Home' Technology Review : November December 2008 Contents ESSAY
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW NOVEMBER /DECEMBER
in the Reagan administration and as assistant secretary of
defense for policy and plans in the Clinton administration.
Others have o ered more conservative but still dire assess-
ments. My Harvard colleague Matthew Bunn has created a
model that estimates the probability of a nuclear terrorist
attack over a 10-year period to be 29 percent---identical to the
average estimate from a poll of security experts commissioned
by Senator Richard Lugar in 2005.
Still others are more pessimistic than I. Former secretary
of defense William Perry, for one, has suggested that my work
underestimates the risk. Richard Garwin, a designer of the
hydrogen bomb (whom the Nobel laureate physicist Enrico
Fermi called "the only true genius I had ever met"), told Con-
gress in March 2007 that he estimated a "20 percent per year
probability" of a nuclear explosion in an American or Euro-
pean city. And Warren Bu ett, the world's most successful
investor and a legendary oddsmaker in pricing insurance
policies for unlikely but catastrophic events, concludes that
nuclear terrorism is "inevitable." He has said, "I don't see any
way that it won't happen."
But there is some good news: nuclear terrorism is nonethe-
less preventable. There are feasible, a ordable measures that,
if taken, would reduce the likelihood of a successful nuclear
terrorist attack to nearly zero.
The centerpiece of a strategy to prevent nuclear terrorism
must be to deny terrorists access to nuclear weapons or mate-
rials. To this end, my 2004 book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ulti-
mate Preventable Catastrophe, proposes a strategy for shaping
a new international security order according to a doctrine of
■ No loose nukes: all nuclear weapons and weapons-
usable material must be secured, on the fastest possible
timetable, as tightly as the gold in Fort Knox.
■ No new nascent nukes: no nation must develop new
capabilities to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium.
■ No new nuclear-weapons states: we must draw a line
under the current eight and a half nuclear powers and
say unambiguously, "Stop. No more."
In the last 17 years, e orts have been made to address the
threat. The danger of "loose nukes" came into focus in 1991,
during the Soviet Union's collapse. After the failed coup
attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, I com-
posed a private memo to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Sta , Colin Powell, titled "Sounding the Alarm." "Soviet dis-
union could create additional nuclear states, provoke struggles
for control of Soviet nuclear weapons, and lead to a loss of con-
trol of strategic or nonstrategic nuclear weapons," I wrote.
In the weeks that followed, President George H. W. Bush
and Gorbachev agreed to what was later called the "unilateral
declarations." The United States removed all tactical nuclear
weapons from its operational forces and challenged the Soviet
Union to do likewise.
Gorbachev's response was encouraging. With the aid of
U.S. funding, secured through the Co perative Threat Reduc-
tion Program sponsored by Lugar and his Senate colleague
Sam Nunn, thousands of the Soviet Union's 21,700 tactical
nuclear weapons stationed in 14 of the Soviet Union's 15 con-
stituent republics were returned to Russia. Moreover, 3,200
strategic nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus, Kazakhstan,
and Ukraine, most atop missiles that targeted American cit-
ies, were eliminated. Today, there are no nuclear weapons in
any of the former Soviet states except Russia.
By now, U.S.-sponsored security upgrades have been com-
pleted for 80 percent of Russia's nuclear material and warhead
sites. As of June 2008, 7,292 strategic nuclear warheads had
been deactivated (79 percent of the Nunn-Lugar target for
2012), and 708 intercontinental ballistic missiles had been
destroyed (65 percent of the 2012 target), along with 30 nuclear
submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles (86 percent
of the 2012 target). Several of the 2012 targets have already
been met, and 25 classified sites on 12 Russian bases have been
secured two years ahead of schedule.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, in the first tele-
vised debate between President George Bush and Senator
John Kerry, the moderator asked each candidate, "What
is the single most serious threat to the national security
of the United States?" In rare agreement, Kerry and Bush
both cited nuclear terrorism. As the president said, "I agree
with my opponent that the biggest threat facing the coun-
try is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror-
ist network." During the 2005 Bratislava summit, President
Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin for the first time
accepted responsibility for addressing the threat and for
ensuring that their governments secure loose nuclear mate-
rial in their countries as quickly as possible. They assigned
responsibility for securing nuclear materials to individu-
als (U.S. energy secretary Samuel W. Bodman and his Rus-
sian counterpart, the head of the Russian Federal Atomic
Energy Agency) and held them accountable by requiring
regular progress reports.
But the missteps, missed opportunities, and wrong turns
of the past two decades are weightier than the successes. The
nuclear superpowers failed to take advantage of the end of
the Cold War to dramatically reduce and restructure nuclear
arsenals---or, at least, to honor their commitments under the
1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) rigorously enough to
Links Archive January February 2009 September October 2008 Navigation Previous Page Next Page