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Nuclear security summit: a historic gathering

Can 47 world leaders make progress in keeping nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists?

“Terrorists are seeking nuclear weapons, and the materials needed to make them are still housed in hundreds of buildings and bunkers in dozens of countries — many in urgent need of better security,” the NTI reported. The organization said there have been 18 documented cases of theft or loss of plutonium or enriched uranium, as well as chilling near-misses like an armed attack in 2007 on a South African site housing hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium that, fortunately, was saved from the intruders. Meanwhile, the arsenals of nuclear powers like Pakistan and Russia remain vulnerable to thievery by greedy, or ideologically motivated, insiders.

“The threat of nuclear terrorism is real, it is serious, and it is growing,” said John Brennan, a senior White House adviser, who outlined Al Qaeda’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons at a midday briefing for reporters. “It constitutes one of the greatest threats to our national security.”

This week’s summit is one piece of Obama’s nuclear strategy, which has the declared objective of — one day in the distant future — ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The administration has developed new U.S. policies, struck a strategic arms deal with Russia and is using an upcoming review of the international non-proliferation regime to try to contain budding nuclear powers like North Korea and Iran.

Critics question whether the president’s noble intentions will have the intended effect.

“The most dangerous possibility is that the president’s nuclear agenda will sway none of the world’s truly dangerous actors, while at the same time weakening America’s ability to defend and protect its allies, thereby encouraging them to develop their own nuclear arsenals, ” said Theodore Bromund, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “In nuclear diplomacy, good intentions are no substitute for an appreciation of the unintended consequences of poorly thought-through arms control.”

If arms control measures by nuclear powers could indeed influence rogue states, the president’s critics ask, then why has the world’s nuclear club grown as the U.S. and Russia reduced their arsenals?

“Apprently, Pyongyang and Tehran haven’t gotten the memo,” said Bruce Klingner, another Heritage fellow, at a “Conservative Counter Summit” last week. “Getting Korea and Iran to give up their nuclear weapons programs will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.”