National Security has fluctuated as one of the most important values that Americans rank in their list of concerns for the nation. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, national security jumped to the top of most American’s list of the nation’s priorities. Now, ten years on things are different. After two foreign wars (one coming to an end by 2012 in Iraq and a resurgence in Afghanistan), the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA wire tapping debacle, an Anthrax scare, the execution of Sadam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Muammar Gaddafi things have significantly changed. Talking about nuclear weapons seems like a trivial concept that was only really prevalent when discussing the Cold War. However, our President has named the threat Nuclear Terrorism as the biggest threat to the United States. So, what is Nuclear Terrorism exactly?
Nuclear Terrorism is the threat of a terrorist group gaining access to an already made nuclear weapon or more realistically attaining nuclear materials (i.e. centrifuges, highly enriched Uranium or Plutonium) and using it against a state. Imagine if the Times Square bomber (Faisal Shahzad) actually was able to set off one of his car bombs, but on top of that it, imagine if it contained nuclear material, the results would be unimaginable. If Iran or Pakistan were to employ their nuclear weapons against another state, then they would be accountable and most likely blown to smithereens. But what makes nuclear terrorism so scary is that terrorists ( especially al- Qaeda) are not members of a specific government, so we couldn’t retaliate with our nukes against a specific country.
Why this point is noteworthy now is due to the Arab uprising that has taken the Middle East by storm. What is really dangerous is for a country to fall victim to a revolution, and with all of the political chaos somehow nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands (i.e. terrorists). Libya is an example of this. Libya once had a growing nuclear weapons program, but in an effort to build bridges with the West, Gaddhafi decided to denounce his own program and dismantle in 2003. However, there has always been speculation about the possibility of nuclear materials still in Libya. With no clear leader or sense of direction for the country that had been under direct control of Gaddhafi for over 41 years, anything is possible. Another, and even more threatening example is Pakistan. Pakistan actually has a developed nuclear weapons program, with over 100 active warheads. The political instability of the region in combination with the notorious corruption of the Pakistani government and the numerous amounts of terrorist groups that hail from the country could pose a huge problem for the West if they were to get their hands on nuclear material.
Also, Iran has expressed its determination to its nuclear program but strictly for energy and medical purposes. The face of Iran (but not the most powerful man in the nation) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also stated that he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the map. It is not in the best interest for Iran to attack Israel or the USA with nuclear weapons because both of those nations have way more warheads. However, it is not impossible to think that the Iran government would turn a blind eye to letting their nuclear material trickle into the hands of terrorist groups who have similar goals as the Iranian government and are willing to do Ahmadinejad’s dirty work. This possibility is frightening.
The Arab Spring has spread to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Syria, and Lebanon to just name a few. This instability in collaboration with the threat of nuclear proliferation of the region could cause devastating outcomes. Just as of a few days ago, the IAEA ( International Atomic Energy Agency, part of the UN) found a previously unknown Uranium enrichment plant in north-west Syria.
When the masses protest and leaders are being ousted as a new government takes form, certain things can fall through the cracks (i.e. unaccounted for nuclear weapons after the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union). The international community needs to ensure that with these liberating changes that have and are currently sweeping the Middle East, that nuclear materials are secure.
What are your thoughts about how the US should address Iran’s nuclear posture? Is Syria an actual threat, more possibly to Israel? Does President Obama have the political capital to follow through on his Prague Speech about pushing for the total eradication of nuclear weapons?