Saturday, July 7, 2007

Graham Allison: Nuclear Terrorism “Not Only Very Real But Disturbingly Likely”

Speaking of Graham Allison, he recently wrote an insightful op-ed in the Baltimore Sun in which he argues that, contrary to the wishful thinking of some skeptics that the September 11 attacks were “a 100-year flood,” “the danger of a nuclear attack by terrorists is not only very real but disturbingly likely.

In order to assess the threat of nuclear terrorism, Allison states that it is necessary to answer five questions:

1. Who could be planning a nuclear terrorist attack?
2. What nuclear weapons could terrorists use?
3. Where could terrorists acquire a nuclear bomb?
4. When could terrorists launch the first nuclear attack?
5. How could terrorists deliver a nuclear weapon to its target?

In briefly answering these questions, Grahams paints a disturbing picture of how al-Qaida (or other terrorist groups with nuclear ambitions) could acquire, construct, or steal a nuclear weapon or the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon from Russia, North Korea, or research reactors, which could then be smuggled into the U.S. and detonated. He writes, “Based on current trends, a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States is more likely than not in the decade ahead.

Allison proposes a strategy for an agenda that “would shrink the risk of nuclear terrorism to nearly zero,” which he refers to as the "Doctrine of Three Nos":

1. No unsecured nuclear weapons or weapons-usable material.
2. No new domestic capabilities to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium.
3. No expansion of the nuclear club beyond its current 8.5 members, the half being North Korea.

Without sounding too much like a Graham Allison groupie, I would strongly suggest reading the full op-ed or -- better yet -- reading his book, “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe,” which explains his argument in much more detail.

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