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Gov. Bill Richardson: A Plan to Prevent a Nuclear 9-11

"We need to free humanity from the threat of nuclear destruction."


Gov. Bill Richardson: A Plan to Prevent a Nuclear 9-11

Photo Courtesy of Bill Richardson for President

This article presents Gov. Bill Richardson's brilliant speech, delivered on March 28, 2007 in which he set forth a 4-point plan to greatly reduce the risk of a nuclear Sept 11.

Gov. Richardson was a Congressman for 7 terms, from 1983-97, served as UN Ambassador from 1997-98 and was US Secretary of Energy from 1998-01. Richardson is a gifted diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.(See Profile of Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico.)

Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent Nuclear 9/11
Governor Bill Richardson

March 28, 2007
Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

"In the 20th century, nuclear deterrence worked. In the 21st century, it won't.

The Problem of Suicidal Jihadists

Mutually Assured Destruction deterred the Soviet Union, but nothing will stop suicidal Jihadists from using a nuclear bomb if they get their hands on one.

If Al Qaeda obtained nuclear weapons, they could smuggle them into American cities - and they would not hesitate to use them with the same ruthlessness that allowed them to fly airplanes filled with people into buildings filled with people.

We know that Al Qaeda wants nuclear weapons. We also know that Pakistan's A.Q. Khan sold nuclear materials to rogue states. We know that parts of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal still are not secure, and that there are poorly-secured nuclear materials around the world.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons to new countries, above all to North Korea and Pakistan, has increased further the opportunities for Jihadists to obtain them, as has the diffusion of nuclear energy technologies that can be converted to weapons programs. Iran, a nation with close ties to the world's most skilled terrorist organization, Hezbollah, may be on the verge of entering the nuclear club.

And Al Qaeda has said that they wish to kill 4 million Americans, including 2 million children. In their madness, they claim that such a slaughter of innocents would "balance the scales of justice," for crimes that they allege we have committed against Muslims. We would be mad not to take them at their word.

NEEDED: "New Realism" in American Foreign Policy

You may have heard me speak elsewhere about the need for what I call a "New Realism" in American foreign policy. By this I mean that we need to wake up and see that the greatest threats we face today, from global warming to terrorism, do not face only us - and that this means that unilateral action usually will not work.

To defend ourselves in the 21st century, we may occasionally need to act alone, but usually we must work with others. Building and leading strong international coalitions should be our first thought when we face common challenges -- not an afterthought when our unilateral course has failed.

A New Realism for the 21st century also understands that many threats today come not from states, but rather from societies, including our own society.

Not from armies massing or nation states targeting us with missiles, but rather from complex social trends - such as our own consumption of fossil fuels.

Not so much from hostile states as from hostile individuals, empowered by their willingness to kill and die for fanatical beliefs.

We Must Be Prepared to Use Our Military

Of course, we must rebuild our military and be prepared to use it when we must -- but we also must reject the unilateralist illusions of recent years. Our remarkable military power gives us the ability to lead. But others follow us not because we intimidate them with the argument of our power, but because we inspire them with the power of our arguments.

Defending ourselves from new dangers requires new thinking, new strategies and new tactics. We need to adapt our ideas about national security to an age in which the nuclear threat come not from a missile, but from a suitcase or a cargo hull. Not from a nation, which can be deterred by the threat of retaliation, but from a shadowy terrorist network with no return address.

That a small group of stateless terrorists could destroy New York or Washington with a black-market nuclear bomb epitomizes just how much the world has changed -- and how urgent it is that we lead other nations with a comprehensive global plan to lock down ALL of the world's fissionable material. Quickly. Before terrorists get their hands on a nuclear bomb.

Meeting the Challenge of Nuclear Terrorism: U.S. Moral Imperative

And I would add another point: meeting the challenge of nuclear terrorism is not just a national security imperative for the United States - it also is a moral imperative.

We created the first atomic bombs -- because we feared that Hitler would get them first. We are the only country that ever has used them - to end World War II. During the Cold War, we and the Soviets built enough thermonuclear weapons to destroy all human life on the planet several times over.

For six decades, all of humanity has lived with the knowledge that everything we know could end in a flash of light.

America led the world into the age of nuclear fear because we were compelled to do so by totalitarian enemies. We now have the urgent moral duty to lead the world out of the age of nuclear fear -- ironically because we confront a very new and different kind of totalitarian enemy.

I was Energy Secretary under President Clinton. My department was responsible for the design, manufacture and maintenance of our stockpile of nuclear weapons.

These weapons are not abstractions to me: to see one of them is to be astounded that millions of deaths can be compressed into such a tiny package. To know intimately our nuclear arsenal is to know intimately how our species could destroy itself.

Sam Nunn put it succinctly: "At the dawn of a new century, we find ourselves in a new arms race. Terrorists are racing to get weapons of mass destruction; we ought to be racing to stop them."

This is an existential problem. It is urgent. We need to free humanity from the threat of nuclear destruction. The United States cannot do this alone. But it certainly cannot be done without American leadership.

Bill Richardson in 2008 Info Center at About.com Liberal Politics

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