeda. One of the scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, has said publicly that Pakistan should give nuclear assistance to other Islamic nations, and he has previously praised the Taliban regime.
Until we have completed the important task of rooting out the terror network in Afghanistan and elsewhere (including the U.S.), we cannot be sure we have eliminated the threat of a terrorist using nuclear weapons. Combating this danger will require developing new technologies to detect hidden nuclear materials smuggled from abroad, allocating millions to secure Russia’s nuclear facilities and nuclear materials, and increasing intelligence-gathering in former Soviet republics, and other nations attempting to gain radiological material.
At home, it will mean continuing to enhance our law-enforcement agencies’ capability to infiltrate domestic terrorist cells and gather information on their activities. The United States will also have to play a long-term and vigorous role in aiding those nations with nuclear weapons that face civil unrest or revolution – and keeping other rogue nations from obtaining nuclear materials. This will include taking necessary measures to stop would-be allies, such as China, from exporting nuclear technology and other assistance to nations seeking to develop such capabilities.
Those who mean us ill are doing everything in their power to develop weapon of mass destruction to use against us. We must do everything within our power to stop them.