Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nuclear Terrorism and the Fate of Humanity

Is nuclear terrorism preventable? Or is it simply a matter of time regardless of what we do?

Clifford May, writing in the National Review ("Thinking the Unthinkable"), opined that not enough is being done to stop another 9/11, and listed several prominent commentators with a pessimistic view of the topic.

Michael Levi, writing in Foreign Affairs ("Stopping Nuclear Terrorism"), said this is a "grave threat," and said there is no "perfect defense," but instead counseled the use of "imperfect tools" as part of an integrated defensive system.

In his paper "Preventing Nuclear Terrorism," Ken Berry said the U.S. and Russia bear the greatest responsibility for stopping nuclear terrorism because they possess most of the world's nuclear material, and he mentioned the Litvinenko case as an example of how easy it is to pass radiological material across national borders.

An article in US News & World Report a couple years ago said the U.S. government is monitoring Muslim sites in Washington, DC and other cities for nuclear radiation levels.

Stories about suitcase nukes already brought into the U.S. by way of the Mexican border made the rounds a couple years ago, but if terrorists really had usable nukes within our borders, they would have used them by now.

In his book Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, Graham Allison presents a ten-point program for countering the threat of nuclear terrorism, but I am left unconvinced that his program is realistic or achievable, thereby negating the idea that it is ultimately preventable.

Earlier this year, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn called for a nuclear-free world, which surely must be one of the most difficult tasks in the modern world to not only achieve, but to sustain. Realistic? Not any time soon.

How long can the U.S. stay one step ahead of the terrorists and prevent them from detonating a nuclear bomb within our borders? Twenty years? The other threat on the horizon is an artificially created killer virus that could wipe out all human life on the planet.

A nuclear war between the U.S. and China or Russia would result in far more casualties than just one terrorist nuke, and the threat to humanity would be much greater.

Stephen Hawking, the famed astrophysicist, recently spoke at George Washington University and speculated on why we haven't discovered any advanced intelligent beings anywhere else in the universe. Intelligent life seems to be extremely rare. Is it because the conditions necessary to develop advanced life forms are rare--combined with the possibility that once aliens are smart enough to beam signals into space they are also smart enough to build nuclear bombs.

Do any and all advanced civilizations in the universe eventually destroy themselves with nuclear and/or biological weapons? It would be helpful if only we had God's view of the universe and knew the statistics that have already played out: how many civilizations reached the nuclear stage and how many survived? Is the answer zero?

Is the Earth playing out a Greek tragedy in which the final result seems inevitable? Can we one day develop a fool-proof, invincible system for stopping a terrorist attack with nukes before they achieve the ability to produce that attack? Can we stop China or Russia from destroying us? It is a race for our survival. Can we win it? Has anyone anywhere in the universe ever won it? Of course, it makes just as much sense to ask whether any civilization has ever lost it.

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