In their speeches to AIPAC today, the Republican presidential candidates made clear that they consider an Iranian nuclear weapon a nightmare that must be stopped at all costs. Yet however potentially dangerous Iran may be, there’s something askew about the emphasis on its nuclear program to the near-exclusion of the many other nuclear threats America faces–threats the GOP candidates have spent virtually no time addressing.
Take Pakistan, whose army reportedly moves around its nukes in delivery vans, and where the risk of a radicalized insider transferring nuclear material to terrorists is chillingly plausible. Weapons material isn’t as hard to transport as you’d hope, and a rogue scientist doesn’t face the same questions of deterrence and self-preservation as do regime leaders. (A rogue insider, by the way, seems a greater concern in Iran than the prospect of the regime attacking Israel or the U.S., or handing off a bomb to some group for that task.) Or how about murkier threats, involving no specific state but rather the vast quantities of nuclear material around the world kept in facilities like civilian research reactors, which store highly enriched uranium under weak security?
President Obama has devoted serious attention to the complex problem of loose nuclear material, and has tried to start a global conversation about nuclear disarmament. His administration keeps a close watch on Pakistan’s nukes (though with frustrating limits) and has reportedly developed plans for military action should the country’s nuclear arsenal come under imminent threat.
But Republicans just haven’t seemed very interested in these dangers. Over twenty GOP debates I can’t recall hearing a substantive conversation about loose nukes, or the state of our anti-nuclear defenses (radiation detectors at ports; nuclear “fingerprinting” research). Newt Gingrich has even mused about cutting off U.S. aid to Pakistan, likely a fast way to lose what insights we have into their nuclear security. (It’s worth noting that Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann of all people, rebuffed that idea in a November debate.)
Iran is clearly a special case. It’s threat we can see developing, through the eyes of international inspectors, satellites and espionage. Israel is small, close and extremely vulnerable to a potential Iranian attack. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Iran is the only, or even the likeliest, source of a possible nuclear bomb that might be used against America or Israel–even if we’re not getting the honest and serious campaign debate it would take to make that clear.