The nuclear nightmare in the Middle East and Asia.

A Volatile Nuclear Cocktail: Iran, Syria, Pakistan and North Korea By KT McFarland - While America’s attention is focused elsewhere – on the Democrat primaries or even the polygamist cult in Texas – several Middle East countries are quietly and inexorably marching ahead in their quest to possess nuclear weapons. If we don’t focus, make some difficult decisions, and devise a plan of action soon, within a few years some of the most unstable countries in the world, in the most volatile part of the planet, will possess the most catastrophic weapons mankind has ever devised. Sound scary? Well, it is. It is a volatile nuclear cocktail none of us want but all of us will be forced to drink. Right now, or more realistically right after the election, we must find a way out of the incessant petty and partisan bickering that consumes the public discussion and deal with nuclear proliferation. Look at the events of the past few months. Take Iran. Although they refuse to acknowledge it, Iran does have a nuclear weapons program which is well underway. Experts disagree on how long it will be before Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons, but most believe it is somewhere between two and ten years, if they continue at their current pace. And if Shiite, radical Iran has nuclear weapons, it won’t be long before the Sunni states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt, feel compelled to “go nuclear” themselves. A nuclear Iran could set off an arms race – a NUCLEAR arms race – throughout the entire Persian Gulf. Or take Syria. Last week, American intelligence agencies briefed Congress on an event long whispered about in national security circles – that the mysterious Israeli bombing raid on Syria last September destroyed a nuclear reactor which the North Koreans had helped build. The reactor was apparently within weeks of going operational and the Israelis leveled it, much as they had a similar nuclear facility in Iraq a decade before. Now, having an operational nuclear reactor is still a long way from having nuclear weapons, but it is an essential first step down that road. Or take Pakistan. Lying just across the Afghan border, Pakistan is the first Muslim nation to have nuclear weapons. Pakistan has weathered its most recent constitutional crisis, and now has a stable democratic government which remains pro-U.S. But Taliban-like extremists are active there and are thought to have supporters in Pakistan's military and intelligence services. Pakistan’s northwest tribal regions are home to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, who have been trying to get their hands on nuclear weapons for years. Or take North Korea. While not in the Middle East, North Korea does have trade relations with several counties in the region and it exports only one thing – weapons – both missiles and nuclear technology. Negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and halting their weapons exports are currently stalled. Ten years ago, national security experts were concerned about nuclear proliferation and terrorism, but it was a back-burner issue. Not any longer. Increasingly, they’re taking about not if, but when, and how, a nuclear weapon might be detonated – either by a terrorist group or a rogue nation bent on destroying a neighbor. Last month, Harvard Professor Ashton Carter testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee and described in bone-chilling detail what would happen if a nuclear weapon detonated on an American city. It was horrifying beyond imagining. We kept the peace during the Cold War by deterrence. For decades America had massive amounts of nuclear weapons and so did the Soviet Union. Each country knew that if it were to attack the other, it would face certain retaliation and destruction on an even greater scale than it had meted out. Therefore, both sides were deterred from starting such a war. Deterrence made for an uneasy peace, but it worked. We are now on the brink of a much more dangerous world where rouge or unstable nations possess nuclear weapons, and where sub-national terrorist groups – like al Qaeda – operate worldwide using whatever lethal weapons they can get their hands on. In 2005 former Senator Sam Nunn, one of America’s most respected senior statesmen, asked the question, “On the day after a nuclear weapon goes off in an American city, what would we wish we had done to prevent it?” That’s the question we need to address now, not somewhere down the road. It’s not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue; it doesn’t just affect Red States or Blue States. It affects the United States. Let’s hope America elects a candidate with the wisdom and experience to deal with nuclear proliferation, and recognizes that the time to do so effectively is running out.

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