Nuclear Nightmares, from Bin Laden to Brussels

The fourth and final world summit to keep nukes out of the hands of terrorists wraps up Friday in Washington, D.C. This is theNuclear Security Summitthat President Barack Obama launched in 2010 with the sweeping aim of slashing and securing weapons-usable nuclear material stockpiles scattered in too many places around the world.

We’re sure delegates from more than 50 nations are patting themselves on the back for all their progress over the past six years. In 2010, “the task was awesome — and so was the leaders’ joint commitment to it,” writes Sam Nunn of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Leaders set out to reduce and secure more than 2,000 metric tons of nuclear materials spread across hundreds of sites. Today, those stockpiles are smaller, but they still hover around the same metric tonnage, Nunn reports, “much of it still too vulnerable to theft.

Our conclusion: There’s been progress, but it’s short of awesome.

The prospects for a nuclearcontainment breakthrough in the summit finale: Dim. That’s because of a prominent nyet-show:Vladimir Putin. The Russian president has indicated that he won’t play second-fiddle to Obama on the world nuclear-cleanup stage. Yet for years, Russia has led the world in lax security for its nuclear arsenal. The U.S. has helped with funding and know-how to improve Russian security. But significant vulnerabilities remain, as do threats that emanate from government corruption, organized crime and Islamic extremism.

The summit also is overshadowed by the rapid pace of nuclear gains in places where you don’t want to see nuclear gains: Iran, North Korea and Pakistan.

Last year’s nuclear deal with Iran was a potential coup for all the terror organizations that Tehran supports; how long before Tehran slips a terror group some fissile material for even a crude bomb?

Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal is a prime target for terrorists, who have launched attacks on heavily guarded nuclear facilities, often appearing to have insider help.

And then there’s North Korea, which fired off its fourth nuclear test earlier this year and is advancing toward a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S.

There are fresh and unsettlingleads from Brussels too. Authorities investigating the recent terror bombings reportedly are pursuing evidence that Islamic State leaders sought to attack, infiltrate or sabotage a Belgian nuclear facility, or obtain radioactive material that could be used in a so-called dirty bomb.

One clue: Last year, investigators found surveillance footage of a top official at a Belgian nuclear facility in the apartment of a suspected militant linked to the suicide bombers in the Paris and Brussels attacks, The New York Times reports. Authorities speculate that terrorists might have been plotting to gain nuclear materials from the facility, possibly by coercing a scientist to help them, the paper reports.

If the danger of Islamic State obtaining a nuclear weapon is an “emerging threat,” as British defense Secretary Michael Fallon says, that’s because Islamic State leaders are borrowing a page fromOsama bin Laden‘s aspirational playbook.

Al-Qaidarepeatedly attempted to buy stolen nuclear bomb materials — once getting duped out of $1.5 million for a cylinder of fake weapons-grade uranium — and to recruit nuclear expertise. Al-Qaida terrorists even staged rudimentary tests of conventional explosives as part of their nuclear bomb program in the Afghan desert, report Harvard researchers at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“At least two terrorist groups — al-Qaida and the Japanese terror cult Aum Shinrikyo — have made serious efforts to get nuclear weapons, and there is suggestive evidence of Chechen terrorist interest as well (including incidents of terrorist teams carrying out reconnaissance at Russian nuclear weapon storage sites),” the Harvard researchers write.

Bin Laden’s efforts fizzled.But Islamic State has far greater resources.

The delegates to this summit — and the people dedicated to sweeping up nuclear stockpiles and keeping them safe — can’t afford to assume that these diabolical efforts will fail again, let alone forever.

The next American president will have to press this issue even harder with his or her counterparts around the world. Terrorists seek nukes, perhaps more aggressively than ever. That means the urgency to secure stockpiles is growing. Earth’s population, well aware of terrorists’ ghastly intentions, needs more than a summit to contain all the loose nuclear material sloshing around the world.

Courtesy: Chicago Tribune

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