A leading U.S. research institute
and a former U.S. senator have used a computer exercise to try to convince European
officials that Europe could be threatened by a terrorist attack with nuclear
weapons, if western countries do not tighten efforts to secure nuclear facilities
in the former Soviet Union.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based policy
research organization, and former Senator Sam Nunn, showed during a brainstorming
session with top European Union and NATO officials what could happen, if the
al-Qaida terrorist group were able to acquire highly enriched uranium from
civilian research reactors in the former Soviet Union.
How about an attack with a crude nuclear bomb at NATO headquarters in Brussels,
which would immediately kill 40,000 people, overwhelm hospitals with hundreds-of-thousands
of injured, spread panic throughout Europe and plunge the world economy into
The scenario is fictitious, but is based on documented evidence of al-Qaida
efforts to get its hands on highly enriched uranium, and of contacts between
the organization's operatives and Pakistani weapons scientists.
Mr. Nunn said preventing al-Qaida from obtaining weapons-grade nuclear material
is the best way to stop the group from building such a bomb. "It is well within
al-Qaida's operational capabilities to recruit the technical expertise needed
to build a crude nuclear device. The hard part is getting the nuclear material,
but we do not make it hard enough," he said.
Mr. Nunn, who sponsored a $10 billon program in the U.S. Senate to destroy
and safeguard weapons of mass destruction in Russia and other former Soviet
republics in 1991, says at least 60 percent of those facilities still need
to be adequately secured.
He wants the Group of Eight rich countries to fulfill pledges they made two
years ago to commit a further $20 billion to that program over 10 years. And,
he said, European leaders should push President Bush and Russian President
Vladimir Putin into taking action to protect sites where weapons-grade uranium
and plutonium are stored. "The key here, the priority, is securing the material
where it is. That takes cooperation. It takes focus. It takes leadership. It
takes President Bush and President Putin not simply having a summit conference,
but declaring when they leave it that they're going to cut through every bureaucratic
obstacle to get this job done. Unless those two leaders cut through their bureaucracies,
then it's not going to get done," he said.
Rolf Ekeus, a former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, says
the 50 or so officials who attended the session found that Europe is now as
much of a target as the United States for terrorists armed with unconventional
weapons. That, he said, is partly due to the fact that terrorists can move
easily across European borders, and have set up cells in nearly every European
country. "It is clear that Europe has become the breeding ground, the base
and the place where planning for terrorist actions is taking place," he said.
Mr. Nunn, Mr. Ekeus and other organizers of the exercise admit that taking
measures now to prevent weapons-grade nuclear material from falling into the
hands of terrorists would be costly. But they stress that coping with the consequences
of an attack like the one in their simulation would be, as one put it, phenomenally