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The Urgency of Nuclear Terrorism
By Sybille Ngo Nyeck
If someone should try to strip away the costumes and the makeup from the actors performing a play on the stage and to display them to the spectators in their own natural appearance, wouldn't he ruin the whole play? Wouldn't all the spectators be right to throw rocks at such a madman and drive him out of the theater? Everything would suddenly look different . . . the actor who played god would be revealed as a wretched human being. (Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly )
The devastation of the tsunamis will haunt memories throughout this year and beyond. This catastrophe took us all by surprise. Yet while we may be shocked, we are not effortless. The whole international community is now focused on South Asia. The help to the victims that is flowing through governmental and non-governmental organizations attests to this global concern. Once again, nature has claimed its pre-eminence, making nonsense of our desire to predict. Under the debris of the pitiless tsunamis, the battle between self-preservation and destruction continues in South Asia and other affected areas.
The American people and the U.S. army have been wonderful in providing first-hand help to the victims abroad, but at home, nature and human mistakes are also threatening the U.S. with unfriendly outcomes. The crash of two trains in South Carolina this month is one of multiple incidents that could have resulted in a massive catastrophe. Had the train been carrying a more toxic substance than chloride, the death toll could have been very large.
Accidents happen, but when it comes to nuclear terrorism, prevention is the ultimate solution. This opinion is offered by author Graham Allison . . . [who] contends that today more than ever, self-destructive forces are the biggest challenge to our will, courage, and conviction.
Accidents happen, but when it comes to nuclear terrorism, prevention is the ultimate solution. This opinion is offered by author Graham Allison in his new book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC 2004). Allison, previously dean of Harvard's John Kennedy School of Government and now director of the Belfer Center of Science and International Affairs, contends that today more than ever, self-destructive forces are the biggest challenge to our will, courage, and conviction.
The tsunamis revealed other lifelong-threatening political, social, and cultural arrangements in Aceh, Indonesia, just as the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 11, 2001 did in the U.S. On that gloomy day, human beings, not nature, decided to end thousands of lives. Now, four years after that catastrophe, the Bush administration still hasn't secured strategic sites nuclear in the U.S.! Following this crash, The New York Times (9 January, 2005) reported that “more than ten months ago, the National Safety Board warned that of the 60,000 pressurized tank cars in operation, more than half were older cars that were not built according to the current industry standards.” Apparently, we haven't learned all the lessons of 9/11. In today's unpredictable world, the security of fissile materials should be a national and international priority.
Nuclear knowledge is no longer elitist, after all. Information on the topic is incredibly accessible through the internet. Just as terrorists are unlikely to be unaware about nuclear availability, so our own ignorance is not an option either. Allison warns that “ignorance” makes us all potential victims, whether of the next human error or a sadistic decision. As the testimony of an eyewitness of the train crash in Graniteville, South Carolina reveals, the people there didn't know how to deal with the “green stuff” that leaked out around them. “We all put our heads to the ground. It was the wrong strategy,” said the eyewitness. Clearly, a combination of human negligence and the absence of an effective exit strategy added to the gravity of the train crash. According to Graham Allison, to this day the Bush administration is still “poorly prepared” to face real potential nuclear threats at home.
It is now obvious that the Bush administration's unilateralism in the “war on terrorism” has not been successful. Nuclear terrorism is preventable, but such an endeavor would require that the international community join the U.S. in a “thoughtful as well as forceful” real battle against nuclear proliferation. UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (and its additional protocol) and the Nunn-Lugar program in the U.S. are both valuable references for successful collaborative efforts to fight nuclear proliferation at home and abroad. A consensus on common interests with credible actions against nuclear terrorism necessitates a close collaboration with China and Russia.
Multilateral and bilateral cooperation should crack down on cold war mentalities and bureaucracies. In his second term, President Bush must find ways to give meaningful answers to the perception that nuclear armament is “the best guarantor of independent survival and security” from Washington diktat.
Multilateral and bilateral cooperation should crack down on cold war mentalities and bureaucracies. In his second term, President Bush must find ways to give meaningful answers to the perception that nuclear armament is “the best guarantor of independent survival and security” from Washington diktat. Persuading the international public of the urgency of serious measures against nuclear proliferation requires that the Bush administration move from “war on terrorism” to, according to Allison, “a serious war on nuclear terrorism. . . A willingness to pull the trigger does Americans no good if the shooter does not know where to aim.” This is where prudent diplomacy comes into play.
The U.S. cannot solely rely on technology to fight nuclear terrorism. Allison insists that a humble U.S. foreign policy with a strategic, yet sensitive, rationale is imperative to regaining international credibility. However, he adds, such a commitment is unfortunately unappealing to the hard-liners of this administration. Under what he calls the “Iran Great Bargain” approach, Allison proposes that “Iran's legitimate security concerns” be recognized, and that Iran be given the opportunity to pursue civilian nuclear power. The relaxation of the U.S. unilateral economic sanctions could help Iran stay open to negotiations. With the global security at stake, prevention with carrots or sticks would always avoid “dangerous paralysis.”
Allison's book brilliantly raises tough questions and suggests feasible solutions. History will remember that the emperor in his new clothes has found no weapons of mass destruction in the ancient garden of Babylon. The Bush administration's deception in Iraq, while counterproductive to real initiatives for nuclear disarmament, should not destroy the commitment to fighting nuclear terrorism. Allison helps draw the line between the comically disguised lies and the naked reality of the nuclear threats in the world. An easy read, this book places wisdom where she belongs: in a humble, wretched, yet conscious and compassionate rationale.