Clueless on Deterring a Jihadist Nuclear 9/11
By Moorthy Muthuswamy
The long-awaited Nuclear Posture Review announced today by the Obama administration falls short on protecting America from a jihadist-inspired nuclear 9/11.
Indeed, the greatest threat the United States faces in the medium to long term is in the form of a nuclear 9/11. The trend-lines are propelling us strongly towards what former Secretaries of Defense Perry and Schlesinger’s 2009 Commission Report calls a “tipping point” for proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
An attack of this magnitude will be carefully planned and calibrated, with targets chosen with a purpose in mind. The dastardly 9/11 attacks have given a window into the purpose.
Fervor for theologies and ideologies appear to be on the wane, except that of Islam-based ideologies. Indeed, none are inclined to kill hundreds of thousands of innocents to advance their cause, unlike the jihadist ideologies.
The “cause” embraced by jihadists is based on two key schemes: internally it involves implementing sharia — a medieval custom of certain Arab tribes of the bygone era and externally, it revolves around jihad — a multi-front religious war aimed at conquering land and people for Islam.
From a jihadist viewpoint, the non-Muslim majority United States has to be taken down from its status as a great economic and military power. America is seen as a major stumbling block in conquering the world for Allah and is resented for providing a successful model of strength, prosperity and liberty.
It is, therefore, by no means a wild guess to state that a nuclear strike on the United States will likely have some connection with practitioners of jihadist ideologies. Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, an architect of Islamic Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, declared that Pakistan’s nuclear bombs are “the property of a whole ummah [worldwide Muslim community],” so that some Muslim nations or groups could use them on infidels to bring about “the end of days” and lead the way for Islam to be the supreme religious force in the world.
Among the critical approaches to mitigating the nuclear threat is a strong declaratory policy that discourages anyone to aid the use of nuclear weapons on the United States or its allies. The existing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) deterrent doctrine defined in 2008 by the Bush administration calls for retaliation through resort to all of our options [that includes retaliatory nuclear strikes] on “those states, organizations, or individuals who might enable or facilitate terrorists in obtaining or using weapons of mass destruction.”
However, the Obama administration decided to dilute the above stance by “substantially narrow the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons.” Moreover, the Nuclear Posture Review released today will focus on countering the nuclear threat through enhanced “efforts to halt nuclear proliferation, to identify and attack terrorist networks, and to strengthen security measures with allies and partners. This would include efforts to “secure nuclear weapons and materials worldwide.” Furthermore, the review is “likely to recommend more vigorous intelligence aimed at tracking nuclear smugglers and anticipating terrorist attacks, and more robust actions within the nuclear laboratories to expand abilities to identify nuclear materials in other nations that might be passed surreptitiously to terrorists.”
Proliferation of nuclear technology to the likes of Pakistan, Iran and North Korea has exposed the futility of enhanced policing. There are grave doubts about the efficacy of nuclear forensics. For instance, the source of a nuclear attack on the United States is supposed to be determined by analyzing nuclear material left over after the blast to look for “signatures.” However, this forensics is not only time-consuming but unreliable in a world in which nuclear technology and material have proliferated–and due to the lack of cooperation and transparency on the part of the states that sponsor terror.
Moreover, many terror-sponsoring states may have been convinced, for the right reasons, that they are unlikely to be implicated and held accountable decisively when there is seemingly lack of clear-cut evidence of them supplying nukes to the terrorist groups which eventually use them. Indeed, it is pertinent to note that similar reasons of plausible deniability have been used by Islamic states such as Pakistan to fund and sponsor terror groups, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Due to the prospects of a cascade of proliferation, in the aftermath of nuclear attacks, the burden of evidence and analysis suggests that we might not be able to determine the origin of the nukes with certainty. Regrettably, the 2008 doctrine fails to spell out our retaliatory intent under this scenario. Even while claiming to “revamp the nation’s nuclear posture for a new age in which rogue states and terrorist organizations are greater threats,” the administration’s nuclear review just released today has failed to address this deficiency.
The core problem with the administration’s approach to mitigating the nuclear threat appears to be its reliance on policies that have been largely ineffective thus far. Most disturbingly, the nuclear review appears to have sidestepped the need to identify jihadist motivations and to counter the spread of jihadist ideologies.
In a 2005 speech, the U.S. Treasury secretary made this observation about the export of radical ideologies by government-linked Saudi charities: “In addition to the export of terrorist funds, we are extremely concerned about the export of terrorist ideologies. These teachings are as indispensable to terrorists as money, and possibly even more dangerous.” For instance, the funding and indoctrination of Muslim communities aided by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran have given rise to the likes of America-hating al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and many other terror entities. The point couldn’t be overstated: without this root cause, the desire for and ability to wage jihad and, hence, the intent to acquire and use nuclear weapons are very unlikely.
As history suggests, we have a much better chance of identifying the group or the community involved in carrying out the attack. Therefore, in the above context, a nuanced and strong nuclear declaratory policy has to state the intent to retaliate disproportionately and devastatingly against those states, societies, or groups that have been engaged in the hateful indoctrinating process of the community which gave rise to the group that executed the attack.
A revamped WMD deterrent doctrine along these lines should put the onus on nations such as Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role in rolling back the jihadist passion of anger and hatred it helped to create around the world.
Sadly, the path President Obama is taking to achieve his vision of a world without nuclear weapons fails to address the real nuclear threats from terrorist entities.
Dithering on the part of the Democrat-led government in Washington offers a leadership opportunity for the Republicans. Securing America from a nuclear holocaust is a goal few Americans would have any qualms about.
The writer is a U.S.-based nuclear physicist and author of the book Defeating Political Islam: The New Cold War. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.