Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?

by Brian Michael Jenkins

Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?

Hardcover, 457 pages, Prometheus Books, List Price: $26.98 | purchase

close

Purchase Featured Books

  • Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?
  • Brian Michael Jenkins

NPR stories about Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?

Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?

WILL TERRORISTS GO NUCLEAR?


Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2008 Brian Michael Jenkins
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59102-656-3

Contents

PREFACE..............................................................7FOREWORD.............................................................11ACKNOWLEDGMENTS......................................................15PART I: INTRODUCTIONIntroduction.........................................................211. A Shiver of Terror................................................25PART II: GROWING CONCERN2. The First Imaginings..............................................373. Motives...........................................................594. Self-Imposed Constraints..........................................995. Nuclear Coercion: Just Hoaxes?....................................1096. Designing the Threat..............................................1317. Black Markets.....................................................1398. A Small Cup of Italian Coffee.....................................1559. Lebed's Lost Luggage..............................................171PART III: VISIONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION10. The "New Terrorism"..............................................18311. From a Balance of Terror to a World Unhinged.....................19312. An Age of Alarms.................................................19913. America the Anxious..............................................21314. The First Terrorist Nuclear Power................................24115. Is Deterrence Dead?..............................................27716. A Self-Sustaining Fission of Fear................................293PART IV: A CHOICE OF REACTIONS17. A Brilliant Yellow Light.........................................32318. Reflections on the Shadows of Doom...............................35519. Countering Our Own Fear..........................................369ENDNOTES.............................................................379BIBLIOGRAPHY.........................................................409INDEX................................................................427

Introduction

Will terrorists go nuclear? It is a question that haunts government policy and decision makers. What must be done to prevent terrorists from acquiring and using nuclear weapons? How will the nation respond if they do? How likely are they to succeed?

These are difficult questions that involve assessments of terrorists' intentions, estimates of terrorists' capabilities, their access to scientific know-how, the availability of nuclear material, the existence of nuclear black markets, and the effectiveness of security and intelligence services. As Brian Michael Jenkins points out in this volume, experts' estimates of the probability that terrorists will somehow acquire and detonate a nuclear bomb range from virtually impossible to inevitable and imminent. There is no obvious consensus, and, of course, no one knows for sure. The uncertainty only increases our anxiety.

As chairman of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, I was privileged to lead a distinguished group of Americans in examining how we as a nation, dedicated to liberty and justice for all, could effectively respond to almost unthinkable terrorist threats while retaining our fundamental freedoms.

Jenkins was one of the first analysts to recognize this challenge. More than thirty years ago, he warned that "power, defined crudely as the capacity to kill, destroy, disrupt, alarm, compel society to devote vast resources to security, was descending into the hands of smaller and smaller groups. The capacity for violence once possessed only by powerful armies was coming into the hands of gangs whose grievances, real or imaginary, it will not always be possible to satisfy.... How we as a democracy will deal with this and remain a democracy," Jenkins observed, "is one of the major challenges of our era."

For five years, our advisory panel wrestled with this issue. Our labor began when the panel was created in 1999, more than two years before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Our fifth and final report was delivered in December 2003-twenty-seven months after our nation was so viciously attacked. In the five volumes delivered during this period, we examined the escalating terrorist threat; the necessity of good intelligence and sober, not fear-mongering, threat assessments; the need for and components of a successful national strategy; the kinds of structures we would need to ensure preparedness at the local, state, and federal levels; and most important, the need to sustain the principles set forth by our Founding Fathers.

There is no doubt that the idea of nuclear weapons may appeal to terrorists. It is the responsibility of our leaders to ensure that we have good intelligence and the ability to assess the capability of terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons. Likewise, decisive action should be taken to recognize, prevent, and intercept efforts by terrorists to acquire such weapons. Nuclear nonproliferation must be a top priority of all nations seeking to maintain a free and tolerant civilization. Yet, the obstacles to the acquisition or fabrication of nuclear weapons by terrorists remain formidable. Policy makers tend to focus their attention on the remote high-consequence event-a terrorist nuclear bomb-believing that if government can handle this worst-case scenario, everything of lesser consequence will be covered. That may not always be the case. The safety of the nation requires that we not ignore the higher-probability, lower-consequence events. This was a conclusion of the advisory panel. As Jenkins shows, terrorists are extremely effective at exploiting our fears to leverage their psychological power, creating nuclear terror even without a commensurate nuclear capability. It only proves that terrorism succeeds in creating terror.

Succumbing to nuclear terror can promote dangerous passivity. Asked what plans had been drawn up for responding to a terrorist nuclear explosion in an urban area, one state homeland security official admitted that nothing had been done-everyone simply assumed the city would be gone. In fact, the destruction of a city would require a nuclear explosion of a magnitude far beyond anything terrorists conceivably could achieve.

Nuclear terror can also have another insidious effect, one that imperils our very democracy. Terrorism does pose a terrible danger, but our fear of real and imagined threats must not persuade us to diminish our freedoms or our core values. There is no trade-off between security and liberty. One does not exist without the other.

Ancient cartographers used to populate the edge of their known worlds with dragons and other mythical monsters. We tend to do the same at the edge of our knowledge. But we must be careful not to let dangerous fantasies become the perceived reality that dictates our course of action. That is exactly what this book is about.

As in his last book on terrorism, Unconquerable Nation: Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves, Jenkins is always analytical, thoughtful, and provocative. An independent thinker, he doesn't care whether you agree or disagree with every one of his arguments; rather, he compels you to think. Nowhere is that more effectively done than in his harrowing chapter 17 of this volume, where the reader is thrust into the role of the president-an unenviable position given the scenario Jenkins unfolds. It is a lip-biting read that forces one to reflect upon what he or she holds dear.

Jenkins does not leave us wringing our hands in despair. He concludes with a set of sensible steps, many of which coincide with the recommendations of the advisory commission. But at the end, he points out-correctly, in my view-that while preventing nuclear terrorism is government's responsibility, defeating nuclear terror is the task of every citizen. Rejection of unfounded fear together with decisive steps to secure the nation from real threats ensures the survival of our country and all it stands for, most important, our dedication to liberty for all time.

-James S. Gilmore III, former governor of Virginia and chairman of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction

(Continues...)




Reviews From The NPR Community

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: