Undoubtedly, the most horrific act of terrorism would involve a nuclear strike on an American city. Washington officials have been formulating defense policy on this belief since President Clinton’s administration in the 1990’s. For years, U.S. planners have been doing everything in their power to come up with a viable long-term nuclear-defense strategy. Crisis management and conflict resolution are two of the most effective tools in this area, both of which can be used to minimize the physical and psychological casualties associated with a nuclear attack.
Unfortunately, conflict resolution and crisis management may not be enough. With the terrorist threat only increasing in significance, the widespread fear of a nuclear terrorist incident will only strengthen as more Americans worry about their personal safety.
Likewise, with all of the talk about “rogue states-” that unique club of countries that are both dangerous to international security and destabilizing to their respected regions- it is easy to get carried away about the state-nuclear terror connection. After all, one of the primary arguments for the U.S., Israeli and European Governments concerning Iran’s enrichment cycle is directly related to this analogy; with a nuclear-weapons capability, nations like Iran or Syria may find it useful to pass on their own nuclear technology to like-minded proxies (such as Hezbollah). In fact, for all of the bickering in the United States Congress about foreign-policy issues, the state-proxy nuclear relationship seems to be the only topic that cuts across partisan divides.
Therefore, concentrating solely on rogue states as the major source of nuclear technology for terrorist groups is an obvious exercise. But it is more than that…it is the only purveyor that the international community can pinpoint with complete confidence and accuracy.
Sure, terrorists can buy enriched uranium on the black-market, paying top-dollar to acquire some of the purist weapons-grade material science has to offer. But where would this weapons-grade material come from? Did it come from some kind of mysterious creature? How about from the soil? Of course not! It came from a legitimate nation that, for some reason or another, either decided to sell this information or get rid of it altogether.
This is why Iran and Pakistan worry me so much. One is on its way into the nuclear-club (if the United States does not do something concrete about the problem) and the other already boasts a 100-warhead arsenal. If Pakistan was not the global home to all sorts of terrorists- and if the country’s civilian government was not already in a sorry-state of fragility and discontent- this may not be a problem. But, as we all know from recent Taliban attacks across the country, that statement is nothing but a delusional fantasy.
Likewise, I am not so convinced that states will exercise self-restraint with its nuclear resources at every possible turn. Generally, when a national economy starts going down the toilet, a state will try pretty much try anything to prevent an incoming tidal wave that will wipe out its political survival. Take North Korea, one of the poorest and most isolated countries on the face of the earth; the same country that has been selling nuclear secrets to other states for the past ten years.
Sure, Pakistan may not be as suicidal as North Korea. At least not when billions upon billions of American taxpayer dollars keep flowing in. But, minus the growing U.S. financial safety-net, we have to wonder how responsible Pakistan would be with its own nuclear secrets. Remember, in addition to an inefficient and depressed economy, Pakistan still has an axe to grind with India over Kashmiri territory.
-Daniel R. DePetris