World Isn't Prepared For Nuclear Threat

The era of nuclear confrontation between superpowers may have passed, but the threat of nuclear weapons remains. NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr warns that the international community is not prepared for the threat of nuclear attack from groups with no fixed address.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

At the United Nations today, six world powers, including the U.S., held a second round of talks on possible new sanctions against Iran. The move is meant to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But as President Obama pointed out in this week's nuclear summit, the biggest threat to U.S. security isn't Iran or any other country.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says the nuclear threat is smaller than any nation and yet so much bigger.

DANIEL SCHORR: Proliferation is this century's synonym for nightmare. The world has so far managed to survive nuclear weapons in the hands of dying governments from America and Russia to Pakistan and India. I can still remember the school's civil defense drills in the days when a nuclear attack seemed a real, if not probable, possibility.

In time, we came to understand about the balance of terror that we called MAD, or mutual assured destruction, the idea that the nuclear power could not destroy the other without itself being destroyed.

With the Soviet Union gone and Russia and the United States signing treaties to shrink their wretched excess stockpiles, you might think that this was a time to hail the end of the era of the nuclear peril. No such luck. The era of the superpower peril has given way to the proliferation peril.

As President Obama put it at the nuclear security summit: two decades after the end of the Cold War we face a cruel irony of history, the risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up. Our intelligence experts think it's only a matter of time before some of the loose nukes strewn around the former Soviet Union or assembled by nuclear physicists for love or money end up in the hands of some terrorist group with no fixed address.

President Obama has rightfully staged a summit meeting to call attention to the problem. But addressing it will require a vast international effort for which the international community is hardly prepared. Case in point: Iran. Iran is known to have supported non-governmental terrorist groups but the lack of unity in dealing with Iran illustrates the complexity of the problem. What is clear is that we will be living with a nuclear danger from nowhere for the foreseeable future.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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