Can Seoul summit tackle biggest threat to US security – nuclear terrorism?
What can President Obama and other world leaders meeting in Seoul, South Korea, for the second Nuclear Security Summit today and tomorrow plausibly accomplish? The answer is less than many observers hope – but more than skeptics appreciate. Look at Ukraine.
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While United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 calls upon member states to adopt “effective, appropriate” security standards, the Seoul summit will provide operational examples of those generalities.Skip to next paragraph
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Specifically, some states will declare at the summit that they will become “fissile-material free” countries. This serves as an assurance that they cannot be the source of a terrorist nuclear bomb because there are no weapons-usable nuclear materials on their territory. Going one step further, the leader of Ukraine is scheduled to stand up at the summit and announce that his country has already become a member of this group.
Some skeptics will ask: so what? Only those ignorant of Ukraine’s recent history would fail to appreciate the significance. Ukraine inherited the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It has now not only eliminated its long-range nuclear weapons (capable of being launched against American cities) and shorter-range nuclear weapons (designed for battlefield use, much easier to steal and still capable of devastating a city), but its entire Soviet-era nuclear weapons infrastructure, and now finally all its nuclear weapons-usable material.
Similar actions taken by other states for both Seoul and the 2010 Washington summit have unquestionably made the world safer from nuclear terrorism.
The fact that Obama, already engaged in a hard-fought battle for reelection, is devoting this much time to an issue that has little resonance for most voters, demonstrates that he is serious when he says that nuclear terrorism is the single biggest threat to American national security.
Graham Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the author of “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.”
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