Nuclear threat no longer from superpowers
For those of us born during the "Baby Boom" generation, one of the realities of growing up in this country was that we were faced with a very real threat posed by the Soviet Union and their nuclear weapons.
Children in America's public schools routinely had to practice the procedures for taking cover in the event of a nuclear attack. Families across the country took the precaution of building bomb shelters in their basements or back yards and of stocking those shelters with supplies needed in the event the families were forced underground.
And many of us clearly remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of a full conflict. It was only as the result of some strong talk and even stronger actions by the Kennedy administration that war was averted.
With the collapse of the Soviet government in the early 1990s and the dissolution of the confederation of communist states in Europe, it appeared the only major nuclear threat facing the United States was eliminated. In recent months, though, we have seen that this is not at all the case.
It was no secret that many nations around the globe were either developing or already in possession of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. Pakistan and India within the past several years have each completed development and testing of weapons, and Libya was well on the way to achieving that goal. Recently faced with the threat of retribution by members of the international community, Moammar Qadaffi took the positive step of making a full disclosure of his weapons program and brought his research and development program to a halt.
At present, the newest and most immediate threats are posed by Iran and North Korea. Members of the American intelligence community had long suspected that the governments of both nations were actively involved in the development of a nuclear weapons program. Even with the most sophisticated surveillance technology available, it was difficult to say definitively these two nations were on the road to nuclear arsenals.
Throughout the end of 2004 and into 2005, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il made repeated statements to the effect that his country would not participate in proposed six-party talks with other concerned nations. These talks which, in addition to the United States and North Korea, were to include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, were intended to slow or bring to a halt the North Korean nuclear program and lead to the dismantling of any already completed weapons. The Bush administration has taken criticism for not dealing directly with the North Korean government, and the talks have made little progress.
In 2002, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a report theorizing that North Korea possessed enough plutonium to produce one or two nuclear weapons. Within the past several weeks, the public assessment of that program has changed significantly.
The announcement by the government of North Korea that they do indeed have nuclear weapons was followed last week by comments from CIA Director Porter Goss. During an appearance before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Goss said, "North Korea continues to develop, produce, deploy and sell ballistic missiles of increasing range." He continued, "Our assessment is that they have a greater capability than that  assessment."
Along with North Korea, Iran- another nation in the trio of countries referred to by President Bush as the "axis of evil"-is also suspected of being well on its way to developing nuclear weapons. In inspections conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2003 and 2004 it was revealed that there were significant research and development activities, which had not been declared by Iran to international inspectors.
Iran's desire for nuclear technology has been well known. In 1959, the Shah of Iran purchased a research reactor from the United States and announced his intention of building 23 nuclear power reactors by the 1990s. While this goal has not yet been achieved, it established the objective long ago of becoming a major nuclear power on par with the United States and the old Soviet Union.
This story is unfortunately far from its conclusion. As we have seen in North Korea, Kim Jong-Il's blatant and almost arrogant revelation regarding his country's nuclear weapons shows that he will take whatever steps he deems necessary to force himself into a seat at the table of international power brokers. Negotiations with his country continue to be strained at this point, and the road ahead will be rocky indeed.
The situation in Iran is equally uncertain. In a country ruled by a strong autocracy, the threat of further development remains very real indeed. The birth of a new democracy in neighboring Iraq and the local council elections taking place throughout Saudi Arabia have certainly added some momentum to the underground democracy movement in Iran. However, there is a great deal of work remaining before that country also experiences a birth of democracy and true freedom.
The American humorist Will Rogers once said that "diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggie' until you can find a rock." While I pray that no 'rocks' are necessary when confronting the increasing nuclear threats of North Korea, President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and many others in the administration will have their work cut out for them in the time ahead.
I would hope we all extend our thoughts and prayers to them for the difficult job that lies before them.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.
Jo Bonner represents Southwest Alabama in the U.S. House of Representatives.