A leading strategist opens our eyes to the greatest terrorist threat of all-and how to prevent it before it's too late
Americans in the twenty-first century are keenly aware of the many forms of terrorism: hijackings, biological attacks, chemical weapons. But rarely do we allow ourselves to face squarely the deadliest form of terrorism, because it is almost too scary to think about-a terrorist group exploding a nuclear device in an American city.
In this urgent call to action, Graham Allison, one of America's leading experts on nuclear weapons and national security, presents the evidence for two provocative, compelling conclusions. First, if policy makers in Washington keep doing what they are currently doing about the threat, a nuclear terrorist attack on America is likely to occur in the next decade. And if one lengthens the time frame, a nuclear strike is inevitable. Second, the surprising and largely unrecognized good news is that nuclear terrorism is, in fact, preventable. In these pages, Allison offers an ambitious but feasible blueprint for eliminating the possibility of nuclear terrorist attacks.
The United States once relied on the threat of mutually assured destruction to deter the Soviet Union from launching a nuclear strike. But in today's fragmented world, a new strategy is needed, especially with nuclear material vulnerable to theft or sale through black-market channels.
The choice is ours: to grab this beast by the horns or to be impaled on those horns. We do not have the luxury of hoping the problem will go away, and Allison shows why.
A founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Allison applies a long, distinguished career in government and academia to this sobering indeed frightening presentation of U.S. vulnerability to a terrorist nuclear attack. While he begins by asserting such an attack is preventable, the balance of his text is anything but reassuring. Allison begins by describing the broad spectrum of groups who could intend a nuclear strike against the U.S. They range from an al-Qaeda with its own Manhattan Project to small and determined doomsday cults. Their tools can include a broad spectrum of weapons, either stolen or homemade from raw materials increasingly available worldwide. Once terrorists acquire a nuclear bomb, Allison argues, its delivery to an American target may be almost impossible to stop under current security measures. The Bush administration, correct in waging war against nuclear terrorism, has not, he says, yet developed a comprehensive counter strategy. Arguing that the only way to eliminate nuclear terrorism's threat is to lock down the weapons at the source, Allison recommends nothing less than a new international order based on no insecure nuclear material, no new facilities for processing uranium or enriching plutonium and no new nuclear states. Those policies, Allison believes, do not stretch beyond the achievable, if pursued by a combination of quid pro quos and intimidation in an international context of negotiation and a U.S. foreign policy he describes as "humble." A humble policy in turn will facilitate building a world alliance against nuclear terrorism and acquiring the intelligence necessary for success against prospective nuclear terrorists. It will also require time, money and effort. Like the Cold War, the war on nuclear terrorism will probably be a long struggle in the twilight. But no student of the fact, Allison asserts, doubts that another major terrorist attack is in the offing. "We do not have the luxury," he declares, "of hoping the beast will simply go away."