President Barack Obama is on an anti-nuclear binge. It is obviously a good thing to want to reduce nuclear weapons on the planet, and I hope he is successful.
Today and tomorrow Obama will host 40+ heads of state at a nuclear summit. I don't know that his goal is for that, but the Washington Post pointed out that while the President was meeting with foreign leaders about reducing nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on Sunday TV making certain that the Administration isn't attacked for being soft on national defense: "We'll be, you know, stronger than anybody in the world, as we always have been, with more nuclear weapons than are needed many times over."
She's right about that. Clinton signed a treaty with the Russians in Prague last week to reduce nuclear weapons on both sides to 1,550 per. I'm not at all certain we know where all of our nukes are; I guarantee the Russians can't account for all of theirs.
Still, 1,500 nuclear weapons is probably more than enough to deter any rational opponent from a first launch.
The operative word there, of course, is "rational."
North Korea's Kim Jung Il is not rational. Neither is Iran's Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Nor is Caesar Chavez. And those guys are the heads of actual countries.
The real danger is if someone from one of the many al Qaida offshoots gets ahold of one. Of course, they would have to smuggle it into the United States to do us harm.
Think about some Mexican drug lord using American cocaine dollars to buy a nuke misplaced in a former Soviet Republic and having it shipped to northern Mexico. He then smuggles it across the border into San Diego, which is a lot easier than trying to smuggle it in from Charles de Gaulle Airport, in Paris.
Then Señor Drug Lord, to recoup his investment, makes a deal with someone sitting in Pakistan to have it shipped on any old 18-wheeler to Chicago or Cleveland or New York or … Washington, DC, where it is either detonated or think about this, America is held hostage by an irrational, non-national group with a nuke.
If it comes to a bomb going off in Midtown Manhattan or leaving Afghanistan and Iraq, what do you think the Administration would do?
What about a demand to cut Israel loose from being an American protectorate. Would we be willing to sacrifice New York City for Israel?
As the BBC's Jonathan Marcus points out, the likelihood of a bad actor getting his hands on an actual nuclear device is pretty small. The bigger danger is one of them
"getting hold of radioactive material to build a so-called "dirty bomb". This uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive material over a wide-area. "Such a 'dirty bomb' could be used to contaminate key parts of a major city, leading to huge disruption, economic chaos and long-term health problems."
As Russians found out last week, Moscow is just as exposed to terrorism as anywhere else. A threat to St. Petersburg would put President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin into a pretty significant bind.
Back to the big issue. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, as does India. North Korea does, and Iran soon will. Israel doubtless has nuclear weapons although they won't admit to it. Russia and the U.S., plus France, China, Britain are the big five but such nuclear powerhouses as Switzerland, Morocco, and the Netherlands will be attending as well.
In Washington, DC we're used to having to wait for a motorcade of the President, Veep, or some foreign head of state to pass. The White House is careful not to schedule big moves during morning or afternoon rush hour which can tie up traffic until the next day.
Forty heads of state being zipped around downtown Washington cannot be a good for work-a-day people like you and me, but it's a small price to pay for getting the world to focus on the issue of nuclear terrorism.
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