Islamic State, al Qaeda and nuclear madness

April 8, 2016
Shi'ite Houthi rebels drive a patrol truck past an Ansar al-Sharia flag painted on the side of a hill, along a road in Almnash, the main stronghold of Ansar al-Sharia, the local wing of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Rada, Yemen November 22, 2014.    To match Special Report YEMEN-AQAP/    REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi - RTSE50J

Shi’ite Houthi rebels drive a patrol truck past an Ansar al-Sharia flag painted on the side of a hill, along a road in Almnash, the main stronghold of Ansar al-Sharia, the local wing of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Rada, Yemen, November 22, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Those who complain that the news is depressing have a valid point. But it could get exponentially worse.

China, Russia, Egypt and Turkey are becoming even more authoritarian. The European Union is “on the verge of collapse,” according to George Soros, one of its strongest supporters. Global warming is worsening. The BRICS countries, which were to be engines of global growth, are all struggling with economic decline and political cul-de-sacs — with the slightly shaky exception of India. In every case, except those of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s Xi Jinping (though not his extended family), the leader has been accused of corruption.

In the United States, both the number of jobs and the GDP are rising, but the bitterness of the political divide and the willingness of parts of the electorate to endorse prejudice as a political principle is itself a crisis, and will be for the next president. The determination of the rich to stay rich and get richer is vividly displayed in the leaks from Panama.

But the news can get more depressing. We might get blown up.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama invoked the need for world leaders to cope with “the danger of a terrorist group obtaining and using a nuclear weapon.” In his speech at the Nuclear Security Summit, he had much success to report: earlier commitments to secure or eliminate nuclear material had been followed by most of the world’s states.

A “but” was coming, and it was large: both al Qaeda and Islamic State actively seek nuclear weaponry, Obama said, and “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.” That seems likely to be true: both groups have said so, and a member of Islamic State — which has already used chemical weapons — obtained surveillance footage of a manager at a nuclear facility in Belgium, with a view, officials say, of possibly developing a “dirty” bomb (a conventional explosive device packed with radioactive material).

The head of U.S. National Intelligence, James Clapper, told a Senate committee last month that “the threat of WMD is real. Biological and chemical materials and technologies, almost always dual use, move easily in the globalized economy, as do personnel with the scientific expertise to design and use them.” The veteran commentator on terrorism, Bruce Hoffman, wrote in March that Islamic State is moving towards the “final Definitive Victory State… when the caliphate ultimately triumphs over the rest of the world.” For that, it will need nuclear weapons.

Hoffman also believes that the two groups most hungry for global domination — Islamic State and al Qaeda — may merge, in spite of their leaders’ mutual hostility. This possibility, he said, quoting an unnamed senior U.S. official, “would be an absolute and unprecedented disaster for (the United States) and our allies.”

More cheer? Russia didn’t attend the nuclear summit. Moscow had said last November that it thought the United States was trying to “take the role of the main and ‘privileged’ player in this sphere” — so it didn’t show. Russia, Obama said to reporters, had made little, if any, progress on the Security Summit’s goals — because Putin has been pursuing a vision of of “emphasizing military might.”

The United States and Russia are estimated to have between them 95 percent of the world’s 15,000 nuclear warheads: the United States 6,970, Russia, 7300. The United States has been slightly reducing its stock; Russia has not. Obama, in a speech in Prague near the beginning of his first presidency seven years ago, called for a nuclear-free world — as Ronald Reagan had done before him.

By contrast, Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons on Islamic State, on Turkey and as a response to Western protests when Russian forces seized Crimea. In the summer of 2014, in a more veiled threat, he told a youth group that “Let me remind you that Russia is one of the world’s biggest nuclear powers. These are not just words — this is the reality. What’s more, we are strengthening our nuclear deterrent capability and developing our armed forces.”

The United States, like Russia, modernizes and upgrades its nuclear forces continually, and is likely to sell Patriot interceptor missiles to Poland — much to Russia’s fury. But somehow, the widening gulf between the nations has to be bridged, or we face the largest problem of all: a widely-dispersed ability to annihilate much of the world.

The news should not just be “depressing,” but rather a prompt for greater engagement and understanding of its complexity. And with understanding comes the need to support those politicians, officials and organizations seeking compromise and solution. If the 20th was the American century, the 21st must be the world’s, in which the facts of multiple threats prompt a mutual response. Without it, the cocoons we seek to hide from bad news crumble more by the year.

4 comments

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North Korea will use nukes, Russia only will as a last resort. Pakistan and India are a real concern.

Posted by zodiacpuppy | Report as abusive

“.. But somehow, the widening gulf between the nations has to be bridged, or we face the largest problem of all: a widely-dispersed ability to annihilate much of the world..”

Agree.

Replacing Breedlove of NATO and Ash Carter of US defense, will do most good to the security of both this nation and at global level, as these two were seen at the root-of accelerated ruin of relations with both – China/Russia with lunatic and unnecessary weaponized encirclement in neighboring nations.

All this sudden love of Cuba comes at the fear of Russian response in kind, together with their surveillance of US airspace with advanced systems that they recently have started.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

A republican president will warm relations with Russia, we need to stand together on this. The terrorists will first send a nuke to Isreal then the U.S. Isreal really has the most worry, they hate the Jews more then anything.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

If our security apparatus was awake they would be concocting dummy nukes and selling them to ISIS. Make a fake, with a remote trigger. Do the transaction, for millions in real cash or bitcoin. Then detonate the nuke from afar, inflicting the max hurt on the khanzyrs.

But no, lets just strip search grannies at the airport, that’ll keep us safe.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive