Exclusive: Nuclear Terrorism: Our Foes Eying ‘A View to a Kill’ (Part Six of Ten)

by PETER HUESSY March 31, 2010
The most serious threat America faces is nuclear terrorism from Iran, either a nuclear EMP attack launched by missile or a warhead smuggled into a city by an Iranian sponsored terrorist group. Russian-United States arms control deals, however beneficial, do not get at the network of nuclear suppliers that is helping Tehran secure nuclear weapons nor maintain its status as the world's premier state-sponsor of terror. To stop Iran's march toward such weapons either requires crippling economic measures or regime change. 
Thus, while a reduction in U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear warheads is a good thing, what does it do to help prevent such threats? The connection may be tenuous at best. Does it bring more stability to the relationship between Washington and Moscow? Hopefully. Certainly, if the new START or "Prague" treaty does this, it will be an additional help in building a more peaceful world. But "mere numerical targets do not reflect the opposing sides differing global interests and obligations and their asymmetrical conventional and intelligence capabilities" according to former Bush administration official John Bolton. That is why the 2002 Moscow Treaty between the U.S. and Russia had limits on deployed warheads but not on delivery platforms. That flexibility was critical to both U.S. strategic planning and maintaining extended deterrence for our allies. It was also an attempt to build on the end of the Cold War. Without a strict verification regime, the 2002 agreement required greater trust between the two countries. For many reasons, the new treaty has limits on warheads and launchers and includes a new verification scheme.
We also know Russia has embarked on an "aggressive modernization program to field new nuclear weapons...is placing increased reliance on its ICBM and sea-based missile force...and...has a fully functional infrastructure that will enable it to breakout" according to retired Admiral "Ace" Lyons. In addition, we know Russia, as well as China, has been complicit over many years in assisting countries such as Iran build both a nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles. Russia's nuclear weapons doctrine emphasizes the use of such weapons early in a crisis, unchanged from the late 1990s. Obviously, the U.S.-Russian relation has serious difficulties, which this new treaty will not resolve. Particularly troublesome are the remaining thousands of tactical nuclear weapons in Moscow's inventory, including some of them in submarines off of our coasts aimed at American cities, that the treaty (and all others before it), does not restrict in any way.
 Many have said the new treaty gets us closer to a world without nuclear weapons.
However, not everyone is in favor of "global zero," including Russia, and China, Iran and North Korea. As former White House official Frank Miller has explained, moreover, U.S. nuclear weapons do not cause proliferation. If anything, it is U.S. conventional superiority that lies behind some states desire for nuclear weapons. The threat of nuclear terrorism is here and now and will not be significantly lessened with appeals for "abolition" which will not happen in our lifetime.
The push for this treaty was generated in part by a common but serious misperception. For example, the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament claimed that since the "big guys” – the U.S. and Russia – have not been serious about disarmament, there has not been a "buy-in" from "other countries" to achieve non-proliferation goals, such as ending nukes in Iran. This is not true. The U.S. has reduced its arsenal from 12,000 deployed to now 1,500 deployed weapons, a remarkable 88 percent decline since 1981.
The nuclear threat we face is from a nuclear weapons enterprise made up of a combination of state sponsors of terrorism, such as North Korea and Iran, their allies such as Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Russia and China, associated networks similar to the "Nukes 'R Us" Khan folks, and terror groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda. Will Iran give up its nuclear weapons programs if the U.S. does? Will they do so once the new treaty is ratified? No on both counts.
There is no doubt this is a very serious and difficult problem. The administration is hoping multiple Non-proliferation doors open in a cascade of positive results from the signing of this new deal. Key to this will be an economic sanctions regime that will push Iran to comply with its obligations under the NPT and the relevant UN resolutions.
But current sanctions on Iran appear ineffective, and they are often unenforced. New resolutions apparently will call simply for current measures to be better enforced. However, Congress has pending legislation containing very serious economic restrictions on Iran. These include a cut-off of refined petroleum products. Conventional wisdom, unfortunately, says such serious or "crippling" sanctions will not pass muster with China or Russia, Turkey or Brazil. Yet to be effective, sanctions would have to be (1) very tough, including measures to end business with Iran's oil and gas sector and central banking system and (2) include most major countries. Unfortunately, opposition from those now profiting from deals with Iran makes such a deal highly unlikely. It looks likely that we will be forced to trade tough and effective sanctions with some countries for weak and ineffective sanctions with most countries. The end result is déjà vu all over again, but with Iran one-step closer to nuclear weapons.
We are in danger of trading effective sanctions with some countries for ineffective sanctions with most countries. In this light, reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons 650 warheads out of an inventory of many thousands is mostly beside the point.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting company in Potomac, Maryland

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