The unfolding crisis over North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles is a reminder that the world is an unstable place. Rogue states led by sociopaths and religious zealots continually threaten the peace and global stability, while free nations, led by the United States, continue to dither.
For some reason, we have trouble putting it all together. It’s nearly impossible to believe Pyongyang developed its nuclear capabilities and missile program all by itself. It had to have help, mostly likely from other regimes whose stated objective is to destroy the United States. Yet policymakers and military planners within the Pentagon continue to employ the same kinds of conventional responses while indicating they are unwilling to back up any tough talk they can muster with force if necessary.
Given the 17-year presence in Afghanistan, as well as the continuing commitment to Iraq, that’s understandable – but also potentially fatal. New dangers arise every day that America is ill-equipped to face, while few have the courage to propose new ways to fight the next war.
The biggest threat of all comes from the so-called radical Islamic terror groups that use – abuse, really – the religious beliefs of the poor and disenfranchised throughout North Africa and the Gulf region to recruit allies to their cause. They’re engaged in a holy war that justifies any tactic in the pursuit of victory. The use of nuclear weapons, as far as they are concerned, is not off the table. America’s efforts to prevent this, as symbolized by the deal the Obama administration and assorted European powers made with Iran, have been at best half-hearted in attempts to prevent it.
How we respond to this threat may determine our future as well as the world’s. Meanwhile, the problem gets worse. At the beginning of August, Yusuf-Garaad Omar, the Somali minister of foreign affairs, wrote U.S. Ambassador Stephen Schwartz of the dangers posed by the newly-reconstituted al-Shabaab terror group which, Omar wrote, has now “captured critical surface exposed uranium deposits in the Galmudug region and are strip mining triuranium octoxide for transport to Iran.”
In an accompanying intelligence brief, the Somalis indicated these materials could be extracted “fairly quickly, without the use of advanced mining equipment” and, because of its inherent stability, can easily be shipped “to Iran, and then on to Iran’s suspected customers, notably North Korea.”
“The potential for nuclear proliferation is real, immediate, and pressing,” the analysis said, putting the need to stop it squarely within the zone defining the boundaries of the United States’ national security interests.
“Only the United States has the capacity to identify and smash al-Shabaab elements operating within our country,” Omar wrote Schwartz. “The time for surgical strikes and limited engagement has passed, as Somalia’s problems have metastasized into the World’s problems. Every day that passes without intervention provides America’s enemies with additional material for nuclear weapons.”
He’s not wrong, but clearly the sentiment for doing anything about it does not yet exist in Washington. America was burned badly during its previous intervention in Somalia. The situation on the ground is little improved despite the election of a pro-U.S. president in 2017 and no one is eager to jump a second time into the same fire.
The danger of Somali uranium falling into the hands of Iran or North Korea changes the calculation. The U.S. must step up its activities – diplomatic, economic and military – in order to curtail the shipments the diplomatic message indicates are ongoing. This may not require a significant military presence, as has been requested, but may require taking the issue to the United Nations, the formal recognition that Iran may be in violation of the anti-proliferation agreement it just made, and the use of blockades and other interventions to seize materials in the pipeline between Africa and the Gulf.
No one can now say we have not been warned. Something must be done, even if not at the level of what the Somalis have apparently asked for. The global terror threat is highly mobile. The United States must develop new strategies to deal with what amounts to a multi-front war where the opposition works in an integrated fashion that prevents traditional tactics from being successful. Somalia is but one piece of a very complex puzzle the enemies of America must never be allowed to fully assemble.