Threats and Vulnerabilities

How much of a nuclear, chemical, or biological threat might ISIS pose? (Part I)

By Nate Sans

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently described the Islamic State (IS, referred to by the U.S. government as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and by many others as the  Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham [ISIS]) as an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” with sophistication, funding, and military prowess “beyond anything that we’ve seen.” As yet, there is no convincing publicly available evidence that IS aspires to attain or use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons (Matthew Bunn debunked alarmist press coverage over the group’s seizure of uranium from Mosul University). But good sense demands that policy makers not discount the possibility that ISIS might pursue unconventional weapons, given the vast resources of money and weapons ISIS has amassed during its rampage across Syria and Iraq. Evaluation of the threat might be divided into two categories: the inclination to pursue CBRN weapons, and the means to manufacture or capture them, and afterwards, to plan an attack using them.

Don't Let Nuclear-Security Cooperation with Russia Lapse

Nickolas Roth and Robert GardBy Nickolas Roth and Robert Gard
Republicans and Democrats alike have traditionally understood that investing in nuclear security is a small price to pay compared with the devastating economic, political and social costs of nuclear terrorism. That’s why U.S. cooperation with Russia and other countries to secure vulnerable nuclear material has enjoyed bipartisan support.

Harrington on Radiological Security

 “An RDD [Radiological Dispersion Device] detonated in a major metropolitan area could result in economic costs in the billions of dollars as a result of evacuations, relocations, cleanup, and lost wages. Radioactive sources such as Cobalt, Cesium, Americium, and Iridium are used worldwide for many legitimate purposes and are located at thousands of sites in the United States and around the world.

Bunn on 10th Anniversary of Global Threat Reduction Initiative

By Matthew Bunn
I’ve got a new piece in The National Interest celebrating ten years of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which has made remarkable strides in reducing the risks of nuclear and radiological terrorism.  They are the ones who did the actual work of getting the highly enriched uranium out of Ukraine before this year’s crises, to take just one example.

Culp Provides New Details on Nonproliferation Budget Cuts

By Nickolas Roth
Despite making reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism one of his signature issues, President Obama has proposed budget cuts that would cause delays in core nuclear security programs.  David Culp, who works for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, recently wrote an excellent article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that addresses this issue and provides interesting new details.

Tenth Anniversary of Global Threat Reduction Initiative

By Nickolas Roth
September 11, 2001 convinced decision-makers in Washington that terrorists were capable of carrying out catastrophic attacks on the United States. The idea that an individual or group could make a bomb from nuclear or radiological material was no longer just an outlandish scenario, but a realistic threat that needed to be addressed. Ten years ago this week, the Bush administration responded to that threat by establishing the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI).

Select Quotes on Nuclear Security Funding from Congressional Hearings

By Nickolas Roth
The Obama administration has proposed significant cuts to nuclear security programs.   The House Armed Services Committee bill would reduce the scale of the cuts for one nuclear security program (the Global Threat Reduction Initiative) while aggressively slashing another (International Material Protection and Cooperation); the debate over nuclear security spending will likely continue throughout the year. I’ve pulled some select quotes from Congressional hearings on nuclear security, which I plan to update as needed.

Securing China’s Nuclear Energy Development

By Hui Zhang
Chinese president Xi Jinping said in his address at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit that, “we should place equal emphasis on development [of nuclear energy] and security, and develop nuclear energy on the premise of security.” He further emphasized that, “developing nuclear energy at the expense of security can neither be sustainable nor bring real development. Only by adopting credible steps and safeguards can we keep the risks under effective control and develop nuclear energy in a sustainable way.”

Future Prospects for U.S.-Russia Nuclear Security Cooperation

By Nickolas Roth
This week’s Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague was understandably overshadowed by the continuing international response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. One aspect of the Ukraine crisis that deserves more attention is how the current standoff will impact the future of nuclear security cooperation between the United States and Russia.

Progress at The Hague Nuclear Security Summit

By Matthew Bunn
So what did the nuclear security summit in The Hague accomplish?  A good deal.  Despite being overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine and the associated crush of side meetings, the summit in The Hague once again served as a forcing event to cut through bureaucracy and get important decisions made.  Just as having friends over for dinner motivates you to clean up your house, going to a major global summit motivates leaders to push their bureaucracies to give them something worthwhile to talk about when they get there.

We're Not Prepared for a Nuclear Heist

By Eben Harrell
In September 2009, a group of masked men armed with automatic weapons and explosives arrived on the roof of a cash depot in Vastberg, Sweden in a helicopter. The men blasted their way through a skylight and hoisted millions of dollars up to the hovering aircraft — the operation took less than 20 minutes. When police rushed to respond they discovered a bag with the word “bomb” at their heliport — a diversion planted by the thieves — and caltrops (road spikes) near the depot to slow down their response on the ground. While many of the thieves were caught after an investigation, most of the money was never recovered. 

Could Terrorists Be Seeking a Nuclear Bomb?

By Graham Allison
As the 3rd Nuclear Security Summit approaches next week, many policymakers and analysts continue to find it incredible that terrorists could build a crude nuclear bomb and detonate it in the heart of a major city. One of the sticking points for skeptics is the question of whether, even if terrorists succeed in obtaining enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium to build a nuclear device, they would actually use it. The consequences seem too disproportionate to any plausible objective to be chosen by any but the insane.

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