Terrorists and the Nuclear Threat
In the course of this interview there was one question and answer that is central to the war on terror and how this quagmire in Iraq has distracted us from the key battle in that war which is the prevention of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Cirincione answered the question of which country now possessing nuclear weapons worried him the most when it came to proliferation.
I recently made headlines in the Indian press because I was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and I was asked this question by some of the members. What’s the - some of the members seem to think that China’s the most dangerous country to us, but it’s really Pakistan for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s a - it’s been the source of a great deal of proliferation. It would be A.Q. Kahn network, the scientist who helped create the Pakistan nuclear program, who spread this technology to Iran, to Libya, probably some to North Korea and perhaps other countries. This has been - if it wasn’t for Pakistan, there wouldn’t be an Iranian nuclear program to worry about. That’s one set of problems and the second is that Iran - that Pakistan has enough material for between 50 and 100 nuclear weapons, it has an unstable government, strong Islamic fundamentalist influences in the army. Armed Islamic fundamentalist groups operating in the territory - Osama bin Laden has reestablished terrorist training camps in Pakistan. What happens if President Musharraf is assassinated? There were two attempts on his life in recent years - missed by a matter of seconds - what if his motorcade is slower next time? Who gets the bombs? Who gets the material? Who gets the scientists who know how to build those bombs?
Pakistan could go from a major NATO - non-NATO ally to our worst nuclear nightmare overnight. Overnight. That’s, to me, our most serious state proliferation threat and we’ve got to - in order to deal with that threat, it’s not a Pakistan specific solution. We can’t keep playing nuclear ”Whack-a-mole” where we try to solve this one state at a time, you have to have a systemic change. You have to have a comprehensive approach that deals with our weapons, that deals with terrorist supplies, that deals with the rules of the road and that goes after the underlying conflict that seeks to resolve them. Those tensions, those disputes that give rise to the proliferation imperative in the first place. It’s like - I started saying recently - like I think of it, like playing Parcheesi, where you got to move several pieces down the board at the same time and get them all over the finish line in order to win.
It’s - to me it’s like three-dimensional Parcheesi. And if you’re going to solve a problem as difficult as Pakistan, as difficult as Iran, you got to have a comprehensive approach, you got to work like crazy on it. You have to have the smartest, most talented people you can find, you’ve got to give them the money and you got to give them your personal attention as a leader of this country in order to get that job done. It’s doable, we just have to decide to do it.
The biggest threat the U.S. faces in the next 10-20 years is the detonation of a nuclear weapon in this country. It will kill hundreds of thousands of people, devastate our economy and will certainly plunge us into a state of perpetual war.
Mr. Cirincione is not a doomsayer, he is very positive and upbeat about our ability to deal with this problem successfully if the problem is given the priority it deserves. Nevertheless, he believes we will probably be attacked within the next 10-20 years.
I ordered this book this weekend and will talk about this a lot more. He scared the hell out of me.
The one thing I took from this interview was that we need vision and leadership of a type that has been lacking in this country for many years. Let's hope it's not too late.