Editor’s Comment: The Threat of Nuclear Terrorists Cannot be Ruled Out

Imagine terrorist forces launching a nuclear attack on American or European soil. These fears were stoked by evidence that the Brussels terrorists had considered kidnapping a nuclear scientist in order to make a dirty bomb. The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, Yukiya Amano, says that the possibility of terrorists using nuclear material cannot be excluded. Though there is no evidence that ISIS possesses the material to build a nuclear device, some observers believe that they have sufficient international support to acquire it.

The recent spate of terrorist attacks in European and American cities have sparked this thinking, and the European perception has been changing in a worrisome direction. The insecurity surrounding migrants and terrorism has challenged the basic principles of a border-free European Union.

UKIP’s Nigel Farage, like other leaders of E.U. fracturing parties, is drawing support with his statements that, “We have to admit to ourselves in Britain and France, and much of the rest of Europe, that mass immigration and multi-cultural division has for now been a failure.” There is growing apprehension among Europeans that the leaders of the E.U. are not taking the necessary steps to prevent an imminent terrorist attack in the context of the refugee crisis.

But the cohesiveness of Europe should be seen as strength, not a weakness, in the face of terrorist attacks. A case study by a security experts group observed that after the Paris attacks, the Brussels tragedy could have been averted had there been better intelligence cooperation and coordination among the various E.U. intelligence apparatuses. The E.U.’s border-free goods and travel cooperation lacks a coordinated intelligence-sharing treaty. Now is the time to negotiate one.

Well-connected terrorists could acquire and detonate a dirty nuclear bomb in a city center for maximum casualties, according to studies from the Harvard Belfer Centre and other research groups. Earlier al-Qaeda terrorist cells sought to acquire nuclear bombs. Intelligence sources report that they had successfully established contact with some Pakistani nuclear scientists. This sort of planning needs to be detected in advance. A joint U.S. and Russian study concluded that the danger is real, and urgent action is needed to reduce the risk.

In the E.U. and at the U.N., international cooperation will be the key to overcoming this challenge. A Nuclear Security Summit was held at the end of March with dozens of world leaders, including Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. In addition to North Korea, their focus was on preventing terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Our globalised world is temporally in jeopardy; coordination—not division—among European and world leaders is what’s needed to overcome this challenge.

— Probir Kumar Sarkar
Executive Editor

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