In 2007 I joined with several others who spent many years studying nuclear arms to form a mini consensus of the opinion that the greatest threat to our security, that of our allies, and the world, was the combination of terrorists and nukes. To quote, "The White House, Congress, and the media have focused heavily on the so-called Axis of Evil when dealing with WMD in general and nukes in particular. Since the introduction of this term, attention has been focused on three rogue states: North Korea, Iran, and Saddam's Iraq. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, justified initially to prevent Iraq from using or acquiring further WMD, sharpened this focus. As I see it, the combination of terrorism and nuclear weapons poses a graver threat to international security" : (Security First, P220). The White House, President Obama's newly released Nuclear Posture Review, and this week's summit have shifted the focus from strategic weapons left over from the days of the Cold War (at the center of attention until and including last week) to where it belongs: to terrorists getting their hands on nukes or the materials from which they can be made.
To evaluate the outcomes of the summit, here are the hotspots that should be covered, but are not necessarily the ones that will be addressed:
1. One of the most likely places terrorists are may get what they would consider their dream ticket--and hence our nightmare--is Russia. Russia has somewhere between 3,000 and 15,000 (estimates vary) small tactical nuclear bombs. These are much less well guarded than the strategic big bombs. Moreover they are positioned much closer to Russia's borders--including those with Muslim republics--than most of the strategic ones. No treaty covers them. So far there is no sign that these arms will be even discussed during the summit.
2. Next is Pakistan. It has an unstable government and strong anti-American insurgency groups which find allies in some of the nation's forces, especially the notorious ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). The Pakistani government has rejected many American efforts to help it to better guard these arms, fearing that the United States may grab them if the Taliban and their allies take over. Let's see what the summit will do about this major challenge.
In reaction to a very unwise American policy to expand India's nuclear program, Pakistan in effect is expanding its own. So far there is no indication that this thorny issue will be faced during the summit.
3. The third source of trouble is the considerable amounts of plutonium, highly enriched uranium, and radioactive waste that lie around in many parts of the world, from Chile to South Africa. This is the area in which we are making good progress. The U.S. does underwrite a global drive to neutralize these materials one way or another. President Obama wisely calls for accelerating this process. It is likely to get much attention during the summit, which is like focusing on low lying fruit. They deserved to be harvested as long as progress here does not deflect attention from those much harder to reach.
Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and professor of International Relations at The George Washington University and the author of Security First (Yale 2007). His first book on the politics of nuclear weapons was published in 1963.