September 26, 2004
Nuclear: Terror's Next Way
who attacked this nation on 9/11 demonstrated a willingness to take
the lives of innocent Americans with a calculated assault, limited
only by the means and weapons available to them.
If terrorists had full nuclear capabilities at that
time, the United States might have been the world's first victim
of a massive-scale nuclear terrorist attack. As Graham Allison outlines
in his book, "Nuclear Terrorism," the most devastating
attack we can conceive of would be nuclear.
Allison presents a full discourse on the very real
threat of nuclear terror and delivers the thesis of his book convincingly.
The frightening fact is that a nuclear terrorist attack in the next
decade is more likely than not, and the world hasn't yet recognized
that nuclear terror is in fact, preventable.
Allison lays out the situation: The terrorist groups,
like al Qaeda and Chechen separatists, most likely to acquire nuclear
materials; what kinds of weapons could be produced; where the nuclear
bomb could originate, and how a nuclear weapon would be delivered.
The first half of Allison's book leads the reader
to disheartening conclusions about the threat of nuclear terror,
while the second half is fully devoted to a strategic plan of prevention.
First, he suggests, the "Three No's":
No loose nukes, no new nascent nukes and no new nuclear weapons
Allison suggests that all insecure nuclear weapons
and materials be rounded up. This presents a major challenge, as
he observes there are possibly 200 locations around the world where
nuclear weapons or materials could be acquired. He specifies Russia
as the most dangerous; 90 percent of nuclear material not in the
United States can be found there.
His second tactic, calling for no new nascent nukes,
would stop the building of any facilities for produing nuclear-bomb-making
materials, like enriched uranium. Lastly, drawing the line at the
current eight nuclear powers is an absolute must. He maintains that
if the first two objectives - no loose nukes and no new nascent
nukes - are successfully met, the birth of new nuclear states would
Allison follows the "Three No's," with
a plan for "Seven Yeses," which include: the prevention
of nuclear terrorism as an absolute national priority; fighting
a strategically focused war on terrorism; a humble foreign policy;
building a global alliance against nuclear terrorism; creating intelligence
capabilities required for success in the war on nuclear terrorism;
dealing with dirty bombs and constructing a multi-layered defense.
He strongly emphasizes that success depends on credible intelligence
I have the highest respect for Allison's academic
work and his service as assistant secretary of Defense for Policy
and Plans in the 1990s, when he coordinated Defense Department strategy
and policy toward Russia, Ukraine and the other states of the former
Soviet Union. In fact, a year ago this week, I met in New York with
Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, who emphatically told me that Russia
wanted to be part of our global alliance against terrorism.
But a lot has happened since I met with Putin and
- I suspect - since Allison finished this excellent book. Most important,
the unconscionable terrorist acts against the Russians by Chechens
raise serious doubt that all nuclear materials can be rounded up.
Allison does discuss the United States strengthening
its borders, especially our ports. (Some 96 percent of cargo containers
that enter the United States are not screened for radiological or
biological agents.) But I give this a higher priority than he does.
Even the detection devices we have are not proficient and can only
detect nuclear material at relatively close range.
Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory on
Long Island say devices could be developed that detect nuclear materials
from 70 or 80 feet away and more accurately. We could place these
detection devices on every crane that loads containers bound for
the United States in the 15 ports worldwide from which we accept
With the right investment, we could prevent any
nuclear weapon from being smuggled into the country, and this method,
which Alison doesn't emphasize strongly enough, would seem to have
the best chance for successful prevention.
Before 9/11, it was almost unthinkable that our
country was susceptible to nuclear terrorism, but reality has since
shifted. The security of the world depends on who can move faster:
the terrorists trying to acquire nuclear weapons and materials,
or those who are trying to secure them.
To avoid Allison's ultimate catastrophe, we must
commit to comprehensive research for advanced technology to keep
us safe if one such device somehow reaches our shores.
Charles E. Schumer is the senior senator from New York