Nuclear smugglers are operating around the world with impunity, according to research by the International Atomic Energy Authority, which warns that the risk of atomic terrorism against civilians has never been greater.
The biggest danger is not that a terrorist group will produce a "suitcase bomb" a self- contained portable nuclear weapon considered beyond the capabilities of independent organisations but that they could set off a "dirty bomb", a conventional bomb covered in highly radioactive material. This could contaminate a city or a region's water supply.
Authorities in former Soviet republics, such as Georgia and Kazakhstan, have recently seized quantities of plutonium and uranium from would-be smugglers but the IAEA said that these cases could be the tip of the iceberg.
David Kyd, a spokesman for the IAEA, said: "The amounts being moved are typically a few grams, whereas you need eight kilos of plutonium or 25 kilos of enriched uranium to make an atomic bomb. But the fact that these materials are in the black market at all is troubling, because it means that these people have access to them and could come back with more."
John Large, a British independent nuclear consultant, said: "If one of these groups got a large enough amount of plutonium and got the explosion to vapourise it, so that it was spread widely, then a bomb set off on the top of Canary Wharf [the tower in east London] could contaminate everything for three kilometres around."
Building an atomic weapon is almost certainly beyond the capability of any independent group; even Saddam Hussein was unable to do so despite spending billions of dollars over 10 years on the project. Though Iraq developed the detonation systems needed, it could not accumulate enough weapons-grade products to make a bomb. But that would not stop such groups finding some way to use radioactive substances for a high-profile attack. America currently monitors 130 terrorist organisations that it believes might use such weapons if they acquired them.
The IAEA recently held a conference to discuss the risks of nuclear smuggling, which has worsened as the economies of many former Soviet republics have slumped. In April 1998, the British Government took a shipment of five kilograms of weapons-grade uranium and irradiated reactor fuel from Georgia because it was considered at risk of being stolen from the former military reactor where it had been held.
In the 1990s, the US also bought nearly 500 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from former Eastern bloc countries to reduce the risks of proliferation.
Even so the danger appears to be escalating, according to Mr Kyd. He said: "As long as there is a willing buyer or intermediary for these materials, there will be a risk," he said.
New Scientist magazine reports today that a study of 11 countries including the US, China, Germany, Austria (the home of the IAEA), Romania, Switzerland, Israel, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Bangladesh found that none had radiation- monitoring equipment for the unfenced parts of their borders. One of the 11 had no radiation monitors on any part of its borders.
"Airports and ships customs officers must be horrified that these things can cross borders so easily," said Professor Large.
However, the IAEA hopes that terrorists will still prefer to use germ, chemical or conventional weapons because they carry less risk to the person carrying a bomb than with nuclear products. return to menu
B. Russian Military
1. Russia, Allies Agree New Force to Fight Extremism
May 25, 2001
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YEREVAN - The leaders of Russia and five friendly former Soviet republics agreed on Friday to create a rapid reaction force to tackle terrorism and Islamic extremism in Central Asia.
President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Belarus, Armenia -- and three Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed the deal at the end of a two-day security summit in the Armenian capital Yerevan.
"We regard the creation of a rapid reaction force as very important," the leaders said in a statement after the summit.
"We are ready to take joint and firm action against attempts to violate peace and stability in Central Asia."
Islamic radicals have stepped up activities in ex-Soviet Central Asia since 1999, clashing with government troops in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Regional leaders have accused the ruling Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan of supporting the guerrillas to topple regional governments and create a Muslim state.
They also say their nations are used as conduits by drug smugglers trafficking Afghan narcotics to Europe.
The rapid reaction force will be based in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, which has had its own problems with gunmen crossing over the border from Tajikistan.
It will be made up of a battalion each from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, under a Russian commander, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev told reporters.
"I am sure we will fight the terrorists more successfully now to make them lose any desire to violate our security," Akayev said.
FIGHT AGAINST EXTREMISM
The six nations attending the summit belong to a collective security group which brings together Russia's most loyal allies among the broader, 12-nation, post-Soviet grouping, the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Military powerhouse Russia has made the battle against Islamic extremists the cornerstone of its efforts to boost security ties with other ex-Soviet states.
Putin has referred to an "arc of extremism" stretching from Afghanistan and Chechnya to Kosovo.
Moscow is fighting Muslim rebels in Chechnya and Russian troops patrol Tajikistan's share of the old Soviet frontier with Afghanistan.
"We are interested in combining our efforts to fight terrorism and extremism, especially religious extremism," Putin told reporters at the summit.
"(Russia) also knows about these problems quite closely and drug trafficking is a problem for all of us."
No timetable was given for forming the multi-national force, but officials said financing had already been agreed. return to menu
C. U.S. - Russian Relations
1. Bush to Tell Putin Russia 'Not an Enemy'
May 22, 2001
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WASHINGTON - President Bush intends to look Russian President Vladimir Putin "in the eye" to say he does not view Russia as an enemy and U.S. plans for a missile defense system are in both countries' interests, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.
"Russia is not an enemy," the official said. He said Bush hopes to use the first summit of the two leaders, scheduled for June 16 in Slovenia, to convince Putin of his sincerity.
"If there's a suspicion, that (Bush is) trying to diminish Russia, then it's going to be hard to have a good conversation. Step one is to look him in the eye," the official said.
Bush has called for replacing the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty between the United States and Russia, which bans missile defenses, to allow for deployment of a system designed to shoot down incoming missiles from "rogue" nations.
"We have to think differently about how to make the world more peaceful. If he (Putin) is not our enemy, why should we have a system based on blowing each other up?" the official said. return to menu
2. Former CIA Directors Hope US, Russia Could Cooperate
May 24, 2001
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Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Stansfield Turner, one of leading U.S. experts on disarmament, on Wednesday told Itar-Tass that a forthcoming meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States can be fruitful in relation to arms control.
Turner also said proposals prepared by U.S. President George W. Bush deserve serious consideration.
The U.S. leader is expected to insist on expediency of the National Missile Defence accompanied by considerable cuts in U.S. offensive weapons.
The former C.I.A. director also noted that the results of negotiations mostly depend on the position of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose reaction he could not predict.
However, Turner is convinced that the combination of a proper missile defence and less offensive weapons will be a step forward compared to a doctrine of the guaranteed mutual destruction, a dangerous way of keeping nuclear balance.
The U.S. expert also believes Russia and the United States could cooperate in the development of the NMD system.
Another former C.I.A. director James Woolsey, who headed the agency in the mid-90s, noted that Russian and U.S. security services could cooperate on a wide range of issues, especially on Islamic terrorism.
He also said security services of the countries should pool efforts not to let Iran and Iraq get weapons of mass destruction and state-of-the-art guidance systems for ballistic missiles. return to menu
3. Prelude to Rapproachment?
May 25, 2001
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George W. Bush may be on the verge of making history. No, not for his tax cut that is already being torn apart in the legislative sausage factory. No, not for cutting spending his 4 percent limit has already been consumed by the congressional porkers. It certainly is not for his education policy to please Teddy Kennedy, that will end up worse than Bill Clinton's.
The surprising answer is foreign policy. The State Department announced recently that President Bush will meet with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, at the end of his five-nation trip in June and, again, in July at the economic summit. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with Mr. Bush May 18.
With domestic policy blocked in an evenly divided Congress, Mr. Bush has wisely turned to America's strategic position in the post-Cold War world. As Richard Nixon went to China to block the Soviets, the new president will go to Russia to contain China. An American tie to Russia not only stops China's planned alliance with Russia and India but answers the question of who will supplement a weakened Europe in the U.S. alliance structure. It is not irrelevant that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, just visited India, too.
A source within State tells me, "This administration is full of people who want a rapprochement with Russia." It is at least conceivable that Russia might confront historic opponent China over, say, Taiwan; it is inconceivable that Europe (with the possible exception of Britain) would. A generation or two hence, Europe will not have enough population even if somehow it regained the will. Europe might regain its soul the International Social Survey Program finds that most people there still hold traditional Western beliefs such as in God and in a life after death and there is an awful lot of praying going on (more than in the much more religious U.S.). Church attendance even if irregular might even be up a bit.
Other interesting things are happening too. The big victory of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy is a blow to left-wing control of the European Union. Both Belgian and French ministers threatened before the vote to sanction Italy if he was elected, as they did with Austria. A pre-election New York Times story labeled Mr. Berlusconi a "Reaganite," and he calls himself "an American-like success story," to explain his rise to wealth from modest roots. He is for tax cuts and for radically federalizing power to Italy's regions, slimming the bureaucratic center. Austria, itself, became tougher in response to its isolation. Ireland is still smarting after being widely criticized for its "low" taxes. Denmark rejected the euro as its monetary unit in a referendum, against all of its political parties. Switzerland voters just rejected plans to join the EU, 77 to 23 percent.
A revived Europe, however, is chancy at best and it is wise to look to additional allies. At the moment, Europe only taunts little guys and holds the coats, while the U.S. does the fighting even in its Balkan backyard. It also makes mischief. On a trip to South America in 1997, French president Jacques Chirac told them the future of Latin America was not with the "north" (i.e. us) but with Europe. While President Bush is pursuing a free Trade Area of the Americas, Europe is infringing in the U.S. backyard. A mission to Moscow, would be a healthy wake-up call.
Bill Clinton tried to cosy up to the Russians too but he and his crowd were so moralistic (not to say moral), they could never say anything nice without hectoring them to be good liberal Americans, "or else." Like the left-Europeans, anyone not like them is a "fascist" and must be sanctioned. In fact, the respected Freedom House ranks Russia as "partially free." But foreign policy is not a liberal popularity contest. The question is, can Russia and the U.S. act in common for mutual gain? Mr. Putin has made it clear to American diplomats that he wants to be friends. He will play along on missile defense. He wants to contain China. He is very concerned about fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. How about making Russia America's main, nonategic weapons supplier with an exclusive contract forbidding sales that we do not approve and a pledge to keep hands off the Baltic and Ukraine? That is a good deal for both.
The right needs to rethink Russia too. Moscow was the enemy during the Cold War; but that is ancient history. George Bush could make the United States secure throughout the 21st century with this bold, historic move. It would be a tragedy if conservatives become the stumbling block to the kind of secure world they waged the Cold War to gain. return to menu