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Retired General: Beware of nuclear break-out

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By Roger Snodgrass

A distinguished authority on disarmament issues said new nuclear proliferation dangers are looming.Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, speaking in Los Alamos Tuesday, cited International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammed ElBarradei’s repeated concerns that a substantial increase in the sheer numbers of nuclear states could lead to a process called, “breakout.”States that develop the technology for enriching uranium may withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty with three-months notice, as was the case with North Korea, and can rapidly expand their enrichment process to obtain highly enriched uranium or produce plutonium from nuclear power fuels in a relatively short period of time, Gard said.Under conditions of increased global or regional tensions, national interests demanding a nuclear capability become harder to predict or control, ElBaradei has pointed out.Some 50 nations are considered to be in this emerging category, including Argentina, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.“If I were Iran, I would be working night and day to develop a nuclear weapon,” said Gard.He said that a country virtually surrounded with American troops on every border except Tajikistan, the implicit object of nuclear threats, has not exactly been encouraged to negotiate.“We told Iran we wouldn’t negotiate with them until we had the results we wanted to negotiate,” Gard said.“We told them to take a number,” said Gard, referring to the “axis of evil” list proposed by President Bush, which also included Iraq and North Korea.A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released Dec. 3 concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, contradicting the CIA’s previous formal assessment in 2005.In an interview before his talk, Gard said the confusion was not surprising.“We know so little about Iran since the Revolution in 1979,” he said. “There is one officer on the Iran Desk at the State Department, compared to 100 on Iraq.”Congress mandated the NIE in the FY 2007 Defense Authorization bill. When it was not produced, the Senate added a clause to the current authorization, withholding 25 percent of the Pentagon’s budgetGard is the senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C.  Completing a speaking tour in New Mexico that also included stops in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, he spoke on “Assessing Security Policy Options and the Way Forward,” at a meeting of the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security (LACACIS)In his presentation and in the wide-ranging discussion that followed, Gard said that the country has been warned since the 1960s that nuclear proliferation, even to nations that are currently friendly, is dangerous.“It’s the weapon itself that poses a significant threat,” he said. “The greater the number of states (that possess them), the more likely the use of nuclear weapons.A persistent question from the group, reflecting one of the committee’s priorities was what can be done to raise the visibility of the dangers of proliferation,Don Morris of Los Alamos said every opportunity should be taken to inject the question into the Presidential debates during the primary season. He recommended e-mailing the debates to elicit statements from candidates on where they stand on non-proliferation policies.