Focal Points Blog

Is the Islamic State Capable of Nuclear Terrorism?

Al Qaeda once attempted to procure material for a nuclear bomb. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons

Al Qaeda once attempted to procure material for a nuclear bomb. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

After 9/11, many feared that Al Qaeda would get its hands on nuclear weapons. Such fears were stoked by the far right, especially the books of journalist Paul Williams with their provocative titles: Osama’s Revenge: The Next 9/11 and The Al Qaeda Connection: International Terrorism, Organized Crime, And the Coming Apocalypse. (Yes, I read them at the time; ate them up even.)

In fact, Al Qaeda had made attempts to obtain nuclear materials. In 2007 at the New Yorker, Steve Coll asked: Can the United States be made safe from nuclear terrorism?
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Lack of Leadership by Washington and Moscow Undermines Treaties and Norms

Hopes that the New START Treaty will lead to disarmament and nonproliferation have yet to be realized. (Photo: Eric Bridiers / Flick Commons)

Hopes that the New START Treaty will lead to disarmament and nonproliferation have yet to be realized. (Photo: Eric Bridiers / Flick Commons)

In a blog post at Arms Control Now, Greg Thielmann writes about how the numbers of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia deploys have actually increased in the last six months, in advance of the deadline for rollback imposed by the New START Treaty.

The 1970 NPT is the keystone of international efforts to control and reverse the international nuclear weapons threat. But many countries have long questioned the bona fides of Russia and the United States in implementing the treaty’s NPT Article VI disarmament obligation, a skepticism that is especially evident at the deliberations of the NPT review conference every five years.

The Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference “affirm[ed] the need for the nuclear-weapon States to reduce and eliminate all types of their nuclear weapons and encourage[ed], in particular, those States with the largest nuclear arsenals to lead efforts in this regard.” But instead of putting on the brakes as they head around the bend toward next spring’s NPT review conference, Moscow and Washington appear to be leaning on the nuclear weapons throttle. Ignoring their commitment in the Final Document “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament” puts these countries on a diplomatic collision course at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

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East Central Europe Slow to View Roma as Consumers

Istvan Forgacs works with the National Democratic Institute on Roma issues. (Photo: John Feffer)

Istvan Forgacs works with the National Democratic Institute on Roma issues. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

As the history of segregation in the United State demonstrates, the business community can be just as racist as anyone else – even if undercut their profits to refuse to serve minorities. Gradually, however, the business community began to see minorities as consumers and thus vital to their bottom line. Hollywood, for instance, realized the potential of African American audiences in the early 1970s, a trend that later took off with Spike Lee and his successors, and the movie industry is now waking up to the reality of Latino filmgoers. In the early 1990s, writer David Rieff pointed out in a famous Harpers essay entitled “Multiculturalism’s Silent Partner” that corporations were fast off the mark to embrace multiculturalism as a marketing strategy. Music companies, fast food restaurants, clothing designers, political parties: virtually every national brand has targeted the “minority demographic” as a way to acquire an edge in the marketplace of products and ideas.
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Ebola: A Symptom of Economic Inequality

The Ebola River, similar to the one pictured, gave its name to the virus. (Photo: Nick Hobgood / Flickr Commons)

The Ebola River, similar to the one pictured, gave its name to the virus. (Photo: Nick Hobgood / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Of the many strands that, woven together, make up one of the world’s greatest rivers, the Congo, there is one which enters the river’s main waters as the great river arches to its most northern latitude. Starting from the southeast regions of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it first stretches almost due north, its main artery referred to as the Lualaba. A ways beyond Kisangani and Bumba, the main branch, fed by hundreds of tributaries, lurches almost due west, making a gentle west-north-west arch until, past the rapids just after Kinshasa, it tumbles dramatically to the ocean past Goma.
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Branding Turkey’s Dealings With the Islamic State With the “A” Word

At the same time as it’s being hammered by U.S. airstrikes, Kobani is a battlefield between the Islamic State and the Kurds. (Photo: Syrian Revolution Memory / Flickr Commons)

At the same time as it’s being hammered by U.S. airstrikes, Kobani is a battlefield between the Islamic State and the Kurds. (Photo: Syrian Revolution Memory / Flickr Commons)

Yesterday I posted about Turkey’s reluctance to commit military resources to halting the spread of the Islamic State. In the New York Times, Kirk Semple and Tim Arango neatly summed up the reason.

Turkey’s reluctance stems in part from its desire not to do anything that might strengthen the Kurdish populist movement in the region. The defense of Kobani is being led by the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., an affiliate of the P.K.K., which is officially listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. In addition, Syrian Kurds have been trying to establish an autonomous region on the border, which Turkey wants to prevent.

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In What World Are the Kurds as Dangerous as the Islamic State?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be trying to use the Islamic State to defeat the Kurds. (Photo: Government of Chile / Wikimedia Commons)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be trying to use the Islamic State to defeat the Kurds. (Photo: Government of Chile / Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey, writes Sam Greenhill for the Daily Mail (first-person reporting, not one of the rewrites it’s prone to) is now “the springboard to a terrorist state.” He elaborates.

A Turkey whose army – with tanks parked idly on a nearby hill – stands accused of turning a blind eye to the atrocity on its doorstep.

Turkey’s failure to protect the Syrian Kurds in Kobane has triggered violent riots among the country’s own population of 15million Kurds. … Given the sickening stories being told by Kobane’s refugees, it is easy to understand why everyone fears the unrest in Turkey will escalate to unprecedented levels if the town is allowed to fall.

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Islamic State Offers Beheading as a Perk to Recruits

Does this look like the work of a violent religion? (Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr Commons)

Does this look like the work of a violent religion? (Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr Commons)

If you’re anything like me, you wonder whatever became of the good old days when just cutting someone’s throat was enough? Westerners, who prefer their violence at arms length via drone and airstrikes, are outraged ― not to mention puzzled ― by the up-close-and-personal nature of some of the violence committed the Islamic State.
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All (Muslim) Apologies

Muslims are repeatedly called upon to answer for the violent actions of a microfraction of its populace. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

Muslims are repeatedly called upon to answer for the violent actions of a microfraction of its populace. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

I want to wish you a blessed and happy belated (we’re never on time, I know) Eid-al-Adha. Given the news about Islam in the media the last few weeks, including some harsh exchanges on CNN with Reza Aslan and an HBO shouting match between Bill Maher and Sam Harris against Ben Affleck, Michael Steele, and Nicholas Kristof (this really happened. I’m as surprised as you are), I also wanted to give you a few tips about how to proceed with Eid celebrations and, in general, how to conduct yourselves (see non-Muslims, I’m doing my part!), even though I am not really representative of 1.5 billion people. No, from what I have gathered from the media, only members of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other fanatical groups get to be that.
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Conflict Resolution and German Reunification

Jamie Walker, a specialist in mediation and conflict resolution, became involved in inter-German conflict resolution.

Jamie Walker, a specialist in mediation and conflict resolution, became involved in inter-German conflict resolution.

If any country were in need of a national program of conflict resolution at every level of society, it would have been Germany after it reunified in 1990. East and West Germany were like a couple that had rushed into marriage with very little understanding of what it would be like to live together, merge finances, come to joint decisions, and make all the little adjustments that are necessary when two people with very different backgrounds are suddenly thrown together. Marriage counselors can help a new couple sort through all these challenges.

But Germany didn’t have a national agency of marriage counselors to mediate the conflicts that arose after reunification. It took a rather traditional approach. West Germany acted in many ways like the husband in a patriarchal family. West Germany was the primary breadwinner, the one that brought the lion’s share of the wealth to the union. And so West Germany made most of the decisions.
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Nuking an Asteroid May Sound Like a Good Idea, But…

An asteroid approaching the earth needs to be dealt with, but nuclear weapons are not the answer. (Photo: NASA)

An asteroid approaching the earth needs to be dealt with, but nuclear weapons are not the answer. (Photo: NASA)

Though designated as in excess of national defense needs by the National Nuclear Security Administration, parts of certain nuclear warheads containing uranium have been granted a reprieve from disassembly “pending a senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids.” In Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis elaborates.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Russia’s State Atomic Energy Organization (ROSATOM) signed an agreement that provides for cooperation in a number of areas, including safeguards against nuclear proliferation, nuclear reactors, and defense from asteroids. … It’s not entirely clear to me what there is to talk about with ROSATOM beyond how we absolutely, positively cannot do any of the things they are discussing.

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