Home' Technology Review : November December 2008 Contents ESSAY 71
WWW. TECHNOLOGYREVIEW. COM
persuade other states to honor theirs. India and Pakistan
tested nuclear bombs and began deploying active nuclear
arsenals. North Korea withdrew from the NPT, used technolo-
gies acquired under the treaty to produce plutonium for an
estimated eight nuclear bombs, and tested a nuclear weapon.
In 2005, an NPT review conference collapsed amid general
intransigence. Most recently, Iran has defied three U.N. Secu-
rity Council resolutions demanding that it suspend its nuclear
Of everything on this list, the most worrying is nuclear
proliferation in North Korea. That country is among the most
dangerous potential sources of a nuclear bomb that Osama bin
Laden, or someone like him, could use to destroy the heart of
New York or Washington, DC. In 2004, Pyongyang had two
bombs' worth of plutonium. It has since developed an arsenal
of around 10 bombs.
As the 2004 U.N. High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges,
and Change concluded, "We are approaching a point at which
the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become
irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation."
After the United States invaded Afghanistan in the after-
math of 9/11, the Taliban government was toppled and al-Qaeda's
headquarters and leadership, including Osama bin Laden
and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, were evicted from the
country. But note the supreme irony: having entered o ce
with a bearded madman in medieval Afghanistan plotting
and training foot soldiers for a massive terrorist attack on the
United States, President Bush will probably hand the reins to
his successor as this same bearded madman plots even dead-
lier attacks on our country---but now he will be plotting them
from training camps in Pakistan, a nuclear state.
No one who has examined the evidence has any doubt that
al-Qaeda is deadly serious about exploding a nuclear bomb.
As former CIA director George Tenet reveals in his memoir,
"The most senior leaders of al Qaeda are still singularly focused
on acquiring WMD. ... The main threat is the nuclear one. I
am convinced that this is where Osama bin Laden and his
operatives desperately want to go."
Consider the consequences if just one nuclear bomb
exploded in just one U.S. city. The immediate reaction would
be to block all entry points to prevent another bomb from
reaching its target, disrupting the global flow of raw materi-
als and manufactured goods. Vital markets for international
products would disappear, and financial markets would crash.
Researchers at Rand, a think tank funded by the U.S. govern-
ment, have estimated that a nuclear explosion at the Port of
Long Beach, CA, would cause immediate indirect costs of
more than $1 trillion worldwide and that shutting down U.S.
ports would cut world trade by 7.5 percent.
The total, long-term economic e ects would be much worse,
however, and would reverberate well beyond the developed
world. As former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan has
warned, a nuclear terrorist attack would not only "cause wide-
spread death and destruction" but "thrust tens of millions of
people into dire poverty." This would, he observed, create "a
second death toll throughout the developing world."
Preventing such a calamity will require policy leadership,
institutional innovation, international coöperation, and
hard work. The prospects for success can be enhanced by
capitalizing on a competitive advantage of the United States:
technology. Al-Qaeda and other global terrorists are techno-
logically challenged, and technologically advanced countries
must exploit this asymmetry. If we do, our ability to secure,
trace, and dismantle weapons of mass destruction will exceed
terrorist organizations' abilities to procure them.
NUCLEAR CSI: UNAMBIGUOUS ATTRIBUTION
Could states be held as accountable for the nuclear weapons
they create (and the material from which such weapons could
be made) as they are for the nuclear warheads their govern-
ments choose to deploy? The U.S. government considered this
question during the Cold War---and answered it, though the
answer o ers cold comfort. Recall the most dangerous moment
of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
The United States discovered the Soviet Union attempting to
sneak nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba. President John F.
George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, informed the
president that a CIA agent code-named Dragonfire had reported
that al-Qaeda terrorists possessed a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb,
evidently stolen from the Russian arsenal. According to
Dragonfire, this weapon was in New York City.
Links Archive January February 2009 September October 2008 Navigation Previous Page Next Page