The growing threat of nuclear terrorism

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The growing threat of nuclear terrorism

America and Russia must cooperate to thwart rogue state attacks, argues Moshe Kantor.

The greatest challenge to global security is the nuclear threat from rogue states, led by North Korea and Iran. There will be no progress in ensuring global nuclear stability without cooperation between the United States and Russia. This should be a major priority for Presidents Trump and Putin. Much has been made of states trying to secure their borders against terrorist threats. While it is essential that borders are secured, terrorism is tackled and hatred confronted, we cannot ignore the greatest contemporary threat of all, nuclear attacks. It feels remote and unlikely, but is a very clear and present danger.

It is essential for the international community to remain alert to the constantly growing threat of nuclear terrorism, in whatever form it may take, ranging from the detonation of a ‘dirty’ bomb by a terror group or the destruction a nuclear facility to a full-fledged nuclear attack.

Pyongyang’s response to last week’s annual U.S., Japanese and South Korean defence exercises demonstrates clearly where these threats lie. While Mr. Trump has many campaign pledges to fulfil, what is clear is that none is more important to geopolitical stability than identifying and neutralizing the nuclear threat, and to do that there needs to be much more collaboration between the U.S. and Russia. This is a major theme that will be discussed this week in Washington, D.C. when the International Luxembourg Forum For Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe, of which I am president, convenes.

The military manoeuvres by North Korea coincided with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first visit to the north Asia region. The welcome indications are that a significant part of that visit was to explore multilateral actions against North Korea — including China, which has so far been reticent to explicitly condemn their economic and military ally.

The accelerated pace of North Korea’s testing over the last few years is a cause for concern. Last year there were 24 missile tests and two nuclear tests, and this year there have already been five missile tests. At the 2017 Munich Security Conference Byung-se Yun, foreign minister of the Republic of Korea, delivered a speech saying, “North Korea is nearing the final stage of nuclear weaponization posing a direct threat to the world, including continental U.S.”

While the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted unanimously to further strengthen sanctions against North Korea at the end of 2016, these have not acted as a deterrent. North Korea is taking liberties with the international community and UNSC has not been tough enough.

It is reassuring that the Trump administration has already identified these sanctions as ineffectual. Ahead of diplomatic visits, a State Department spokesman acknowledged that sanctions are only as strong as their implementation, and that without full utilization of these the international community is unable to “apply the pressure that we feel needs to be brought to bear on North Korea.”

We face a deadlock in attempts for nuclear disarmament; North Korea is increasing its nuclear capability and this is a shameful demonstration of the impotence of the great powers and the U.N. Security Council.

Despite the sabre rattling of North Korea, it is impossible to look at the global threat without also considering it in the wider context of the Iran deal. UNCS Resolution 2231 lifted all punitive measures imposed on Iran, following years of gruelling negotiations by Russia, the United States, U.K., France, China and Germany. Mr. Trump, however, has regularly expressed his misgivings about the deal, saying that it is not in “America’s or the world’s interests.”

It is argued that in international relations, the longest-lasting deals are usually those that make all parties equally unhappy, although the deal, is a catastrophic mistake of historic proportions. Its impact could have far-reaching consequences on the relationships with Russia and the West, as well as between Iran and global players.

The strict enforcement of the provisions of the deal must be high on the international community’s agenda. We must ensure that Iran is monitored closely and any breaches are dealt with swiftly and harshly — such as the recent stock of heavy water exceeding the limits stipulated in the agreement.

The leaders of Russia, the United States, Britain, China and other important powers around the world, must make countering nuclear terrorism the highest priority, and can only do so by upholding international security with cooperation. This must extend to reviving all previously adopted initiatives and resolutions on nuclear terrorism without delay.

Only with state sanctioned collaboration between intelligence agencies and special operations services, especially Russian and American, will we be able to secure nuclear activity and actively neutralize the risk of nuclear terrorist attacks.

Presidents Trump and Putin have tough jobs, but without cooperation and decisive action on the nuclear threat global security is left in a desperately vulnerable state.

Moshe Kantor is president of the International Luxembourg Forum for Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe.

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  • Moshe Kantor
    Moshe Kantor
    Moshe Kantor is President of the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe; European Jewish Congress; European Council on Tolerance & Reconciliation.
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