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The world is imperiled by a new era of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). That is the conclusion of the Report of the U.S. Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, released this month. Its assessment of the dangers of a world awash in such weapons points to one conclusion: All nations must make prevention of the spread of WMD a priority.

Unfortunately, such warnings are not new; that the WMD Commission must repeat it speaks to the complacency that dominates national security thinking around the world.

The WMD Commission was established in 2007 to develop a bipartisan — and, hopefully, politically acceptable — analysis of the threat posed by WMD proliferation and make recommendations about how to combat it. It was intended to follow up on the work of the 9/11 Commission, which warned in its 2004 report that “the greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

In its final report, prepared after interviewing more than 200 experts in and out of government, in the U.S. and elsewhere, the commission warned, “It is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.” The vice chair of the commission explained that the five-year time frame underscores the fact that the threat is not long-term, but a real possibility in the near future.

Note that the warning is that such weapons will be used “somewhere in the world.” In other words, the threat is not to the U.S. alone. It is convenient to think that such dangers are someone else’s problem — they are not. Indians understand that threat, as do Pakistanis — who have suffered horrific acts of terrorism on their own soil. So, too, do Indonesians, Kenyans, Tanzanians and Russians, all of whom have experienced terrorist atrocities. Japan knows firsthand the reality of the WMD threat: The March 1995 Aum Shinrikyo attack on the Tokyo subways and its precursor in Matsumoto were reminders that we too are vulnerable.

The Bush administration was quick to push for concerted action against WMD proliferation. Awakened by the 9/11 attacks, its 2002 National Security Strategy highlighted the threats posed by the nexus of terrorism and technology. But an effective anti-WMD strategy depends on multilateral action. Technology, knowhow and WMD-related materials are widely dispersed. Borders are too porous and nonstate actors are determined to exploit weaknesses in existing nonproliferation regimes. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to take concrete steps to fight WMD proliferation, is recognition of this grim reality.

Among its recommendations, the commission calls on all nations to cooperate in eliminating terrorist havens, particularly in South Asia, to secure WMD materials, to counter and defeat terrorist ideology and to constrain the region’s arms race. It urges the Obama administration to prevent Iran and North Korea from possessing uranium-enrichment or plutonium-reprocessing capabilities. While negotiation is the preferred strategy, all options should remain on the table, given the potential consequences of those two states’ acquiring those skills.

In addition, the commission called for an international conference of countries with major biotechnology industries to promote biosecurity, strengthen global disease surveillance networks, and push for universal adherence to the Biological Weapons Convention. Governments should levy strong penalties against countries that withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency. It also embraced cooperative efforts, especially with Russia, to secure nuclear materials.

One of the surprising emphases of this report is its focus on biological weapons. It underlines that threat by noting that it is more likely that the “by the end of 2013” attack would use biological rather than nuclear weapons. This concern reflects the spread of laboratories working with deadly pathogens — their number has more than tripled in the U.S. alone since 2001 — and inadequate safeguards to prevent accidental or deliberate misuse of pathogens.

The report warns that, “Rapid scientific advances and the global spread of biotechnology equipment and knowhow are currently outpacing the modest international attempts to promote biosecurity.” A new culture of security must be encouraged — a mentality that nuclear scientists have embraced but one that has been slow to develop in the biosciences. This is part of the rethinking about WMD. The report argues that “The more probable threat of bioterrorism should be put on equal footing with the more devastating threat of nuclear terrorism.”

An equally important concern gets short shrift in the report: the need for the U.S. to lead nuclear weapons states to get serious about disarmament. The U.S. cannot warn of the dangers of WMD proliferation while it possesses the world’s largest arsenal of such weapons. Deep cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal would not only send a powerful message about the need to reduce nuclear threats;it would also help make the world much safer.

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