Weekend Roundup: Preventing ‘Madmen’ From Getting Their Hands on Nuclear Material


Kathleen Miles is the executive editor and cofounder of Noema Magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @mileskathleen.

A weighty question loomed large for world leaders who gathered in Washington this week for the fourth Nuclear Security Summit: could terrorists obtain dangerous nuclear material?

“There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they most certainly would use it to kill as many innocent people as possible,” U.S. President Barack Obama said at the summit Friday.

Fears of the so-called Islamic State’s nuclear ambitions have grown since a suspect linked to the November terrorist attacks in Paris was found with a surveillance video of a Belgian nuclear power plant official. Harvard’s Matthew Bunn said the Belgian case highlights further steps that must be taken to thwart nuclear terrorism. “Major nuclear facilities must be protected from sabotage,” he said. “And radiological sources must be protected, tracked throughout their life and, where possible, replaced with less dangerous technologies.” The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a private advocacy group in Washington that tracks nuclear security, warned in a new report that the ingredients for a radiological “dirty bomb” are located at thousands of sites across the globe — including medical, research and industrial centers — and that “many of them [are] poorly secured and vulnerable to theft.” Cybersabotage is a further danger. Later this year, the U.K. and the U.S. plan to simulate a cyberattack on a nuclear power plant to test private and public preparedness.

Obama launched the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 with the goal of achieving a nuclear weapon-free world. Since then, nuclear security has advanced through numerous efforts — not the least of which is the Iran deal. But while numerous countries have given up or stalled their nuclear weapons programs, Pakistan, India, China and North Korea are growing their nuclear weapons stockpiles. Nuclear smuggling is also a persistent problem. From 1993 to 2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported over 2,700 confirmed incidents of illicit radiological trafficking globally. Within the last six years, there were at least four thwarted attempts to sell radioactive material to extremists through Moldova. In February of last year, “a smuggler offered a huge cache of deadly cesium — enough to contaminate several city blocks — and specifically sought a buyer from the Islamic State group,” the Associated Press reported. Joe Cirincione contends that it is more than likely that the material seized in the Moldova stings came from Russia and that the U.S. and Russia should redirect the billions spent on their nuclear arsenals toward preventing ISIS from accessing radioactive materials. He suggests that Obama use a speech at Hiroshima in his upcoming trip to Japan to force executive actions to stop the planned building of new U.S. nuclear weapons and thereby prevent a renewed arms race with Russia. Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin boycotted the nuclear summit this week. He said Russia wasn’t adequately included in the planning process; however, many believe he’s seeking retribution for U.S. sanctions against Russia. The red carpet was rolled out for Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit. He was the only leader to have an extended one-on-one meeting with Obama. The two leaders agreed to jointly implement sanctions against North Korea in a meeting Friday that was followed by Pyongyang warning that it would continue developing its nuclear weapons. It also fired a short-range missile into the sea Friday — the latest in a recent series of missile launches from the country. Over the years, the U.S. and China have made important strides in cooperative nuclear security, notes Hui Zhang, except, perhaps most importantly, in the military sector. Military cooperation was cut off after the U.S. accused China of spying in the 1990s. There are also concerns about nuclear terrorism in Pakistan, where the Taliban attacked a nuclear air base in 2012. Pakistan’s terrorists struck again last Sunday during Easter celebrations. A horrific suicide bombing in a park in Lahore killed more than 70 people, mostly women and children. An offshoot of the Taliban claimed responsibility. Writing from Islamabad, Mosharraf Zaidi explains that the Taliban’s attack on a school in 2014 ramped up the government’s anti-terror campaign, and the Taliban are getting desperate. Raza Rumi asserts that Pakistan’s military campaign alone won’t cure intolerance — it must be coupled with deradicalization and reintegration programs. Farheen Rizvi makes the case that the Lahore bombing exposes dangerous fissures in the country’s terror policy. Beena Sarwar breaks down how Pakistan’s religious right uses “blasphemy” to usurp political power and threaten the country’s rule of law. Malik Siraj Akbar chronicles mounting tensions between India and Pakistan after the arrest of an alleged Indian spy in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

Writing from Athens, Cas Mudde details steps we can take to counter the rise of populism in Europe. Writing for HuffPost Arabi, Amr Hamzawy fears that if terrorist attacks continue, right-wing and racist movements could continue to gain momentum. Howard Fineman stipulates that Donald Trump’s tragic flaw may be his need to demonstrate his “masculinity” by disparaging women. Jared Bernstein maintains that Trump’s trade protectionism is ill-founded but that trade deficits in specific countries — U.S., China and Germany — do cost workers in jobs and incomes. Nathan Gardels sees a global race taking place between the newly empowered and the recently dispossessed.

Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden discuss whether in spite of China’s “public relations offensive” across Africa to reassure investors, the slowing of China’s economy will continue to slow a significant part of Africa’s own economies. Writing from Beijing, Wu Jianmin calls for the U.S. and China to work together to speed up a bilateral investment treaty and to ensure the success of the G20 summit in September in Hangzhou. Nick Robins-Early discusses what Brazil’s massive corruption scandal could mean for the country. Writing From Kiev, Maria Snegovaya postures that if the West doesn’t force reforms in Ukraine, the country could break down. Former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga claims the lack of compliance with the U.N. mandate to protect refugees is “endangering the global order.” Writing from Munich, Sabrina Hoffmann tells the story of three refugees in Germany who are giving back by volunteering at an assisted living home. Frederic Hof, the former U.S. advisor on the transition in Syria, applauds that violence is down and humanitarian assistance is up in Syria but laments that “the map to the promised land — political transition — remains a blank sheet.” Former Iranian National Security Council member Seyed Hossein Mousavian proposes several steps to take to resolve the Syrian crisis and curb the ISIS threat.

Kanan Makiya explores the origins of the instability afflicting the Mideast today. About six months after a U.S. aircraft bombed a Médecins Sans Frontières trauma clinic, WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones relays that Afghans have more questions than answers, which has compounded mistrust. Jesselyn Cook outlines a new UNICEF report that finds that 320,000 children in Yemen are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

Our “Forgotten Fact” takes a look at Boko Haram’s largest school kidnapping and why it has gone largely unnoticed. Charlotte Alfred introduces us to a network of teachers in Kenya who are challenging extremist narratives in the classroom. She also profiles a Belgian Muslim playwright whose show, “Jihad,” uses black comedy to shed light on why a disproportionate number of Belgian youth are becoming radicalized. This week, Fusion examines whether or not predictive policing, which uses algorithms to predict where crimes will happen, leads to racial profiling. Finally, Singularity tells us that researchers are testing a new approach to Alzheimer’s prevention: a capsule packed with genetically engineered cells.


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