GLOBAL SECURITY NEWSWIRE. APRIL 23, 2010.
Some proliferation analysts worry that U.S. President Barack Obama's high-profile effort to thwart a nuclear strike by a rogue actor is diverting attention from the more probable threats of chemical and biological terrorism, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Jan. 13, 2009).
Despite the devastation a nuclear attack would unleash, the probability of extremists acquiring nuclear-weapon material and then assembling and transporting a nuclear bomb remains relatively low, proliferation specialists said.
A biological attack is more likely than a nuclear strike, the congressionally created Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism asserted in a 2008 report (see GSN, Oct. 22, 2009).
In its final "report card," which gave the United States an "F" for its biological defense efforts, the panel in January commended the Obama administration's "keen understanding" of nuclear dangers while warning that Washington had "no equal sense of urgency displayed towards the threat of a large-scale biological weapons attack" (see GSN, Jan. 26).
A biological strike could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and cost more than $1 trillion, according to a National Security Council strategy document issued in November.
U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) last year submitted legislation aimed at enhancing U.S. biosecurity (see GSN, Nov. 19, 2009). A corresponding bill is being prepared in the House (see GSN, April 21).
Weapon-usable chemicals would be easier to obtain and release in an attack, but the impact of a chemical strike would be smaller.
"The very next terrorist attack with WMD will be with a chemical weapon," said Paul Walker, security and sustainability chief at the environmental organization Global Green USA.
"People concentrate on what's most terrifying, not on what could really happen," said Eric Javits, a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. To date, Obama has not yet nominated a new U.S. envoy to the organization, which acts as the monitoring agency for the Chemical Weapons Convention.