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World: New Study Raises Questions About Nuclear Safety

By Annie Bang and Michelle Townsend

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace today concludes a two-day conference in Washington on the dangers of nuclear proliferation. The private nonprofit organization released a study yesterday raising questions about whether the world is any safer from nuclear attacks by rogue nations or terrorists.

Washington, 22 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush pledged shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks on America that his administration would not permit hostile nations and terrorists to acquire nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

But is such a goal realistic? The new Carnegie study, titled "Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security," suggests the answer may be no.
"We must and will maintain an effective, reliable, capable, smaller nuclear force as a hedge against an uncertain future in a world in which substantial nuclear arsenals remain."

It says while states can be deterred from using nuclear weapons through threat of retaliation, terrorists who have neither land, people nor national futures to protect may not be deterrable.

According to the study, acquisition by terrorists of nuclear weapons poses the greatest single threat to the United States.

Another key point of the report is that the United States is undermining its own policies by continuing to build nuclear weapons and strengthening ties with nuclear states such as India, Pakistan and Israel.

The former chief UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, Hans Blix, told the conference that it is hard to understand why the United States would want to launch a preemptive strike against a country unless the issue is examined in light of the 11 September 2001 attack.

"When the [terror] attack occurs, you see it. Before that moment there may be uncertainty and this is what makes the use of force in prevention and preemption problematic. It has been argued that defense must be allowed before an attack is imminent," Blix said.

Blix said countries that launch a preventive attack must be sure they are in danger.

"Any government learning that a 9/11 -- perhaps with weapons of mass destruction -- is about to happen can not sit and wait, but will seek to prevent it. However, such preventive action, if undertaken without authorization of the Security Council, would have to rely critically upon solid intelligence if it were to be internationally accepted," Blix said.

Mohamed el-Baradei is the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations body.

El-Baradei said the UN Security Council should have greater powers to cope with existing and rising threats to international peace through both diplomacy and enforcement measures.

The UN official said until the international community fully commits to the development of such a system, attaining nuclear disarmament will remain in the realm of rhetoric.

El-Baradei cited a recent U.S. government promise that the United States would reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile by nearly half over the next eight years. He said the pledge is encouraging if the intention is to eliminate the warheads in a verifiable and irreversible manner.

The pledge was made by Linton Brooks, the administrator of the U.S. government's National Nuclear Security Administration.

Brooks outlined the Bush administration's nuclear policy.

"We must and will maintain an effective, reliable, capable, smaller nuclear force as a hedge against an uncertain future in a world in which substantial nuclear arsenals remain," Brooks said.

Another participant of the conference, former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, called on the United States and Russia to lower the alert status of their nuclear weapons. Nunn is considered to be a leading expert on nuclear weapons. He said both countries should jointly adopt an approach and a timetable to get the job done and challenge other nuclear nations to follow the lead.