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Sobering thoughts on this Saint Patrick’s Day as we prepare to go to war.

Fred Hiatt at the Washington Post writes:

“Last year the U.S.-Russian “Project Vinca” succeeded in spiriting bomb-grade material out of an insecure site in Yugoslavia. But that operation required more than a year of planning and an infusion of private funds — and there are at least 24 other such high-risk sites around the world. In Russia, little more than a third of nuclear material has been secured in cooperative U.S.-Russian programs, and tales of theft, attempted theft and sloppy protection are legion: guards who do not patrol because they have no winter uniforms, security systems shut because of unpaid electricity bills. “Weapons-grade and weapons-usable nuclear materials have been stolen from some Russian institutes,” says the CIA. “We assess that undetected smuggling has occurred, although we do not know the extent or magnitude of such thefts.”

A focus on Iraq may be seen as a distraction from this threat, or as one essential component of a response; in either case, it is certainly not sufficient. Yet the danger of unsecured nuclear material has not received a fraction of the official attention devoted to the Iraqi threat. And Nunn asserts that, as inadequate as the American response has been, most other nations have done far less.

Why? The authors of the report offer various explanations: bureaucratic resistance, suspicion among nations, the absence of any corporate constituency that profits substantially from such work, the mistaken belief that everything possible is being done or, alternately, that nothing useful can be done.

And then there is the most human of reasons: No one likes to think about the unthinkable.”

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