Securing the Material, Eliminating the Threat
Why it must remain a top priority for world leaders
Nuclear terrorism. The words make one shudder when thinking of the implications of such an act. The world’s leaders say nuclear terrorism is the greatest threat we face—with good reason.
There are clear indications that Al Qaeda has been actively seeking nuclear weapons for years. There’s ample evidence, including a statement from the man himself, that Osama bin Laden sought and was prepared to use a nuclear weapon. We also know that Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan and his network sold nuclear secrets worldwide. There are regular media reports about smuggling incidents that seem to indicate a black market for weapons-usable nuclear material.
The explosion of one crude nuclear bomb in any major city would change the world forever. Not only could it cause death on a mass scale, but it could also trigger global economic disruption, environmental degradation, and a wider conflict requiring a military response. According to nuclear security expert Matthew Bunn at Harvard University, “a 10-kiloton bomb (equivalent explosive power to 10,000 tons of TNT and modestly smaller than the Hiroshima bomb) detonated in midtown Manhattan in the middle of a workday could kill half a million people and cause $1 trillion in direct economic damage.”
Admittedly, experts don’t agree on how high the odds are that a nuclear terrorists bomb will be detonated in the next ten years. Some say it’s as low as 1 percent and others say it’s as high as 50 percent. But even if there’s little chance of it, working to eliminate the threat is an investment well made by world leaders.
The easiest way to prevent a nuclear attack by terrorists is to make sure they don’t acquire weapons-usable nuclear material. Securing these materials is crucial because once terrorists have acquired enough, then it becomes significantly more difficult to stop them from using the material in a bomb. In this issue of Courier, you’ll find an overview explaining the nuclear material of concern, where it is in the world, and how feasible it is that terrorists could build a bomb with the material.
Shortly after his election, President Obama made preventing nuclear terrorism a top policy priority. In a public speech in Prague in April 2009, he declared that the United States would lead a global effort to secure all materials in four years. A year later in April 2010 Obama hosted 47 world leaders at the first ever Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC.
All nations attending the Nuclear Security Summit last year agreed to take measures to keep terrorists from acquiring nuclear material and most made specific pledges to take action. In an article by Michelle Cann, research analyst at the Partnership for Global Security, you’ll find an analysis of the progress made toward these commitments. Next year world leaders will come together once again for a second Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea.
The United States cannot solve this problem alone. Nor can governments. Only truly global cooperation across all sectors can prevent nuclear terrorism. Also in this issue, the foundation’s director of policy and outreach Keith Porter takes a look at a “whole of society” approach to addressing the problem.
There has been a serious effort to scoop up and lock down the world’s nuclear materials since the end of the Cold War. Yet nearly 20 years later, we are far from having all of the materials secure. And we are at risk of them falling into the wrong hands.
Almost three years ago the Stanley Foundation began a programming effort focused on the security of weapons-usable nuclear materials. From our point of view, preventing a nuclear terrorist attack from taking place anywhere is an achievable and common sense goal the world’s governments can agree on. The stories in this edition demonstrate how securing the material eliminates the threat.
— Jennifer Smyser, Program Officer, The Stanley Foundation
The latest issue of Courier features articles on the state of securing nuclear material as the final nuclear security summit approaches in early April. It also includes a special reprint of an article from the Center for Public Intregrity, "The Stalking Threat of Nuclear Terrorism." Alex Bellamy, an expert on R2P, discusses the progress made in "Acting on the Responsibility to Protect," and three students from a global scholars conference comment about climate change. Lastly, a brief look at the foundation's Iowa Student Global Leadership conference. The full Spring 2016 issue. PDF (2.0 MB) Subscribe for FREE.
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|PARIS & BEYOND: COP21
Launching Global Climate Actions
The world recently looked to Paris for the most important global climate change negotiations for achieving a safer climate world: the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As a helpful reference we have compiled this summary of the major work of the Stanley Foundation and its collaborators in an active global role during the past year preparing for this historic event…and the important continuing work ahead. More.
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|Nuclear Security Video
The Stanley Foundation produced a 13-minute video looking at what needs to be done to stop terrorist groups from acquiring enough fissile material to make a bomb. The foundation talked with over a dozen diverse and distinguished experts from the Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group and the Fissile Materials Working Group to see how today's patchwork of voluntary arrangements can be forged into a long-lasting system. Watch the video.
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