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THE DOMINANT THREAT: NUCLEAR TERRORISM

Since September 11, 2001, however, Americans perceive that the greatest nuclear threat they face is nuclear terrorism. Indeed, some of the concern over North Korea and Iran is because of their potential to facilitate and support such terrorism. Both have been state sponsors of terrorist groups in the past. Americans fear that a nuclear-armed Iran, with its strong anti-Israel bias, might transfer materials or even weapons to a terrorist group for ideological or theological reasons, especially in response to a future conflict involving American support for Israel. North Korea gets much of its revenue from such illicit activities as drug smuggling and counterfeiting. Americans fear that if the price was right, the North Korean leadership might be willing to transfer materials, knowledge or, perhaps, even a complete weapon if they thought they could do so with impunity. The growing American interest in nuclear forensics is, in part, intended to deter such transfers by making it likely that the United States could ascertain the source of material intercepted or used in an attack.8

The American concern with nuclear terrorism is not limited to terrorists supported by a state. Americans believe that if a terrorist organization could acquire sufficient fissile material, especially highly enriched uranium (HEU), it could construct an improvised nuclear device.9 Such a device would be crude, inefficient, and relatively large, but could still easily be transported by a small panel truck and could detonate with devastating physical effect and even more devastating psychological effect. There is solid evidence that Al Qaeda is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons capability (although there is no evidence they have done so).10

This concern with terrorists stealing or otherwise acquiring a nuclear weapon or the material to construct an improvised nuclear device is the major motivation for such efforts as the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism,11 the strong U.S. support for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (UNSCR 1540),12 the large sums spent to assist Russia in improving weapons and material security, the U.S. global efforts to convert research reactors to low-enriched uranium and to repatriate the HEU,13 and for such port and border security efforts as Second Line of Defense, Megaports and the Container Security Initiative.14 Indeed, President

8

See the paper by Michael Kristo in this volume.

9

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) defines an improvised nuclear device as “a device, incorporating fissile materials, designed or constructed outside of an official Government agency and which has, appears to have, or is claimed to have the capability to produce a nuclear explosion.” DOE Order 457.1, approved February 7, 2006. For further information, see http://www.directives.doe.gov/pdfs/doe/doetext/neword/457/o4571.pdf; accessed May 1, 2008. An improvised nuclear devise using plutonium would be somewhat more difficult but is probably within the capability of at least some terrorist organizations.

10

For further information regarding this issue, see the National Intelligence Estimate: The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland, available at http://dni.gov/press_releases/20070717_release.pdf, and the National Strategy for Homeland Security, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/homeland/nshs/2007/index.html; accessed May 1, 2008.

11

For further information regarding the G8 Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism, see http://www.g8.gc.ca/2002Kananaskis/gp_stat-en.pdf; accessed on April 6, 2008. See also, http://www.state.gov/t/us/rm/69124.htm; accessed May 1, 2008.

12

To read the text of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, see http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N04/328/43/PDF/N0432843.pdf?OpenElement; accessed April 6, 2008.

13

See the paper by Philipp Bleek and Laura Holgate in this volume.

14

Some of these programs are treated as non-proliferation efforts under the U.S. budgetary process, but they are more correctly thought of as counter-terrorist efforts. Improving security in Russia, for example, helps guard against



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