Monday, March 22, 2004

Plutonium Smuggling in Tajikistan

Authorities have arrested some people smuggling $20,000 worth of plutonium through Tajikistan, a major conduit for weapons smuggling from Russia to Afghanistan. This material could have been used to make a dirty bomb if it fell into the hands of terrorists. In terms of realpolitik, cooperation in these matters represents a major incentive for the U.S. to work with Central Asian dictators, though as I've said before, that policy has its own problems.

The real issue raised by this in my mind, however, is why the Bush administration is shafting the Nunn-Lugar programs designed to safeguard former Soviet nuclear material. According to this op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, present funding levels will not secure these materials for another decade. And as Arms Control Today states:

"President George W. Bush Feb. 11 offered a strong endorsement of U.S. programs to safeguard or destroy the arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and materials formerly possessed by the Soviet Union. However, in his fiscal year 2005 budget request to Congress, released just a week earlier, Bush did not substantially increase funding for these programs and actually proposed cuts to the Department of Defense component as well as suggested spending shifts in programs in the Departments of Energy and State."

The other end of this smuggling route is also an issue, and the Bush administration's lack of concern with finishing the war in Afghanistan has been well publicized. This is a real WMD issue, and I'd feel a lot safer if it were given a higher priority by the U.S. government.


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