Home' Technology Review : November December 2008 Contents ESSAY 73
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A GLOBAL ALLIANCE AGAINST NUCLEAR TERRORISM
Establishing an accepted principle of nuclear accountability
will be a major international undertaking. It should begin
with the United States and Russia, each of which has a spe-
cial obligation to address this challenge, since they created
it---and since they still own 95 percent of all nuclear weapons.
They should take the lead in establishing a new global alliance
against nuclear terrorism. The mission of the alliance should
be to minimize the risk of such terrorism anywhere by taking
every action physically, technically, and diplomatically pos-
sible to prevent nuclear weapons or materials from falling
into the hands of terrorists.
Membership in the alliance would require an unambigu-
ous commitment to the principle of assured nuclear security.
States would have to guarantee that all nuclear weapons and
materials in their territories were beyond the reach of terror-
ists or thieves. And states' means of securing these materials
would have to be su ciently transparent that leaders of all
member states could reassure their own citizens that ter-
rorists would never get a nuclear bomb from another alli-
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 already obligates all
member states to develop and maintain "appropriate, e ective"
measures to secure weapons and materials, but this obligation
has unfortunately not been reinforced by specific, mandatory
standards. However, the Nunn-Lugar Expansion Act, adopted
by Congress in 2003, authorized the Nunn-Lugar program to
operate outside the former Soviet Union to address prolifera-
tion threats. Moreover, the Bush administration has reportedly
provided $100 million in technology and related assistance to
help Pakistan secure its vulnerable nuclear arsenal.
The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism an-
nounced by Presidents Bush and Putin at the St. Petersburg
G8 summit in July 2006 was another step in the right direc-
tion. But the alliance against nuclear terrorism that I am
proposing would go beyond declarations; it would require
specific actions in exchange for specific benefits. The actions
would include defining the security levels of weapons and
weapons-usable materials, as well as assuring others that
these levels of security had been achieved. Leaders of com-
plying states would participate in an annual summit, and
full alliance members would also be entitled to intelligence
sharing, assistance with security technology, participation
in interdiction exercises, and postdetonation medical and
The leader of a country that joined the alliance would have
to take responsibility for the country's doing everything tech-
nically possible, as fast as possible, to prevent nuclear terror-
ism. Meanwhile, member states would be required to deposit
samples of nuclear materials in an international library that
would be available for use in identifying the source of any
weapon or material that found its way into terrorists' hands.
Members of the alliance would together clarify the practical
meaning of accountability in the event that a weapon or mate-
rial was used by terrorists against another state. If nuclear weap-
ons or materials should be stolen, states that had satisfied the
requirements for assured nuclear security, met the new stan-
dards in securing their materials, and made their safeguards
su ciently transparent to the other members would be judged
less negligent. States that were unwilling to participate fully in
the alliance would automatically raise suspicions.
Members of the alliance would also undertake to clarify
the consequences of knowingly allowing nuclear materials
to fall into terrorist hands. Those consequences would not
necessarily involve military retaliation; alternatives such as
exacting financial reparations would certainly be explored
and might prove more realistic. Consequences would also
be di erent for di erent violators, since threatening nuclear
retaliation against Russia would not be credible.
Currently, the only state that could plausibly choose to
sell a nuclear bomb to terrorists is North Korea. Since it may
have 10 weapons, the sale of one or two would make little dif-
ference to its deterrent posture. An economically desperate
mafioso state, North Korea has demonstrated a willingness
to sell whatever it makes to whoever will pay.
To deter Kim Jong Il from selling a nuclear weapon to ter-
rorists, the U.S. government should act now to convince him
that North Korea will be held accountable for every weapon
of North Korean origin. Ideally, the United States would act
in concert with Russia and China in taking a page from John
F. Kennedy's playbook during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The
announced policy of nuclear accountability would warn Kim
unambiguously that the explosion of any nuclear weapon of
North Korean origin on the territory of alliance states or their
allies would be met with a full retaliatory response ensuring
that it could never happen again.
Success in the war on terrorism will require a combination
of policy imagination and technological inventiveness. Visu-
alizing the alternative---a world of nuclear anarchy---should
stimulate us to rethink nuclear unthinkables.
GRAHAM ALLISON IS A PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY
AND THE DIRECTOR OF THE BELFER CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNA
TIONAL AFFAIRS AT THE KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT. HE WAS DEAN
OF THE KENNEDY SCHOOL FROM 1977 TO 1989, SPECIAL ADVISOR TO THE U.S.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FROM 1985 TO 1989, AND ASSISTANT SECRETARY
OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY AND PLANS FROM 1993 TO 1994.
Watch an interview with Graham Allison on the threat of
nuclear terrorism: technologyreview.com/essay
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