By Davis George
The United States’ and its allies’ ability to combat the dynamic threats regarding nuclear security is critically important at this point in time. It is obvious that the explosion of a nuclear bomb (and even worse, a nuclear war) would do irreparable damage not only to the United States, but to the earth’s ecosystem, and most frighteningly, to humanity’s ability to continue existence. The launching of these weapons, according to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, would likely result in global firestorms that would eradicate 1 billion people, or about 1/7th of the world’s entire population, in addition to causing trillions of dollars of infrastructure damage. This is why Einstein, while developing the first nuclear weapon in the Manhattan Project, wrote of the “inconceivable destruction” that nuclear weapons posed if not kept in check by a stable global order. Global problems require global solutions, and without one, the launching of nuclear weapons would cripple humanity.
Securing our borders from the likes of loose nuclear weapons has never been a higher priority for our country. Without doubt, the threat is real. Peter Huessy of US News and World Report explicates that both Iran and North Korea will have the ability to strike the United States with a ballistic missile by 2015. With North Korea already in possession of several nuclear weapons, and Iran’s status on nuclear security only tangentially secure, the threat presents itself as one of the greatest strategic obstacles for the United States.
However, Gregg Brazinsky of the Elliott School for International Affairs explicates that the likelihood of a true threat materializing from one of these nations is relatively small, primarily because these nations necessitate the continued existence regime, and don’t have a true priority of expressing aggression against the United States because they would never survive the counter-attack. Unfortunately, Matthew Bunn of Harvard explains that the situation is far more grave, with a roughly 29% chance of nuclear terrorism occurring in the next decade, whether by theft, or other methods, such as janitorial corruption. With threats of nuclear terror rapidly spawning everyday, and numerous declarations of Al-Qaeda’s intention to acquire bombs, the question evolves quickly from “Is there a threat?” to “What do we need to do about it”?
One of the simplest ways to stop terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons is, of course, the use of military force to eradicate terrorists in the first place. For instance, John Masters of the Council of Foreign Relations writes the United States has been using special forces to increase kill capture missions to 2200 operations in 2011. Over 12,000 militants have been captured with this tactic, with 90% ending without a shot fired. These decapitations, according to Brian Price of Harvard, make groups around 8.1 times more likely to end. Special forces decapitations prevent terrorists from ever being able to acquire nuclear weapons, while simultaneously being targeted enough to combat specific terrorist threats without the impediment of a full army maneuver. In fact, Matthew Bunn, the aforementioned Harvard professor, concluded that US actions in the middle east against terrorists have significantly reduced al-Qaeda’s chances of pulling of a nuclear terror complex, by almost 20%.
However, pre-emptive measures aren’t the only tools in the toolbox against nuclear proliferation. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Nuclear Threat Initiative details that since 2002, special operations forces have been placed in “nuclear hotbed” regions, ready to address and neutralize nuclear crises’ by intercepting weapons and defusing them, especially on the open ocean. In fact, an article by the Atlantic explicates that this sort of “render safe” mission has been used to intercept a ship from North Korea, which had an illegal weapons system on board. Further, the Department of Homeland Security writes that render-safe teams have been deployed 19 times worldwide in response to emergency threats. Other interception techniques have been wildly successful, as Condoleeza Rice writes the the PSI, or proliferation security initiative, has prevented almost 11 risky nuclear transfers by scanning different types of containers that move into ports for the alpha, beta, and gamma radiation that nuclear weapons almost inevitably emit. These successful, innovative, measures help to create a buffer action which continuously neutralizes up and coming nuclear threats.
Fortunately, sometimes, the issue becomes a self-solving one, dissolving tensions almost as fast as they materialize. Barak Ravik of Haaretz explains in more detail, noting that since the inauguration of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s stance on nuclear weapons has been surprisingly cooperative. According to the Economist, talks have begun between Iranian and US officials ; this has never happened before. In return for six months of reduced frozen sanctions, the Iranians have now agreed to step back on their progress towards a nuclear weapon. This marks a turning point in the success of diplomacy. By peacefully stifling weapons at the source, we simultaneously reduce the ability of terrorists to acquire these weapons.
Together, all of these methods must be used multilaterally to combat the nearly instantaneously changing threats that nuclear weapons pose to our society and our world.