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Terrorists and nukes

August 15th, 2006

The recent news from the UK suggests that the threat of terrorist attacks is going to be with us for a fair while to come. Still, as a relatively frequent air traveller, I can’t say I’m too concerned by the news. The terrorists have managed to generate a barely observable increase in my (and everyone else’s) risk of death while travelling, and have now achieved a further marginal increase in the associated stress and inconvenience.

What scares me is the possibility that terrorists could get hold of nuclear weapons. Even a small atomic bomb could be a hundred times worse than all the attacks of recent years put together. Yet it doesn’t seem as if the threat is getting anything like the resources it merits. Of course, the biggest danger is that the bombs already made by Pakistan will get into the hands of someone linked to Al Qaeda, of whom there are plenty still in positions of power and could be more if Musharraf goes. There’s no easy way to reduce this threat. But a modest expenditure could help to buy up the enriched uranium, weapons systems and disgruntled scientists still floating around the former Soviet Union. I’d be a lot happier if I saw some evidence of this actually happening.

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  1. James Farrell
    August 15th, 2006 at 23:49 | #1

    Just curious what does it mean in practice to buy up a scientist. A scientist unscrupulous enough to make an atom bomb for terrorists, is not going to be bound by an intellectual property contract, is he? Perhaps he agrees to submit to some kind of house arrest that makes it physically impossible to make bombs or guide others in doing so.

  2. August 16th, 2006 at 00:47 | #2

    Pr Q says:

    What scares me is the possibility that terrorists could get hold of nuclear weapons. Even a small atomic bomb could be a hundred times worse than all the attacks of recent years put together. Yet it doesn’t seem as if the threat is getting anything like the resources it merits. Of course, the biggest danger is that the bombs already made by Pakistan will get into the hands of someone linked to Al Qaeda, of whom there are plenty still in positions of power and could be more if Musharraf goes.

    This is absolutely the truth. 911 felt like a WMD attack, if not in scale then in apocalyptic intensity. I think it actually made certain people temporarily insane. Hence the partial enthusiasm for a democratic crusad in the ME.

    But Pr Q is looking at this from the wrong end of the barrell. It is They, not We, who are facing Armageddon. It is not likely that terrorists could mount a Hiroshima sized attack. But they could get a suitcase nuke.

    After 911 there were plenty of people casually talking about turning the ME into a car-park. The USA and CIS still have about 10,000 nukes on the shelves just waiting for the chance to justify their investment.Steve Sailer has already talked about the logic of nuclear genocide.

    1. All Muslims everywhere are Them.

    Arabs who are shooting rockets at Israel, Iranians who supply the rockets, Pakistanis who try to blow up planes, Shi’ites like Ahmadinejad, Sunnis like bin Laden, all Muslims are “Them.” (Christians who live in Arab countries like Lebanon are probably Them too, but it’s best not to think too hard about this.)

    2. America and Israel are Us.

    3.They want to kill Us.

    4. Our merciful strategy of trying to democratize Them by conquering Them just makes Them perversely want to kill Us more.

    5. Trying to blow up Their weapons from the air doesn’t seem to work, as We have seen in Our war in Lebanon, and just makes Them want to kill Us even more.

    6. Even if We did destroy all Their rockets and cyclotrons, They will still try to kill Us with Their sports drink bottles, which will only become more deadly as technology progresses.

    7. Unlike sane people like Stalin and Mao, They cannot be deterred by threats of military retribution because They are religious maniacs who want to die.

    8. It is either Us or Them.

    9. We must run any risk to be safe.

    Therefore:

    They must die.

    All of Them.

    We have 10,000 nuclear warheads.

    That should suffice.

    Another 911-scale WMD attack and all hell could break loose. We have got to disengage from Islamic land ASAP, for their own good. We are a virus to them.

  3. rog
    August 16th, 2006 at 07:18 | #3

    I thought that 9/11 had destroyed any vestiges of isolationism – there is no place to run to.

  4. rog
    August 16th, 2006 at 07:24 | #4

    Steve Sailer finishes up by saying

    The good news, fortunately, is threefold. First, at present, nobody is really saying all of this — it’s still too awful to express every step of the logic.

    Second, when you do come out and say it like I just did, it sounds not only horrific, but laughably stupid.

    Third, war fever isn’t permanent. This too shall pass. Once rockets aren’t killing one or two Israeli civilians per day, the mania will recede.

    But, it’s unlikely that any UN plan will permanently solve Israel’s problems, so this logical dementia will eventually return.

  5. August 16th, 2006 at 08:29 | #5

    James Farrell, you buy scientists by giving them interesting and reasonably well-renumerated jobs. That way, they are kept amused and can feed their families, so they aren’t tempted to go build bombs for third-world countries.

    I expect that these issues are solving themselves to some extent with the improving Russian economy. Vlad may not be the friendly democrat we’d all like in the Kremlin, but I doubt he’s any keener on terrorists getting their hands on nuclear materials than the rest of us, and with more money to spend he’s probably got the ability to do something about it these days.

    Also, I expect it’s counterproductive for any US or other international assistance in programs to secure Russian nuclear technologies and materials to be too widely publicised. I expect many Russians would regard it as an insult that they would need foriegn help to run their military. That may explain the lack of publicity on this to some extent.

    But given it’s really the only existential threat terrorists could possibly pose, I would agree with Prof. Q. that it would be nice to hear more about it.

    FYI The US’s assistance program to Russia in this area is the Nunn-Lugar program, named after the two senators who originated the bill. See, for instance, Lugar’s senatorial site on the topic.

  6. August 16th, 2006 at 08:33 | #6

    rog – “I thought that 9/11 had destroyed any vestiges of isolationism”

    That is of course if 9/11 was exactly as it was portrayed. In truth there have always been disaffected people that want to strike out at something. The Oklahoma bombing was not done by people outside the US.

    “Third, war fever isn’t permanent. This too shall pass. Once rockets aren’t killing one or two Israeli civilians per day, the mania will recede.”

    This is wrong too. Bush/Blair/Howard want war fever. Better yet that the ‘enemy’ is a stateless organization that can carry on the war for ever so that we can be scared forever and keep voting these clowns in.

    If terrorists wanted to cause a nuclear explosion then all they had to do was dive the planes into the Indian Point nuclear plant that they both flew over. We cannot possibly guard against all threats. The best defence is, like Jack said, to stop pissing people off and killing their families so that they do not want to kill us in horrible ways in revenge. Also we can stop voting in neo-con nut jobs with an oil agenda that want to control things.

  7. James Farrell
    August 16th, 2006 at 09:38 | #7

    Thanks for your thoughts on that, Robert. If you’re right, ‘disgruntled’ was the key word in John’s reference to this issue: the scientists would be bought with psychic rewards like peer recognition and meaningful careers, rather than just a monetary counter-bid to Bin Laden’s.

  8. Smiley
    August 16th, 2006 at 09:52 | #8

    I think that the neocons actually have it right – in that the most likely place any nuclear device used by terrorists will come from is Iran or North Korea. However, I think that the game the neocons are playing has made the chance of this occurring more likely.

    Before George W came to power, Iran was becoming a more moderate and liberal society. In the elections prior to the last, many of the radical religious politicians had been voted out of power in Iran. Now, thanks to the US invasion of Iraq, the extremists are back in power.

    And it was rather ironic that the ability of the US to track the nuclear ambitions of states such as Iran and North Korea, through clandestine means, was “set back 10 years” by the exposure of Valery Plame as a CIA operative, in the rush to the war in Iraq. It’s almost as if the neocons want a nuclear device to be detonated in the US by terrorists. Wouldn’t that be a self-fulfilling prophecy?

  9. August 18th, 2006 at 14:47 | #9

    I have to admit that I am more terrified by the fact that Pakistan _already_ has the bomb. Anyone who has spent 5 minutes on the roads of Pakistan know that this is not a country that should have nuclear arms at their disposal.

    And I have to disagree John, Musharraf has to go, but it’s who replaces him that is the problem. The military here has a hegemony on power that fosters and breeds radical militants rather than supressing them. Let us not forget that although Pakistan claims to be an islamic state it was actually founded by a british-educated elite who saw an opportunity to exploit religion for their own benefit. This is no different from Bin Laden’s crusade, or indeed, that of the christian fundamentalists in the Whitehouse.

  10. MarkL
    August 22nd, 2006 at 19:36 | #10

    You don’t get out much, do you John. Your favourite American whipping boys have been doing this since 1991.

    Guess you missed it.

    Didn’t you ever wonder what happened to the warheads possessed by the 4th largest nuclear power on the planet in 1993 – Kazakhstan?

    MarkL
    Cannerra

  11. jquiggin
    August 23rd, 2006 at 10:28 | #11

    You’re reliably ill-informed MarkL. Substantial progress was made under Clinton and Bush I, but the Bush Administration has dropped the ball on this, as on so much else.

  12. tk.noonan
    August 24th, 2006 at 23:54 | #12

    I have a problem with the way fear is being generated irrationally these days. Now in relation to nuclear weapons you have probably seen pictures of the nuclear weapons dropped on Japan. They were huge.

    Now leaving aside an explosive device designed to disperse radioactive material, a real nuclear bomb requires I believe:
    About 20kg of enriched uranium, and some high explosive fuse to crush this fissile material to critical density.
    And (this is the crunch) a steel case to contain the detonation until it goes critical. I have thought about this and can’t see how it can be less than 300kg, relating the mass to that of an engine block.
    My point is that a real bomb can’t just be carried around by an individual in a knapsack.

    Now this is not to say that ways can’t be found to deliver a bomb, but some fear-mongers talk about mini nuclear devices. As you yourself say you are not terribly concerned about travelling, and although it has not penetrated Australian consciousness much, there are real serious reservations abount the official account of the big one, 911. When I first heard about these reservations early this year I regarded them as a hoax – but they’re not.

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