One of the greatest fears in the post-9/11 world is the prospect of nuclear terrorism. Indeed, this concern led the Department of Homeland Security to create the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. But trying to detect a nuclear weapon to prevent a terrorist attack amounts to a needle-in-the-haystack operation. Simply being able to detect the presence of radiation as one indicator of nuclear material is not sufficient if one is searching for a nuclear device rather than a radiological weapon such as a dirty bomb. For example, there are legitimate commercial sources of industrial and medical radiation that do not constitute a nuclear threat. Moreover, there are many naturally occurring sources of radiation, such as fertilizers, ceramics, bananas, kitty litter, and smoke detectors. The difficulty of being able to detect nuclear materials and the technical gap that exists for the process is best illustrated by the fact that twice ABC News was able to smuggle a 6.8-kilogram cylinder (about the size of a soda can) of depleted uranium through U.S. Customs and into the country (in September 2002 at Staten Island, NY and September 2003 at Long Beach, CA).
The potential threat of nuclear terrorism is exacerbated by the fact that the quantities of weapons grade plutonium (WGPu) or highly enriched uranium (HEU) required to build a nuclear weapon are relatively small. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a significant quantity of WGPu to make a first generation nuclear bomb is 8 kilograms and 25 kilograms for HEU (a Natural Resources Defense Council study concluded that only 1 kilogram of WGPu or 2 kilograms of HEU was needed to build a nuclear fission weapon). This problem is further compounded by the fact that potential sources of fissionable nuclear material are widespread. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, there is over 50 tons (over 45,000 kilograms, or enough nuclear material to build 1,800 weapons) of HEU being used in civilian power and research programs in over 50 countries.
Therefore, the best way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to keep nuclear weapons (and the nuclear material to create a weapon) out of the hands of terrorists in the first placethat is, dealing with the problem at its source. Towards that end, the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) effort has resulted in the elimination and reduction of stockpiles of nuclear weapons, their components, and their delivery mechanisms in Russia and the former Soviet states.
Unfortunately, U.S. policies and actions have probably resulted in creating more potential sources of nuclear weapons rather than fewer. For example, in the wake of the Bush administrations decision to engage in regime change in Iraq, it is not surprising that North Korea and Iran would believe that they might be next on Washingtons hit list unless they could effectively deter such an attack especially since both countries were named members of the axis of evil in President Bushs 2002 State of the Union address. Because neither country could hope to match the conventional military capabilities of the United States, a logical defense option for both is to develop nuclear weapons.
The larger problem is the U.S. proclivity for military intervention, which pre-dates the Bush administration since the end of the Cold War (marked by the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989), the United States has engaged in nine major military operations: Panama in 1989, the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Somalia in 1992, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, Iraq (Operation Desert Fox) in 1998, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003. And it is important to realize that President Clintons war in the Balkans was essentially no different than the Bush administrations invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. Both were unnecessary military actions against sovereign states conducted without the formal approval of the UN Security Council, and neither represented an imminent threat to U.S. security. And both were rationalized on humanitarian groundspunishment for Slobodan Milosevics atrocities in Serbia and Saddam Husseins brutal rule in Iraq, respectively.
In other words, U.S. behavior has likely created a powerful incentive for the proliferation of nuclear weapons exactly the opposite desired effect.
[Editor's Note: The approval of the UN is quite irrelevant. None of this military intervention had the approval of the American people via voluntary funding. It's all been paid for with stolen goods. ]
Charles V. Peña is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute as well as a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, and an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project.
William Ratliff is Adjunct Fellow at the Independent Institute, Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and a frequent writer on Chinese and Cuban foreign policies.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Full Biography and Recent Publications
Jonathan J. Bean is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the forthcoming book, Race and Liberty: The Classical Liberal Tradition of Civil Rights.
Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute. He earned
his bachelor's degree in American history from the University of California
at Berkeley and gave the undergraduate history commencement speech in
2003. In addition to his work with the Independent Institute, he regularly
writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including LewRockwell.com,
Future of Freedom Foundation, and the Rational Review.
Dominick T. Armentano is professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) and a research fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He is author of Antitrust & Monopoly (Independent Institute, 1998).
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is director of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. He is widely published and has lectured on world economic and political issues including at the Mont Pelerin Society, Naumann Foundation (Germany), FAES Foundation (Spain), Brazilian Institute of Business Studies, Fundación Libertad (Argentina), CEDICE Foundation (Venezuela), Florida International University, and the Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce. He is the author of the Independent Institute books The Che Guevara Myth and Liberty for Latin America. Full biography and recent publications.
Gabriel Roth is a transport and privatization consultant and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, where he is editing a book on private-sector roles in the provision of roads, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads.
Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute,
author of Against Leviathan and Crisis and Leviathan, and editor of the
scholarly quarterly journal, The Independent Review. Click
here for a bio on Dr. Higgs, the noted economist and historian.
William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic University.
T. Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Associate
Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-editor of
the book, The
Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society.
For further information, see the Independent Institutes book on wasteful farm programs, Agriculture and the State: Market Processes and Bureaucracy, by Ernest C. Pasour, Jr.