In response to what was widely considered a highly successful summit to combat nuclear terrorism, the right is in a scramble to say something negative about it. Conservative pundits are now arguing that the summit was a failure because it did not magically solve the Iran situation, a subject that the summit never intended to address. But in making this argument, the right has exposed its naive and negligent approach toward the most urgent and dangerous threat in the post Cold War era: nuclear terrorism.
Charles Krauthammer derisively mocked the summit in a column today in the Washington Post:
What was this great convocation about? To prevent the spread of nuclear material into the hands of terrorists. A worthy goal, no doubt. Unfortunately, the two greatest such threats were not even on the agenda. The first is Iran…Nor on the agenda was Pakistan’s plutonium production… So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium. What a relief.
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) added that there had been “no meaningful progress in dealing with nuclear terrorism threats or the ticking clock represented by Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” And Mona Charen of the National Review wrote:
The administration assembled an elaborate tableau to feign progress on nuclear proliferation while patently failing to grapple with the most obvious, ominous, and imminent threat — Iran.
State-sponsored nuclear terrorism is a major concern, but it is not the most likely source of nuclear terrorism as the right myopically suggest. Nuclear terrorism is frighteningly more straightforward than conservatives seem to fathom. Al Qaeda doesn’t need Iran to get a nuke, all they need to find is a “Nick the Greek.” Nuclear materials are floating around on the black market, especially in the former eastern bloc. Groups, like Al Qaeda, have sought to obtain these materials, and if they were acquired, they could easily smuggle it into the US where a small team could construct a crude Hiroshima-like bomb.
In an attempt to brush away the important bilateral achievements at the summit – such as the deals with Russia, the Ukraine, Mexico, Canada, and Chile – as well as the significant final communique – the right fails to realize that vulnerable nuclear or radiological materials anywhere – whether in the eastern bloc, South America, or your local medical center, all represent potential targets for thieves looking to make a buck on the black market. Yet, in a Fox News interview this week Krauthammer asserted that the summit was “all about changing the subject.” This summit wasn’t changing the subject, this IS the subject.
Part of the reason why nuclear terrorism remains firmly in the right’s blind spot, is because securing loose nuclear materials cannot be done unilaterally. Instead, it requires a multilateral effort by countries to do more to eliminate or lock down nuclear materials. As David Hoffman said this “is not rocket science,” but it does require US leadership.
Despite the windfall of global support after 9-11, the Bush administration never made this topic a global priority. As a result of this negligence, during the past decade, the threat has grown, leading a former Ambassador to warn that a nuclear attack “is possible, plausible, and over time probable.”