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Three steps to reducing nuclear terrorism

America’s nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear terrorism are interconnected. How the US handles its arsenal must change.

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America’s arsenal is deployed at various states of readiness on bases across the US, on 14 Trident submarines, and in allied countries.

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The US should consolidate the sites where warheads and bomb-grade fissile materials are stored, convert Trident submarines for conventional missions to threaten an adversary’s WMD programs, and, in consultation with European allies, remove all forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in storage vaults at air bases in Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey.

3. Finally, sustained diplomacy with countries that have the bomb or bomb-grade fissile materials is an essential ingredient for implementing the review’s new guidance.

Years after the revelations of Al Qaeda’s efforts to obtain a bomb, there remain foreign leaders unwilling to remove unneeded fissile material, bureaucratic hurdles to implementing or sustaining threat reduction programs, and complacency about the threat. Diplomatic initiatives to reduce the likelihood of loose nukes could be more accepted if conducted parallel to a strategy that reduces the use of US nuclear materials.

In his April 2009 speech in Prague, Czech Republic, President Obama announced “a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.”

If the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review acknowledges that America’s nuclear arsenal and the threat of nuclear terrorism are interconnected issues, and carefully translates that into practice, it will improve the administration’s odds at meeting its deadline.

Micah Zenko is a fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael Levi a senior fellow at the council and author of the book “On Nuclear Terrorism.”


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