“Nuclear terrorism is still a preventable catastrophe and it is our duty to stop nuclear trafficking and reaffirm the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.” – From the “World at Risk” report published by Congress’ Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism this week
Once again, as if the current times are not bleak enough, comes an intelligence report predicting a major terrorist strike – one using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – within the next four years. Not exactly good tidings for the holiday season, now is it?
A congressionally appointed commission given the unwieldy name of “The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism” says it is report, “World at Risk,” that the international community – including the U.S. – remains vulnerable to an WMD terrorist attack and that we must address the proliferation of two WMDs that pose the greatest peril: nuclear and biological weapons.
“Ours remains a world at risk and our margin of safety is shrinking, not growing,” noted former Sen. Bob Graham, the commission’s chairman, in the report. “The Commission believes that unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is likely that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.”
Graham noted his group reached what he called this “sobering conclusion” following six months of deliberations, site visits and interviews with more than 250 government officials and nongovernmental experts in the U.S. and abroad.
“The report covers a lot of important ground but probably the most important is its assessment: the risk is growing, not because we're making no progress but because the enemy is adapting and we must constantly anticipate and adapt as well across a broad front,” added former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, the Commission’s vice chairman.
It’s also interesting to note that members of the Commission were on their way to the capital of Pakistan when the hotel they planned to stay at got bombed by terrorists. “Our near miss during the course of our fieldwork for this report served as a reminder of the urgency of our mission and message,” noted Graham. “Members of our Commission were en route to Islamabad when a horrific bomb blast destroyed the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, where we were to stay just hours later: more than fifty people died in that terrorist attack. Ours remains a world at risk, but we are convinced that adopting our recommendations will enhance our safety and that of the world.”
What does this have to do with truckers in this country? Well, as we all know, to successfully carry out a WMD terrorist attack requires a mode of transportation – and the ubiquitous 53-fott trailers plying our nation’s roadways, oblivious to the general public, offers a convenient avenue. It’s a reminder that even as the trucking industry continues to struggle with the fallout from a worldwide recession and economic meltdown, the terrorist threat isn’t going away. We must remain on guard – a lesson reinforced by the horrific attacks in Mumbai, India.
So where are the major risks right now when it comes to WMDs being deployed by terrorists? The Commission believes a major crossroad of terrorism and proliferation in the poorly governed parts of Pakistan, with the potential erosion of international nuclear security, treaties and norms as we enter a nuclear energy renaissance another grave concern.
The group went on to pose several solutions:
Radically revamp our strategic policy on Pakistan. Conditions in that country pose a serious challenge to America’s short-term and medium-term national security interests. Graham said the Commission’s recommendation is clear: we must work with Pakistan and other countries in the region to eliminate terrorist safe havens through military, economic and diplomatic means; secure nuclear and biological materials in Pakistan, counter and defeat extremist ideology; and constrain a nascent nuclear arms race in Asia.
Develop a new blueprint to prevent biological weapons proliferation and bioterrorism. Graham noted that terrorists are more likely to unleash an aerosol can filled with pathogens than to strike with a nuclear weapon. With that in mind, he said the U.S. must assess its domestic program to secure and identify the origins of dangerous pathogens; tighten oversight of high-containment laboratories; and improve rapid response to prevent biological attacks from inflicting mass casualties. “On the global stage, we can take the lead in cultivating global measures to develop an action plan for universal adherence to and compliance with the anemic 36- year-old Biological Weapons Convention,” he added.
Reinvigorate the nuclear non-proliferation agenda. We must set strong penalties for violators who withdraw from the protective constraints of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency with more authority and resources, said Graham. We must develop and employ further counter-proliferation efforts, and work with Russia to secure its nuclear materials and forge a global consensus for a nuclear fuel bank.
Most of all, though, the Commission’s report calls for a new emphasis on open and honest engagement between government and citizens in safeguarding the U.S., with better methods of distributing knowledge about potential terrorist attacks, coordinated public response mechanisms and improved networks of communications. Trucking can certainly help in that regard.