With terror outfits like al-Qaeda aiming to grab nuclear weapons, the US has warned that the risk of an atomic attack has increased and sought efforts to lock down the world's vulnerable nuclear materials within four years and prevent them from falling into hands of terrorists.
"The nature of the threat has changed. We no longer live in constant fear of a global nuclear war where we're in a standoff against the Russians with all of our nuclear arsenal on the ready, on a hair-trigger alert," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday.
"But, as (the US) President (Barack) Obama has said, the risk of a nuclear attack has actually increased. And the potential consequences of mishandling this challenge are deadly," she said in her speech on nuclear non-proliferation at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.
Obama has convened a Nuclear Security Summit on April 12-13, which is being attended by leaders from more than 40 countries including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to discuss the crucial issue.
Observing that a nuclear attack anywhere could destroy the foundations of global order, Clinton said while the US and old Soviet Union are no longer locked in an atomic standoff, nuclear proliferation is a leading source of insecurity in the world today.
She claimed that nuclear proliferation by countries like North Korea and Iran endangers US forces, its allies and its broader global interests. "To the extent it pushes other countries to develop nuclear weapons in response, it can threaten the entire international order," Clinton said.
Nuclear terrorism, she said, presents a different challenge, but the consequences would still be devastating. A 10-kilotonne nuclear bomb detonated in Times Square in New York City could kill a million people.
Many more would suffer from the hemorrhaging and weakness that comes from radiation sickness. And beyond the human cost, a nuclear terrorist attack would also touch off a tsunami of social and economic consequences across the country, Clinton said.
She said there are three main elements of the US strategy to safeguard the country and allies against a nuclear attack.
"First, we begin with our support for the basic framework of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The global nuclear non-proliferation regime is based on a three-sided bargain: countries without nuclear weapons agree not to acquire them; countries with nuclear weapons work toward disarmament; and every nation is afforded the right to access peaceful nuclear energy under appropriate safeguards," she said.