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Thursday, January 15, 2009

As Obama era nears, task force fears dawning of the age of nuclear proliferation

By Donald Kirk

WASHINGTON — In the not-so-distant days when stocks were high, the pillars of capitalism seemed impervious to a destructive assault on their existence.

Similarly, the possibility of nuclear war today appears as unlikely as worldwide recession and depression did a year ago.   

Harvard professor Graham Allison evoked this disturbing comparison as he warned of the potential for nuclear war breaking out in a world that has come to believe the danger is essentially non-existent.

"We may be seeing the unraveling of that wonderful regime that can constrain this activity," said Allison, author of numerous books and articles on the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. "If one thing gets unleveraged, and you see an unraveling, pretty soon the whole thing will unravel quickly. The global nuclear order looks no more secure today than was the financial order a year ago."

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Allison, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans during the Clinton administration, conjured that image while presenting the findings of a team of U.S. experts on the likelihood of a terrorist attack — including the use of weapons of mass destruction.

The team, under the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism, with a mandate from the U.S. Congress "to assess our nation's progress in preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism”, publicized its outlook in a report on "World at Risk”, its release timed for maximum influence as Barack Obama assumes the presidency on Jan. 20.

Beginning with the flat assertion that "it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013”, the report argues the risks of both biological and nuclear attack have increased despite the "war on terror" waged by outgoing President George W. Bush since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Much of the report focuses on the Middle East, with Pakistan seen as the crossroads for the transfer of nuclear material and technology on a circuit that seems to run from Syria and Iran to North Korea.

The report offers few specifics, but Allison, proliferation expert at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, painted a dire picture of North Korea's rise as a nuclear power since the breakdown of the 1994 Geneva agreement in 2002.

The great fear is that North Korea, besides threatening South Korea, may attempt to sell nuclear warheads to some of the world's worst terrorists.

"Can you imagine Kim Jong-il selling a nuclear bomb to Osama Bin Laden?" Allison asked. He followed up by asking, "Can you imagine Kim Jong-il selling a nuclear reactor to Syria” — exactly as North Korea did before Israeli warplanes bombed it out in September 2007?

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