[Paleopsych] ABC News: John Allen Paulos: How to Prevent Nuclear Terror
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Wed Oct 13 20:09:14 UTC 2004
ABC News: John Allen Paulos: How to Prevent Nuclear Terror
Author Spells Out Steps Required to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism
Oct. 3, 2004 -- Nuclear terrorism is a horrifying possibility, but it
needn't be a paralyzing one. That's the message of a new book, Nuclear
Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, by Graham Allison. He
begins by sketching a realistic scenario in which as many as a million
lives could be lost following explosion of a nuclear device in a large
American city. Such a toll would be hundreds of times as great as that
of Sept. 11.
Understandably enough, most of us would rather talk about Kitty
Kelley's book or possibly counterfeit memos than such a prospect.
Unpleasant though it is, we should pay close attention to the feasible
steps that Allison argues can greatly reduce the probability of such a
nuclear terrorist attack.
Compared to the cost in human life, financial resources and
international goodwill of the Iraq war, Allison argues that these
steps are almost cheap. Formerly dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of
Government and assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans in
the first Clinton administration, the professor backs up his dire
warnings with considerable expertise.
His outline of what must be done to avoid a calamity is comprised of
three No's and seven Yeses. The heart of the book, however, is the
Noes, which are: No loose nukes, No new nukes, No new nuclear states.
The Three Noes
The first and most important No requires that the United States help
secure Russia's huge and poorly guarded stockpiles of fissile material
(enriched uranium and plutonium) and nuclear weapons. Of particular
concern is its supply of so-called suitcase nuclear bombs, an
unhealthy fraction of which are unaccounted for.
Securing the stockpiles is being done in a limited way under the
auspices of the Nunn-Lugar Act, which was passed by Congress for this
purpose. Allison argues, however, that it will take 13 years to secure
all of Russia's fissile material at the rate we're going and that we
should spend the money to help them do the job in four years. (This
position, it should be noted, has been endorsed by the Kerry campaign,
for which Allison serves as a consultant.)
Obtaining fissile material is the primary difficulty facing those
trying to make a weapon. No material, no bomb. But with enough
enriched uranium or plutonium, some knowledge of physics, and a little
Internet surfing, a crude weapon can easily be made in less than a
year. And the unfortunate fact is that in Russia there is enough
fissile material vulnerable to theft to make 30,000 additional nuclear
weapons. Furthermore, though it contains 90 percent of all existing
fissile material outside the United States, Russia is not the only
worry. Allison writes that 32 other countries have some, and about 25
of the 130 nuclear research reactors in 40 countries contain
sufficient fissile material to produce at least one nuclear bomb.
The second No requires that we ensure that more fissile material is
not produced by countries such as Iran whose generators' avowed
rationale is the peaceful production of electricity. Easier said than
done, but he recommends strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty's terms regarding these reactors. The deal that would be needed
for this to work might include a program whereby countries with
nuclear capabilities would sell enriched uranium to those countries
that want or need electricity from nuclear reactors.
Allison's third No requires that the so-called nuclear club (which
ideally should have no members) should be limited to the present eight
members (the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Pakistan,
India and Israel) or else the membership will mushroom (sorry) out of
control. Both Iran and North Korea, which probably already has a
couple of bombs, must be persuaded in one way or another to give up
their nuclear aspirations, and this "persuasion" should not be a
simplistic choice between ineffective pleading and counterproductive
Pressure must continue to be carefully applied to Pakistan, whose
black marketers have recklessly sold "nuclear starter kits" and
personal consulting services to anyone willing to pay for them.
In fact, all three of these No's require "muscular diplomacy." Given
the way the United States is viewed around the world today, however,
this is going to be even more difficult than it otherwise would be.
This fact is at the root of Allison's contention that the Bush
administration has misplaced priorities and squandered opportunities
to improve national security. (Instead of fixing the gaping hole in
our roof in preparation for the upcoming hurricane, we're spending
time and money sewing a rip in our umbrella.)
Implementing the three No's will be expensive. Allison's estimate of
the cost of securing all the fissile material in the world, for
example, is $30 billion to $40 billion (although getting rid of the
more extreme vulnerabilities would cost considerably less).
Work must be done and money expended in this country as well -- very
much less than the $200 billion authorized (though not all spent yet)
in Iraq -- but still a substantial amount for a deficit-burdened
budget. More containers coming into this country must be inspected and
more radiation sniffers and detectors purchased. As Allison notes,
30,000 trucks, 6,500 rail cars and 140 ships bring in 50,000 cargo
containers every day. Only one in 20 of them is screened, and even
these screenings will not always detect nuclear weapons or enriched
uranium or plutonium.
The seven Yeses that Allison discusses are important, but rather
standard proposals. In particular he stresses putting together global
alliances with specific aims.
The virtue of this is underlined by a telling comparison. Unlike the
Iraq war with its ever-changing rationales (talk about flip-flopping!)
and largely unilateral prosecution, the Gulf War had a clearly
delineated goal and more than 90 percent of its cost was paid by our
allies. His other Yeses include getting better intelligence,
conducting a more humble foreign policy and pursuing a more focused
policy against Islamic terrorists that does not produce more of them
than it neutralizes.
Allison credits the Bush administration for quickly recognizing the
nexus between terrorism and nuclear weapons, but decries its "absence
of urgency" in dealing with nuclear nonproliferation. "We've either
been plodding along at a snail's pace or gone backward, way backward."
Some of the book's premises, facts and conclusions may be questioned,
but Nuclear Terrorism has a subtitle that everyone should take
seriously: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.
Professor of mathematics at Temple University, John Allen Paulos is
the author of best-selling books, including Innumeracy and A
Mathematician Plays the Stock Market. His Who's Counting? column on
ABCNEWS.com appears the first weekend of every month.
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