Global Insights: Saving the World from Mass Destruction

Global Insights: Saving the World from Mass Destruction

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office today, he will become the person most empowered to protect Americans, and the world, from attacks of mass destruction. Although he assumes the presidency at a time of grave danger, real progress in curtailing the threat from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is possible under his leadership.

The threats, both real and potential, are significant. This past weekend, for instance, North Korean leaders claimed to have used the plutonium generated by the country's nuclear energy program to make several atomic bombs. They insist that they will not relinquish these nuclear weapons even if Washington normalizes relations with Pyongyang. Instead, North Korea has demanded that the United States renounce its commitment to defend South Korea with American nuclear forces, create a mechanism to allow Pyongyang to verify that no U.S. nuclear weapons enter South Korea, and engage in nuclear disarmament talks among "all nuclear states."

In Iran, the threat is less certain yet potentially more ominous. Although Iranian leaders deny they are seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, the outgoing director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, told reporters on Friday that he remains "very concerned" that Iran will continue to develop the technical capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons as well as long-range ballistic missiles. McConnell and other experts fear that Tehran could eventually use these capabilities to threaten Israel, the United States, or other countries.

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