Skip to main content

How nations risk nuclear terrorism

By Richard J. Chasdi, Special to CNN
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Mon March 26, 2012
U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak hold a news conference in Seoul, South Korea.
U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak hold a news conference in Seoul, South Korea.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • World leaders meeting in Seoul to discuss security measures against nuclear terrorism
  • Richard Chasdi: One major source of risk is the use of proxy groups by nations
  • He says nuclear-armed Pakistan is one of the countries where proxy groups have been used
  • Chasdi: In a nuclear age, empowering proxy groups could lead to disaster

Editor's note: Richard J. Chasdi is an adjunct assistant professor at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University and the author of "Counterterror Offensives for the Ghost War World: The Rudiments of Counterterrorism Policy" (Lexington Books, 2010).

(CNN) -- World leaders are meeting in Seoul this week to discuss how to deal with the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The effort to prevent the misuse of nuclear materials and the spread of nuclear weapons has long-placed most emphasis on defensive measures. These are essentially on the "supply side" -- aiming to choke off the flow of nuclear weapon components and radiological materials to terrorists. While there is a place for such steps, there is another, and perhaps more successful way, to accomplish the goal.

One of the gravest threats to nuclear proliferation arises from the nations that use proxy groups -- seemingly independent organizations that are paid to further the interests of governments.

Richard Chasdi
Richard Chasdi

Ending or reducing the use of such proxy groups has real potential to reduce the availability of such materials to terrorists.

Perhaps the single, most dominant security threat stems from the nuclear-tipped country of Pakistan, with its accepted use of proxy groups to promote the perceived national interest.

Third-party transfer, where a country receiving weapons sells or gives them to another party, is always a danger, and with it looms the possible catastrophe of nuclear weapons in the wrong hands.

It is clear that the U.S. government is working hard with Pakistani officials to ensure that security at nuclear facilities and radioactive material storehouses is more robust. This has been taking place for years. For example, David E. Sanger and William J. Broad's New York Times article in 2007 (U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms) describes initiatives undertaken from the time of the Clinton and Bush administrations and the complexities associated with efforts to work with an ally that remains fundamentally "suspicious" of our intentions.

But the broader question remains: Why does Pakistani leadership continue its half-hearted support for counterterror practices aimed at those in a position to acquire such materials?

For one thing, Pakistan has a legacy of using proxy groups to promote its national security interests that goes back at least to the 1950s. At the time, Prime Minister Mohammad Daud Khan of Afghanistan worked to stoke nationalist demands and aspirations from the Pashtun population in geographical locales near the "Durand Line," the disputed border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In turn, Pakistani leaders used Islam as a framework and its own proxies as counterweights, to promote an alternate vision of a unified region unfettered by political instability and social unrest.

Lashkar-e-Tayyiba ("Army of the Righteous") is perhaps the most prominent Pakistani proxy in the contemporary world because it is generally recognized as having carried out the Mumbai terrorist assaults in 2008. This terrorist group is long known for its fierce struggle in Kashmir against Indian-supported political leaders and Indian security forces.

To be sure, Pakistan is not the only country in South Asia that practices international politics in this way; India has also used its own set of proxies to promote national interest in effective and sustained ways in places such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

But while the use of proxies in the region is not especially new, the risks nowadays are compounded by the presence of nuclear weapons and radiological materials.

It is vital that Pakistan comes to grips with its use of proxy groups and explores alternatives. The use of proxies in pursuit of national policy also has implications with respect to Iran, with its track record of trying to enhance its power in Iraq by supporting insurgents and providing know-how for the building of improvised explosive devices.

In Afghanistan, where the weak Karzai government remains unable or unwilling to meet its security obligations outside of Kabul, Iranian proxies wield their influence.

It is likely that Iranian leaders support the Shia organizations in Sunni-dominated Pakistan as well as Shia militant group Sipah-e-Muhammad with the broader aim of destabilizing Pakistan, in no small part to undermine American efforts in the region.

What does that portend for possible short-run relationships between Israel and Pakistan if Iran is deemed a common threat? In turn, what does that portend for the United States from its own geostrategic position?

We should take a page out of the conflict resolution literature playbook and use bargaining techniques that seek to isolate and identify motivations behind Pakistan's position on the use of proxy groups.

For example, the fears and anxieties political leaders experience often drive "hard-line" bargaining positions on issues, and knowing what those fears are in the case of Pakistan, U.S. leadership can work to relieve those fears by providing alternatives.

Another technique is to break down large seemingly unsolvable problems into smaller, more manageable ones. For instance, the broader policy of drone use by the U.S. can be broken down into smaller policies where agreement is possible. One possibility is putting in place tighter restrictions to satisfy Pakistan's leaders on when drones should be used, in what specific cases or as backups to other forms of interdiction.

In turn, compromises like those can and should be linked to issues of importance to the U.S. such as stronger Pakistani support for U.S. talks with the Taliban and greater transparency by the Pakistanis about security policies. Such talks might start a process that could lead to new agreements that come closer to confronting Pakistani proxy use.

All of this requires unequivocal American commitment to Pakistan for the long haul, to allay fears of abandonment. Against that backdrop, such problem-solving efforts would generate alternatives that might lead to innovative thinking about new security arrangements in Pakistan and other countries such as India and Afghanistan.

It is possible to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and radiological material dissemination by reducing reliance on proxy groups, and that could be our most effective tool in this ongoing battle.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Richard Chasdi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT