September 19, 2004
Allison Presents Nuclear Terrorism as Avoidable -- If the U.S. Takes
new book argues that the threat of an event that would kill more
people and cause more destruction than Sept. 11, 2001, exists right
now for the United States.
The ingredients for a nuclear bomb -- fissile nuclear material --
are easily available, to be found in many countries around the world.
They are in many cases not carefully guarded nor even systematically
isn't that complicated. A nuclear packet the size of a football
would level an area within a half-mile radius of the blast and,
depending on the city, kill close to 500,000.
In spite of
post-Sept. 11 precautions, United States borders are sieve-like
-- they are actually indefensible -- from the rocky coast of Maine
to the Gulf of Mexico.
nuclear football or its makings in would be a piece of cake. And
there is no shortage of people out there who would like to deliver
Americans another setback and major disruptive scare, particularly
in a world context that includes the Iraq war and hostility towards
the United States based on its position on the Israeli-Palestinian
issue and its go-it-alone foreign and defense policy.
us through the problem, inducing an increasing sense of looming
terror with facts, not inflammatory language.
states are now up to eight, from five, with Iran and North Korea
scratching at the door to join Pakistan, India and Israel, new members
added in recent years to the original five members of the nuclear
club: the United States, the former Soviet Union, Great Britain,
France and China.
whatever tremors the idea of a country as instable as Pakistan with
nuclear weapons might provoke, there is the fact that since it acquired
such weapons in 1998, it has also served as what Mohamed ElBaradei,
the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, called the "Wal-Mart"
of nuclear weapons proliferation for the Libya's, Iran's, North
Korea's and heaven-only-knows-who-else of this world.
It claims to
have sworn off selling the stuff now, but who knows what some of
its citizens might still do for money or religious zeal?
the founding dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School
of Government, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International
Affairs, and a former assistant secretary of defense for policy
and plans, lays out the case that it is very likely, without immediate,
comprehensive U.S. government action, that America will suffer such
an attack within 10 years. His cold- blooded presentation of the
case, in fact, makes it even more terrifying in its promise.
In the second
half of the book, Allison seeks to give us reason not to completely
jump out of our skins by telling us that such an attack is preventable.
He lays out systematically a program of "three no's":
nuclear weapons; no new countries capable of enriching uranium or
reprocessing plutonium, the ingredients of nuclear weapons; and
no more states with nuclear weapons.
He also presents
a program that the U.S. government would need to follow to deal
with the problem of vulnerability to this sort of nuclear attack.
yeses" include, first of all, giving the issue of the prevention
of nuclear terrorism top national priority. Then would come a focused
war on terrorism, what he calls a "humble" foreign policy
(no thumbs in the eyes of our allies, no gratuitous wars), plus
the construction of a global alliance against nuclear terrorism,
strengthening and targeting U.S. intelligence capabilities on this
subject, a quick fix policy on "dirty bombs" (low-yield
but lethal attacks with radioactive or other toxic materials) and
the building of a multilayered defense against nuclear terrorism.
is short and readable, albeit horrifying in its implications. A
paragraph describes a small, easily deliverable weapon that, if
set off in New York's Times Square -- according to him, not that
hard to do -- would generate temperatures in the tens of millions
of degrees Fahrenheit and produce a fireball and blast wave that
would fry New York's theater district, the New York Times building,
Grand Central Terminal, the Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall, the
Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden.
head off any suspicions that he might be a Boston Red Sox fan, he
also presents us snapshots of the impact of the same weapon on San
Francisco, Houston, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and Charlotte,
N.C. To drive home the message, he then immediately quotes a retired
four-star general, formerly in charge of nuclear anti-terror programs
at the Department of Energy who says, "It is not a matter of
if; it's a matter of when," with respect to the probability
of such an attack occurring.
In the face
of the threat the author describes and worse, the difficulty of
carrying out the program he puts forward for dealing with it, the
reader's reaction will almost automatically be, "This is too
hard; no American administration is going to do what is necessary."
If that is
true, given the convincing case Allison makes for such an attack's
occurring, there is almost certainly something very bad waiting
for us out there: this very well informed man is saying that we
are doomed to suffer such an attack.
The book is
an absolute "must" read.