Loose nukes, uranium, and unstable states

Michael Keating at World Politics Review points to a tense political situation that the world doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to — and explains why we should be:

[A]nti-proliferationists can only be chilled by the prospect of one of the world’s major producers, Niger, plunging into a constitutional crisis, one that may completely destabilize a government that has already demonstrated an inability to keep the peace in its most strategic uranium districts.

Niger’s president, Mamadou Tandja, has dissolved the country’s parliament rather than face the prospect of relinquishing power after his maximum two five-year terms end this year. The situation is clearly worrisome, as is (still) the country’s long-running, on-and-off conflict with Tuareg rebels in the particularly uranium-rich north of the country. And as the kidnapping of a UN official some months ago under somewhat murky circumstances suggests, the connections between business, politics, insurgency, and government in Niger frequently seem to overlap.

What is most interesting to me, though, is the persistent notion that a local strongman with nuclear capability (Pakistan), or even the material to produce nuclear capability (Niger), is preferable to — well, the unknown, but, more probably, the military, which plays a strong role in both countries. This is not surprising, or necessarily off the mark, but the fretting can sometimes surpass existing global realities that are already frightening enough to warrant vigorous non-proliferation efforts. The disturbing Iranian and North Korean paths toward nuclear weapons are obvious examples, but, perhaps even more significant is the fact that if either India or Pakistan were, disastrously, to use a nuclear weapon, it would likely be over the often forgotten Kashmir dispute.

And why folks don’t panic more over the loose nukes still floating around from the breakup of the old Soviet Union, I don’t know…

(image from flickr user thomasina under a Creative Commons license)