New York Times
Warnings by federal officials that terrorists may strike again in this country have racheted up concerns about everything from suicide bombers to explosions in apartment buildings or at prominent landmarks. But the most frightening prospect of all is that terrorists will some day lay hands on or fabricate a nuclear weapon and explode it on American soil, causing devastation that would dwarf any terrorist act yet seen. This is a danger that demands a much more urgent response than it has thus far received.
Virtually every expert group that has analyzed the threat agrees that the surest way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to keep nuclear weapons or the materials needed to make them out of the hands of terrorists. Thus it is distressing to learn that, for all the effort in recent years to control vulnerable materials in the former Soviet Union, progress has been slow. Although strategic nuclear weapons have been consolidated in Russia and are guarded by professional security forces, the handling of smaller tactical nuclear weapons inspires less confidence. These weapons are more attractive to terrorists because of their portability. Equally troubling, enhanced security measures put in place in recent years cover only 40 percent of the potential bomb material in Russia, according to an authoritative report last week from Harvard's Project on Managing the Atom.
Meanwhile, security experts in the Bush administration are pondering the potential for placing sensors at ports and airports abroad, on ships and inside shipping containers en route, at points of entry into the United States, and along critical highways or at bridges, truck stations and toll booths. Such sensors could also help protect against so-called dirty bombs, in which a conventional explosive would be used to disperse radioactive material.
An attack with a full-fledged nuclear weapon may seem unlikely in the near future, but the penalty for failing to act now could be devastating.
The wisdom of the Northern Ireland peace agreement was shown once again last week -- but this time in the Irish Republic. With its striking gains in the election there, the Sinn Fein party has become a political force in the Republic as well as in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein got its start in the south, where it and the Irish Republican Army spearheaded the Irish war of independence in 1919-1921. Many of its activists opposed the new Irish government in the civil war that followed, and when the fighting ended with a victory for the government, Sinn Fein joined the IRA in estrangement from the Irish state.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness moved Sinn Fein back into the political process in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, and they ran candidates in the Irish Republic as well, finally winning a seat in the Irish Parliament, or Dail, in 1997. It wasn't until the peace agreement was signed a year later that Sinn Fein gained respectibility. After the latest decommissioning of arms by the IRA, timed to influence the election, Sinn Fein more than doubled its vote and won five seats in the Dail.
Many Irish voters view Sinn Fein favorably for its struggles against the British, and many also appreciate its tough stand against illegal drugs, even though it may have veered into IRA-style intimidation. Sinn Fein supports better access to housing and health care, but with no prospect of gaining power in this election, the party has not been pressed about how it would pay for these programs.
The dominant Fianna Fail, one of the two parties that emerged from the civil war, took credit for the recent economic boom and was rewarded with a near-majority of the 166-seat Dail. Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will have no trouble forming a coalition with a smaller party. It won't be Sinn Fein, which is still too close to the IRA for comfort among Ireland's mainstream voters.
The Irish economy is losing a bit of its luster as the high-tech boom fades. Sinn Fein could became a major party in the Republic of Ireland if it figures out how to fit a moderately left-wing philosophy into Ireland's entrepreneurial society. All its efforts would come undone if the the IRA resumed violence in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein's new strength in the Republic is the best guarantor that the IRA will stay peaceful.
The confrontation between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir has been growing more tense and ominous by the day. Given their bitter rhetoric and their history of bloodshed over the region, the showdown could easily escalate into war. Since both have nuclear weapons, it could also lead to a catastrophe dwarfing any the subcontinent has suffered before. But even if the war were contained, it would do serious damage to both parties -- and to the interests of the United States.
The two countries have been trading artillery fire over the line of control that separates them in Kashmir. India is furious about separatist violence in Kashmir, which it says is sponsored by the Pakistan government. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf arrested thousands of suspected militants in January, but many of them have since been freed, and India says the rate of infiltration from Pakistan into the Indian portion of Kashmir is as high as ever.
That creates the first danger to the U.S. For Musharraf to reduce his troop strength in the west means hobbling the effort to stop al Qaida and Taliban soldiers from finding refuge in Pakistan. "We could be getting a lot more help from the Pakistanis if there were not the tense situation with respect to the two countries," lamented Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week. If full-scale fighting erupts, Pakistan will be doing even less to help us.
Washington's improved relations with New Delhi are already suffering. Indians accuse President Bush of indulging Musharraf's cooperation with extremist groups even as he calls for a worldwide campaign against terrorism. Anti-Americanism has subsided considerably in recent years thanks to the end of the Cold War, but it could easily rebound if the U.S. is seen to be taking Pakistan's side.
The U.S., of course, has a great interest in a closer partnership with both countries. It's hard to understand the Bush administration's failure to make a high priority of preventing another war between India and Pakistan. It needs to make every effort to help -- and force -- the antagonists to step back from the brink. If they plunge over, everyone will lose.
India and Pakistan have now escalated their rhetoric and war preparations to the point where it will be difficult to back down. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told soldiers along the frontier in the disputed territory of Kashmir to prepare for a "decisive battle," and the Indian army announced a wartime streamlining of its command structure. In Pakistan, troops have been moved from the Afghan border, where they were assisting in the fight against al Qaida, to Kashmir, and government agencies were told to prepare for war. Meanwhile, Islamabad announced that it would conduct new flight tests of ballistic missiles. Neither of these nuclear states wants a full-scale war, but the risk is growing that they will nevertheless stumble into one, with catastrophic consequences. Both seem to be counting on the United States to save them from themselves -- an expectation that places a heavy burden on the Bush administration.
The escalation has been driven by several new terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists in Indian-controlled Kashmir, including the terrible butchery of 31 Indians, most of them women and children, in an army camp. India could hardly be expected not to respond to such atrocities, which have served to underline the fact that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has failed to fulfill his promise to crack down on the Kashmiri militant groups that use his country as a base. New Delhi's calculation appears to be that, by making clear its readiness to go to war, it will force the United States to extract concessions from Mr. Musharraf, who has positioned himself as a key U.S. ally since Sept. 11. If the tactic fails, Mr. Vajpayee apparently intends to make good on his threats by ordering commando raids or air strikes on training camps maintained by the militants inside Pakistan. It's a strategy that invites a chain of failure: that the Bush administration will not get action from Mr. Musharraf, and that a subsequent military strike intended to be limited will quickly spiral out of control.
The renewed crisis catches the Bush administration at a particularly difficult moment. The president and secretary of state are touring Europe, and have the equally volatile Israeli-Palestinian crisis and Afghanistan still to manage. Fortunately, the Indian government appears prepared to postpone any action for at least a few weeks; using that time, the administration must find a way to back India and Pakistan down while threading through the minefield of diplomatic traps laid by the two governments. The key to a solution lies in a forceful approach to Mr. Musharraf, who must be asked again to choose between alliance with the civilized world and terrorism. His government must take effective action against Kashmiri militant groups in a way that will be visible to India. Mr. Vajpayee, in turn, must persuade his military and party to accept such action as preferable to war, and stand down his forces.
(Compiled by United Press International)