New threats loom, UGA expert notes

A new treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear arms won’t lessen our risk of nuclear attack, according to a University of Georgia scientist who studies nuclear terrorism.

“The problem we face now is the risk of a nuclear detonation in the United States is actually increasing,” said Cham Dallas, director of the Institute for Disaster Management in UGA’s College of Public Health.

Still, the treaty that President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed Thursday is a positive step, Dallas said.

The leaders agreed to cut the number of nuclear warheads each country owns – about 2,200 each now – by a third. The presidents also pledged to cut in half the numbers of missiles, submarines and airplanes armed with nuclear weapons.

“It’s exciting to see the continued trend toward the reduction of the nuclear stockpile. It is, however, grimly offset by the realization that other powers are now proliferating their nuclear weapons,” Dallas said.

The growing nuclear threat to the United States comes not from the historic superpowers like Russia, Dallas said. The growing threat now is from terrorist groups or nations that are or might become so-called rogue states, like Iran or Pakistan, he said.

Dallas expects to see a nuclear weapon detonated in the United States within the next 10 to 20 years, most likely in Washington, D.C., or New York City.

Pakistan has 80 to 90 nuclear weapons now, and if the country becomes politically unstable, nuclear materials may wind up in the hands of a group willing to use one against the United States, Dallas said.

“A lot of people in the world dislike us,” he said.

Dallas is not the only one worried that terrorists and rogue states could use nuclear weapons.

Days before Obama signed the treaty, the White House announced a shift in nuclear arms-control policy and called the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists or rogue states a worse menace than the old Cold War threat of mutual annihilation between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The U.S. Senate is likely to approve the treaty, even though the measure would require Republican support, according to political analyst Charles Bullock, a UGA political science professor.

“It’s hard not to be in favor of reducing nuclear weapons,” he said.

The Senate may take its time approving the agreement, however, Bullock said.

Published in the Athens Banner Herald.

Lee Shearer[email protected]

Posted April 9, 2010.