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December 12, 2004

Speaking of Security/Terrorism

Joshua Cohen: December 12, 2004

What is the largest threat now to the security of this country? (Right now: this year.) The answer—taking into consideration both the probabilities of potential harms and the magnitude of those harms—is surprisingly clear: the largest threat is a nuclear 9/11. Say, a 10 kiloton bomb—delivered by car, truck, or plane—to Grand Central Station that kills a half million people immediately and does a trillion dollars of direct economic damage. If you imagine similar weapons, exploded simultaneously, in Chicago and Washington and San Francisco, you have horrifying death and destruction, and it is not clear that you still have a country.

How could there be a nuclear 9/11? The answer is that massive amounts of fissile material—hundreds of tons of both highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium—are located around the world, associated with nuclear weapons facilities and with research reactors, and are not particularly secure: lots of the insecure nuclear material is in Russia, but it is also in Pakistan, and elsewhere. When nuclear materials are not sufficiently secured, they can be stolen, sold, and transported. And once you have the fissile materials, making a bomb that can do horrific damage is not that difficult. In fact, the Chechens who took the Moscow theater in October 2002 apparently had initially planned to take a research reactor with enough highly enriched uranium to make a few dozen nuclear weapons.

It is also not that hard or that expensive to take actions that would significantly reduce this threat. And what you need to do to address it is not to fight a war against Iraq, because none of this stuff is in Iraq. It will not help to build a missile shield, because the nuclear weapons will end up on trucks, or buses, or planes, not on missiles. You do not need to violate anyone’s civil liberties, or close borders, or fight a war anywhere.

Instead what you need to do, for starters, is to make sure that weapons grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium are tied down. Preventing stuff from walking away in the first place is the key. The leading study of this issue—by Matt Bunn, Anthony Weir, and John Holdren—makes this point very forcefully: “nuclear theft” is “by far the most likely” route to nuclear terror, and also “the step in the pathway that can most directly and reliably be stopped. If effective security and accounting arrangements, capable enough to defeat all the threats a facility is likely to face, are put in place for every nuclear weapon and every kilogram of weapons usable material throughout the world, the threat of nuclear weapons terrorism can be dramatically reduced.”

So there is a serious danger: and as should be clear from the Chechens who took the Moscow Theater, the danger is not at all confined to US security. The greatest threat in New York is also the greatest threat in Moscow, London, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Djakarta, Beijing, and Islamabad. Are the loose nukes being tied down? In a word, no. More money was spent in 2002 on so-called missile defense (an extraordinary waste, as Ted Postol has repeatedly shown) than has been spent in the entire history of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program that aims to tie down loose nukes. And in the American government, this is no one’s job. (Graham Allison, who has been the principal national voice on this issue, points out that “in the two years following 9/11, we actually secured less vulnerable nuclear material around the world than we did in the two years before 9/11.”)

Why is so little being done to address this extraordinary problem? No one has a very good answer. But my own speculation (and it is just speculation) is that you can understand the inaction some by reflecting on what would need to happen to address the issue. In a word, it would require cooperation, in the first instance with Russia, which is where lots of the nuclear material is, but with Pakistan and other countries as well. Notice, incidentally, that the Russians have a deep interest in addressing this issue themselves: if the Chechens get fissile material, it will end up in Moscow, not in Grand Central Station. The problem is unilateralism: the people running the country have an ideological allergy to all forms of cooperation, which—to all appearances—they take to be a sign of weakness and an invitation to danger. (See the ABM treaty, Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, missile defense and preventive war). And their cultural allergy to cooperation seems especially strong when it comes to security—even if cooperation is required to respond to the greatest danger

What the nuclear 9/11 problem underscores is the depth of current American unilateralism, and its dangers. Addressing this issue is essential to ensuring our own security, and the first step in moving forward is to acknowledge that we are in the same situation as everyone else: that vulnerability is a fact of life, not a policy choice; that our fate depends on how others act; and that addressing our vulnerabilities requires cooperative action, not unilateralist ideology.

To be sure, the effort to tie down loose nuclear materials would be aided by other changes in US policy. This country has vastly more nuclear weapons than it needs for any conceivable circumstance, and now insists that a new generation of nuclear weapons is essential. But....enough.

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Comments

Posted by: alex

''Graham Allison, who has been the principal national voice on this issue, points out that “in the two years following 9/11, we actually secured less vulnerable nuclear material around the world than we did in the two years before 9/11.” ''

Shouldn't one expect the amount of vulnerable nuclear material secured to be a decreasing function of time? Unless lots and lots of new vulnerable nuclear material is produced every year - and my understanding is that its mostly old stuff, like old Russian nukes and reactors - shoulndn't some sort of diminishing returns set in?

Posted by: alex | Dec 12, 2004 2:11:32 AM


Posted by: Hal

Doing the right thing - the "get tough" thing - requires extraordinary hard work, patience and cooperation. It's not sexy, boring, provides zero chances for political coups and certainly doesn't provide any photo ops on carriers.

An ounce of prevention is worth a hundred ill conceived and incompetently planed wars. . .

Posted by: Hal | Dec 12, 2004 2:45:02 AM


Posted by: Andromeda

I think you also have to recognize some of the reasons why the right tends to favor unilateralism.

It is difficult to trust the good intentions of countries like Germany when the Chancellor exploits anti-American sentiment to get elected, or France, in which anti-Americanism is commonplace and the government seems more interested in gaining an advantage for itself than actual cooperation.

How do you trust a European Community to cooperate in good faith when the current popular meme is that they are the Lilliputians whose job is to tie down the American giant?

Are they more motivated by concern that the strategy America is pursuing is wrong, or are motivated by a desire to cut America down a notch?

I don't think it's at all obvious that the first explanation is correct.

If you are coming from the perspective of the right, the Europeans seem biased against the US, inclined to throw roadblocks in the path of what the US needs to do to defend itself, just for the sake of undercutting America's military capability. Unilateral action is the natual response to that.

Similarly, I could mention Kyoto and the ICC. Both cases where the right feels that these treaties are biased against the US. In the case of Kyoto, that it's designed to undercut America's economic dominance, and in the case of the ICC, that it will be used to bring politically motivated charges against Americans.

Posted by: Andromeda | Dec 12, 2004 4:26:18 AM


Posted by: alex

Andromeda wrote "It is difficult to trust the good intentions of countries like Germany when the Chancellor exploits anti-American sentiment to get elected, or France in which anti-Americanism is commonplace..."

Of course, anti-French feeling is never exploited for political purposes in America.

Posted by: alex | Dec 12, 2004 5:18:40 AM


Posted by: S. Weasel

Of course, anti-French feeling is never exploited for political purposes in America.

The "I'm rubber, you're glue" approach to geopolitical conflict is seldom very useful.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Dec 12, 2004 8:02:08 AM


Posted by: Rob Perelli-Mineti

Of course, anti-French feeling is never exploited for political purposes in America. you left off the < /sarcasm> ....

Actually, I'm not sure whether you were being sarcastic or arguing tu quo cui.

In any event, I think it's fair to say that anti-French feeling in this country is generally exploitable only when the French behave in ways many people see as treacherous.

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Mineti | Dec 12, 2004 9:02:48 AM


Posted by: duus

do you really believe that Rob p-m? Honest question. Is that a claim that manipulation and misrepresentation for local political gain is infrequent? Is that your honest opinion?

Posted by: duus | Dec 12, 2004 12:02:35 PM


Posted by: Jeff Licquia

The problem is unilateralism: the people running the country have an ideological allergy to all forms of cooperation, which—to all appearances—they take to be a sign of weakness and an invitation to danger. (See the ABM treaty, Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, missile defense and preventive war).

Perhaps that case can be made, but your quoted examples are poor ones. All of them are controversial within this country to some degree, in ways that have nothing to do with unilateralism or anti-cooperative interests.

To pick on one example, Democrats talk a mean game on Kyoto, but the most significant action our government took on it was the Byrd-Hagel resolution, a 95-0 bipartisan smackdown of Kyoto by the Senate done before the treaty was signed. To my knowledge, none of the concerns in Byrd-Hagel were address, and Sen. Chuck Hagel himself has made the case for the USA to implement its own Kyoto unilaterally, adjusted to avoid the consequences mentioned in the resolution.

Posted by: Jeff Licquia | Dec 12, 2004 12:16:37 PM


Posted by: Bruce Allardice

The original comment posits that it is "clear" that the greatest threat to American security right now is a nucleur bomb--a "nucleur 9/11" in the writers phrase.

That may be the greatest theoretical threat, or the greatest threat in the mind of the poster. However, the best test of the truth of a proposition is not the theoretical arguments that can be made for or against it, but rather how the proposition has fared in the real world.

And in the real world, in the last 30 years, terrorists have used decidedly NON-nucleur weapons. Bombs. Planes. Bullets. Knives. America has to deal with these actual threats first, and put the theoretical threats on the back burner.

The posting also:

1) mistakenly focuses on the weapon of terror, the inanimate object, rather than the terrorist him(her)self.
2) mistakenly supposes that terrorists have as the object of their terrorist act the maximized destruction of human life and property. In actuality, their aim is publicity, and the destruction is merely a means to that end. Hence one bomb in the media center of NYC gains more publicity for the terrorists than the massacre of a million Sudanese.
3) ignores the fact that there are literally hundreds of weapons of mass destruction the terrorists can create and use, each one much easier to create than a nucleur bomb. For example, take easy-to-get chemicals and create poisons that could contaminate our water supply. It is simply impossible for any country or group of countries to completely control this--the genie is out of the bottle and can never be put back in.

Posted by: Bruce Allardice | Dec 12, 2004 12:26:18 PM


Posted by: David Velleman

in the real world, in the last 30 years, terrorists have used decidedly NON-nucleur weapons

In the real world, terrorists had never crashed a jetliner into a skyscraper, either -- until 9/11.

Do we wait to prevent the second act of nuclear terrorism? Or do we try to prevent the first -- given credible evidence that terrorists have shown an interest in obtaining nuclear materials, and that they are all too readily available.

Posted by: David Velleman | Dec 12, 2004 12:46:54 PM


Posted by: bakho

Nunn-Lugar is the right idea but it has been underfunded because conservatives see it as lending aid to Russian and the FSU. Lugar is a conservative GOP on many issues, but liberals can definately rally around this good idea. Nunn-Lugar has a lot of liberal support in Congress.

http://lugar.senate.gov/nunnlugar.html

Posted by: bakho | Dec 12, 2004 1:06:44 PM


Posted by: Mona

I must be missing something here. If nuclear fissionable materials are the threat the author posits (and I'm not well-enough informed on that particular WMD to know), then enlightened self-interest causes France, Russia & etc. to cooperate with the U.S. to solve the problem, Kyoto and the war in Iraq quite aside. Preventing a nuclear explosion in Paris or Moscow would seem for more important than snubbing the U.S. for operating outside of the U.N.

Do we have any reason to believe international intelligence agencies are NOT cooperating on this issue? What does the war in Iraq really hve to do with it?

Posted by: Mona | Dec 12, 2004 1:06:48 PM


Posted by: novakant

Do we have any reason to believe international intelligence agencies are NOT cooperating on this issue?

No, it's just the usual paranoid, jingoistic far-rightwing blather. The topic is much too serious for such detractions and by all accounts the international cooperation on this matter is very good, especially on the working level.
Mind you, tapping the phones of the IEIA sure doesn't help matters on the political level, but I'm hopeful this flap can be resolved amicably and without causing too much damgage.

Posted by: novakant | Dec 12, 2004 1:44:12 PM


Posted by: novakant

ooops, that should read "IAEA"

Posted by: novakant | Dec 12, 2004 1:50:25 PM


Posted by: rumpy doppelganger

The reason more is not done is because we lack the tools to do it. We do what we can as far as international cooperation goes, but agreements that depend on good faith can only be trusted to a certain degree in a state of nature. At some point, you have to weigh the costs and probabilities of negotiating an agreement only to be double-crossed against the costs of refusing to negotiate. It is only rational, not jingoistic, to do so.

Posted by: rumpy doppelganger | Dec 12, 2004 2:23:59 PM


Posted by: Matt

On Cooperation w/ Russia here-
You have to understand as well that the "elite" in Russia don't trust the US _AT ALL_. They are more or less convinced that it's the US's goal to dominate and break up Russia. So, they are very weary of any cooperation, even in areas that would seem clearly to be in their interests. It would widely be believed that US "help" in this area would really be a plan to spy on Russian nuclear facilities or perhaps even to help Chencens. (It's pretty common there to hold that the US helps the Checens.) So, while I hope that something will be done to secure Russian nuclear material, it will be hard to do. This isn't meant to say anything about what degree, if any, the Russian beliefs are justified, merely to point out a potential difficulty- we can't merely just show up w/ money and people and say we're there to help, even if we wanted to.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 12, 2004 2:26:35 PM


Posted by: Worried

Do we have any reason to believe international intelligence agencies are NOT cooperating on this issue?

New York magazine ran an article on why we've not been attacked since 9/11. They fielded several candidates. The one, I believe the only one, not speculative but grounded in evidence (reports of an inevitably less than 100% solid sort) was the successful thwarting of four or five planned attacks on American targets.
Who did the thwarting?
Foreign intelligence services, notably, that of France.

Posted by: Worried | Dec 12, 2004 2:33:40 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Cohen writes that the problem is unilateralism. No. The problem is that when multinaturalism fails (Iraq) or is wrongheaded in the first place (Kyoto) all that is left is unilateralism. The Bush administration has pursued multinational solutions to various problems, trade issues for example, but also responses to terrorism including the threat of nuclear terrorism which, by the way, the Bush administration also states is the greatest single threat facing the nation.

Much could have been done in earlier administrations, also. Both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration did very little to reduce nuclear stockpiles or nuclear technology proliferation. Speaking as someone who happened to be in one of the buildings struck by the 9/11 terrorists and whose family lives in one of the highest target cities, I'd prefer the U.S. to pursue both multilateral and unilateral approaches, thank you very much. I am certainly not willing to trust my life or my family to the dubious aegis of the U.N. alone. Neither should you.

I would, however, be very interested in hearing what specific and concrete steps others think should be taken.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 12, 2004 2:33:42 PM


Posted by: Mona

Truly, I do not understand the linking of Kyoto and the war in Iraq to stopping nuclear terrorism. I read a lot of sites that are supportive of Bush's foreign policy, and countless are the pieces warning of nuclear terrorism. It is not as if the Bush Admin is ignoring the potentially huge problem. This is an exceprt from but *one* arrticle at NRO:

But President Bush has a policy that has a better chance of succeeding than any other. His Proliferation Security Initiative in which eleven nations (even France) have joined to interdict shipments of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is diplomacy founded upon military force. It is succeeding, one seizure at a time, in many parts of the globe. Underlying it is the policy of preemption — which we need to implement now, not later, to prevent Iran from graduating from the status of terrorist regime to nuclear terrorist regime.

Link here: http://www.nationalreview.com/babbin/babbin200406210910.asp

One could be forgiven for suspecting that Mr. Cohen, with his rheotric of the U.S.'s alleged "allergy" to cooperation and insistence on unilateralism (what are the U.K and Australia, illusions?), is at least as interested in beating up Bush for both his war in Iraq and distaste for environmentalist excesses, as the author is in sounding the alarm about nuclear terrorism.

Posted by: Mona | Dec 12, 2004 2:34:52 PM


Posted by: Joshua Cohen

A few quick comments on some of the remarks:

1. Bruce: The magnitude of a threat is a function not only of likelihood but of extent of possible damage. A nuclear 9/11 (especially with multiple targets) would mean both millions of deaths and potentially the end of the country as we know it.

2. Alex: Should we be doing less on this as a function of time? Of course not. The appropriate effort depends on the magnitude of the threat, and people who now about the issue do not think that the threat has become less serious.

3. Mona, Novakant: Are there large efforts already devoted to this? No.

4. Mona: Yes, enlightened self-interest would suggest cooperation. But dealing with the issue requires US leadership. And that was the root of my point about ideological unilateralism. Very little is happening, despite the magnitude of the danger. Hard to understand why so little is happening. My speculation is ideological unilateralism. Others may wish to offer alternative theories.

The best thing to read on this (along with the Nunn-Lugar website that bahko mentions) is the book by Graham Allison, *Nuclear Terrorism*, published in 2004.

Posted by: Joshua Cohen | Dec 12, 2004 2:40:21 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Note to my earlier comment: I seem to have multi-typos, especially every time I meant to type multilateralism. I must be trying too much multi-tasking.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 12, 2004 2:41:25 PM


Posted by: Joshua Cohen

On ideas about what can be done:

1. The Allison book cited above is about prevention.

2. Or see the 2002 report by Matt Bunn, Anthony Weir, and John Holdren called ''Securing Nuclear Weapons and Materials: Seven Steps for Immediate Action.''

Mona: this problem is very serious, and you ought to be more interested in the issue than in speculations about my motives for raising it. As a first step in addressing your skepticism, you might read George Will's review of Allison's book:

http://www.townhall.com/columnists/georgewill/gw20040829.shtml

Posted by: Joshua Cohen | Dec 12, 2004 2:58:06 PM


Posted by: Bernard

I have a worry that disproportionate media time is given over to concerns which grab the popular imagination.

It seems to me the key lesson of 9/11 is that a free and modern society is vulnerable to the abuse of very normal tools for catastrophic acts of terrorism. The key lesson a lot of people have picked up, on the other hand, is that we must defend primarily against the possibility that terrorists will get hold of exotic and expensive materials which would be very difficult to get into the US and which require great expertise to deliver.

In addition, because nuclear material and expertise are much harder to get hold of than conventional arms or even chemical/biological agents, the lines of evidence back to particular countries are that much clearer. It's likely that even our bitterest enemies are aware that the consequence of being identified as party to such planning would mean their undoubted destruction.

This isn't to say that nuclear terrorism is something we should consider lightly. One of the reasons it hasn't happened yet is because it's one of the few areas intelligence agencies have known to pay attention to, but we shouldn't worry about it to the exclusion of less devastating but far more straightforward lines of attack.

The concerns regarding nuclear proliferation among nations are a seperate issue (though one with significant overlap) and I'm sure that it will be discussed at some point, so I'll wait for that before pitching in there.

Posted by: Bernard | Dec 12, 2004 3:04:04 PM


Posted by: Bram

What Allison seems to be saying is that the US and Russian joint program to secure Russian nuclear materials has slowed down during the Bush administration. He doesn't say why. Are the Russians balking or are the Americans?

I'd guess both.

My suspicion would be that the Russians probably were ambivalent about this program during the 90s. They liked the Nunn-Lugar US cash but they really didn't enjoy having Americans poking around their nuclear storage facilities - observing all the rusted fences and hungover guards. I'd guess the Clinton administration era bureaucrats probably pushed the Russians to participate in this program. Once the Bush people took over they probably stopped pushing the Russians to take the money and secure the sites. The Bush folks don't seem to believe in this sort of 'cooperation' thing and some of the Russians were probably relieved.

The Bush administration obviously feels much more strongly about the mini anti-missile system going into Alaska.

But a defensive missile launched from Alaska isn't going to stop a nuke laden commercial shipping container from being delivered to a NYC warehouse.

If you have a limited number of billions to spend on defense it seems like you'd want to spend it on the more likely threat.

They ARE spending homeland security money on hardening the commercial infrastructure but it seems like the amounts are an order of magnitude less and there appears to be less of a sense of urgency.

So that's my concern. Lots of money and urgency for mini Star Wars which defends against an unlikely threat vs. NOT so much money spent on locking up the nuclear material at the source and NOT so much money spent on preventing our commercial infrastructure from being used as a weapons delivery system against us.

That seems to be a problem as far as I can see.

Posted by: Bram | Dec 12, 2004 3:36:06 PM


Posted by: Mona

Joshua Cohen: thanks for the link to Will. I note he says this in his review: Allison's indictment of the Iraq War -- as a dangerous distraction from and impediment to the war on nuclear terror he advocates -- is severable from his presentation of stark facts about the simultaneous spread of scientific knowledge and apocalyptic religious worldviews

I also note your post specifically did not sever the objection to the war in Iraq, and actually went on to an indictment of U.S. "allergies" to unilateralism as demonstrated by failure to ratify the Kyoto Accords. Further, I most certainly *do* take the issue of truck-driven nuclear bombs seriously, and spent a few months living in terror of them along with the rest of America who was waiting for the other shoe to drop post-9/11.

As I said, I've seen the this threat extensively discussed in pro-Bush organs.It appears that Bush actually is working with other nations to embargo nuclear materials and to otherwise prevent the horror of a terrorist nuclear attack from taking place.

Posted by: Mona | Dec 12, 2004 3:48:44 PM


Posted by: giles

Say, a 10 kiloton bomb—delivered by car, truck, or plane—to Grand Central Station that kills a half million people immediately "

Nagaski had twice the yeild and only killed 1/10 of the number you quote

Posted by: giles | Dec 12, 2004 6:33:29 PM


Posted by: Mark O

Wouldn't a biological 9/11 be easier to implement and harder to track?

Posted by: Mark O | Dec 12, 2004 11:16:01 PM


Posted by: Bram

A 10kt weapon detonated in Times Square during a workday afternoon would probably kill close to a half million people if you leave a few months for radiation poisoning to add in it's residual toll.

Go to

http://www.nuclearterror.org/blastmaps.html

and enter in zip code 10118. Study the rings and imagine how many residents and commuters would be caught inside those rings. The diagram doesn't factor in the downwind plume of radioactive fallout which would be certain to blanket heavily populated areas in the metropolitan area.

A nuclear attack is more dangerous than a biological attack. The effect is instantaneous and devastating. Even smallpox can be mitigated against presuming that public health processes are competently applied (unfortunately you can't assume that given the relative lack of funding/support for those elements of government).

Nothing compares to nukes. The term WMD is bogus. On a scale of 1 to 10 nukes are the 9. Chemical weapons are a 1. Biologicals are a 4. Perhaps with some nifty bioengineering (i.e. cross the common cold with ebola) you could come up with a hypothetical bio weapon that's a 10 but that's science fiction - at least for now.

Allison points out that creating a fission bomb of the 'Little Boy' gun design is relatively easy. The big impediment is obtaining the fissile material. That's the step that costs billions and requires government level resources to accomplish. If you beg, borrow or steal the fissile material then you're 98% of the way towards having a weapon.

Nukes are the thing to worry about and the current administration is not addressing the issue in an effective manner as far as I'm concerned. This should have been a major issue in the campaign but it's probably taboo because we can't frighten the public and/or admit weakness in public.

It's a perverse situation.

Posted by: Bram | Dec 13, 2004 12:12:02 AM


Posted by: Joshua Cohen

Mona: you are confused about the issue, which is not about embargoing nuclear materials. The concern is about nuclear materials that are already out in the world, and unsecured. Moreover, the question not whether the issue is being "discussed" in "pro-Bush organs" (I think Graham Allison published something in Commentary on the subject). The issue is what they are doing about it, and the answer is: very very little.

Mark: the short answer is "no." Not if you want to kill lots of people.

Giles: Check the Committee on Damage by Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, *Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings* (London, 1981). The population of Nagasaki (270,000 in the city at the time of the bombing) as well as the city's topography (vastly different from NYC) limited the numbers of deaths (though the standard estimates are higher than yours). So while the Nagasaki bomb (Fat Man) was twice the kilotonage of the Hiroshima bomb (Little Boy), the Hiroshima bomb, which was 12.5 kilotons, killed many more people and caused more greater damage (about twice the area was reduced to ashes, despite the lesser power of Little Boy). The Hiroshima death estimate is 140,000, of the 350,000 in the city at the time of the bombing, though not all those deaths were immediate. Say, 20% of the population was killed immediately. Assume that that happens in Manhattan, and that the bomb hits in the Grand Central Station neighborhood. Then the half million estimate looks pretty reasonable. But let it be 100,000 people, and a few square miles reduced to ashes. And assume that something similar happens in DC and Chicago. The devastation would be hard to recover from.

Posted by: Joshua Cohen | Dec 13, 2004 12:52:41 AM


Posted by: Joshua Cohen

p.s. Had I seen Bram's post before writing my last one, I would not have bothered. He makes all the essential points. I especially want to call attention to his observation that "the term WMD is bogus." For a detailed explanation and defense of this point, see:

http://bostonreview.net/BR28.2/cote.html

Posted by: Joshua Cohen | Dec 13, 2004 12:58:37 AM


Posted by: Bret

Joshua Cohen wrote:

"The magnitude of a threat is a function not only of likelihood but of extent of possible damage. A nuclear 9/11 (especially with multiple targets) would mean both millions of deaths and potentially the end of the country as we know it."

I think it's potentially even more dire than that. It's not inconceivable to me that a few well placed nukes could so shake the faith people have in civilizations and its institutions that the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. For example, currency only has value because: a) people think it does and b) people think that the issuing government will be around essentially forever. I think (b) could be called into question with an attack not all that much bigger than 9/11. Many of civilization's institutions are like that so the whole thing could unravel fairly quickly.

If civilization collapses, then what? The planet would probably struggle to support even one billion people living without the structure and efficiencies of civilization. That means at least five billion dead, of all races and ethnicities. If you estimate the probability at one in ten-thousand, that's still an expected value of 500,000 dead. Even at one in a million, that's still 5,000 dead.

So I think it's an important issue. If the "Left" seizes it, it could help them regain power. However, if the "Left" is determined to mention it in the same breath as the Iraq war and Kyoto, the "Right" will question their motives and the "Left" will have more trouble deriving benefit from it. In order to maximally benefit, I think whatever party seizes upon this issue would need to be hawkish on all fronts, not just the WMD terrorism one.

Posted by: Bret | Dec 13, 2004 1:08:37 AM


Posted by: Bram

Too late. The right has already 'seized' on this.

They managed to do it more or less subliminally. Well actually Cheney came right out and said it out loud when he was talking to his base. But the good old MSM sort of let it remain under the covers.

That's how Bush won last month. Values? That's a joke. Fear is what 'won'.

This issue is quite amazing. The political arm of the administration has figured out how to exploit it even while the supposedly serious policy people stumble from mistake to mistake.

I guess I'd feel better if Rove was running Homeland Security or the NSA. He's got brains and he doesn't let ideology (or scruples) get in the way of his strategies.

Posted by: Bram | Dec 13, 2004 2:21:30 AM


Posted by: Linus Unbound

Given the appalling corruption of the United Nations, demonstrated most dramatically by the Oil-for-Food Scandal, so-called "American Unilateralism" (the forming of alliances outside the U.N.) is clearly the only thing standing between us and a "nuclear 9/11".

Opponents of the Bush Doctrine seem to believe in a United Nations that does not, in fact, exist. Their faith in this imaginary U.N. to save us from terrorists isn't just naieve -- it is downright frightening.

Luckily for us the Bush Doctrine does not include sitting in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear.

Posted by: Linus Unbound | Dec 13, 2004 2:36:25 AM


Posted by: trumpit

I think the solution is for every head of household to have in her posession at least one tactical nuclear weapon ready to launch at a moments notice. She needs them badly to protect her family from the vicious male rapists and murders that run rampant in America today. It's too bad if she happens to incinerate the entire town in the process; the warheads are not really meant to be used but to serve as a deterent to burglars and violent boyfriends and ex-husbands. If Nicole Brown Simpson had had her finger on the H-bomb would OJ have stab her and Ron Brown to death? They'd both be alive today and you know it. If Chechen female freedom fighters can steal the fissionable material to make bombs then why can't soccer moms acquire them as well? Now that the GOP has allowed the Assalt Weapons Ban to expire, are we not allowed to purchase them on the free market? Some Pakistani entrepreneur is waiting with baited breath to sell do-it-yourself N-bomb kits to the millions of "desperate housewives" through their local Home Depot stores. Where are the NRA lobbyists when you need them?

We mustn't, under any circumstances, allow men to get their paws on the atom bomb though. I don't trust men a lick with weapons of any sort--they are simply too prone to violence due to testosterone levels, machismo, gratuitous violence in Hollywood etc. Except for Condi Rice, which female politician alive would have started a war in Iraq under false pretenses. OK, maybe good ol' Jean Kirkpatrick or Margaret Thacher would have. But in those special cases, I'd demand they submit to drug testing for steroids and a chromosome analysis!

Posted by: trumpit | Dec 13, 2004 4:09:21 AM


Posted by: Bram

That's strawman nonsense.

No one believes the UN will save anyone from terrorists. The UN has no army and it has no police force.

Effective national defense involves a mix of 'unilateral' activities as well as efforts in collaboration with other countries and international bodies.

US national defense can not be delegated. However it can be augmented by working well with others. More importantly it can be significantly DEGRADED by NOT working well with others.

Here's why I think the 'Bush Doctrine' is likely to backfire. The Bush Doctrine is about using brute force to smash and disrupt enemies before they can threaten us (as well as restoring 'face' to the US). It involves pre-emptive actions when the enemy is (or appears to be) weak enough to pull that off.

This has been applied in a clumsy manner. In effect the US has acquired a superpower scale 'West Bank' that parallels the original West Bank that Israel has saddled itself with.

There are a billion Muslims who are treated to daily Al Jazeera doses of American soldiers swatting young Muslim Arab men like flies (when we're not humiliating them in torture chambers).

Those 20 to 1 kill ratios are pretty satisfying to the armchair generals among us but they have another not so subtle effect. The combat in Iraq is corrosive to our image across the world - particularly in the Muslim world. More and more people in that community are being miserably soured against the US and the American people.

Now the toughguys like Cheney and Rumsfeld think that's just fine. They obviously believe it's OK to be unloved as long as we're feared. I bet they recoiled from all that 'we are all Americains' good will that occurred right after 9/11. To them that would have smacked of 'pity' and that was repellent to them. In effect we were exposed to be 'paper tigers' and I think the 'grownups' felt it was important for that pity to be quickly replaced by good old fashioned healthy fear.

But the problem is that any modern society is vulnerable to catastrophic attack in the 9/11 mode. A free, economically interdependent, modern society is inherently vulnerable.

Ultimately the most important defense against 9/11 style attacks is a good reputation, good will and good human nature. Fear is NOT enough. Killing bad guys is NOT enough. You have to have people out there that like the US. At the very least you have to have enough people out there who believe that mass or mega-mass murder is unacceptable - even to people that they're annoyed with.

Every time we kill another couple hundred young men (and a few women, children and old men) in Iraq we increase the population of irrational 'America haters' in the Muslim world.

There is a certain threshold that may be crossed if we keep blundering the way we have been.

The US is MOST vulnerable to conventional, 'dirty', or full fledged nuclear weapons delivered via commercial transport. Those shipping containers can contain 60 thousand pounds of cargo and very few are inspected. They are delivered with pinpoint accuracy (door to door). Even a successfully delivered CONVENTIONAL container bomb would have devastating impacts on the economic system of the developed world (above and beyond the immediate results at a blast site). International shipping would have to SHUT DOWN after such an attack. This would probably trigger some sort of worldwide depression. Add some nuclear hospital waste into the container and you'd get a 'dirty bomb' which would amp up the economic devastation accordingly. Use a crude 10-20kt 'Little Boy' style fission weapon and the local damage just goes off the scale. But note that catastrophic economic damage could occur even with conventional weapons.

Why hasn't this sort of attack already occurred? What's protecting us?

1) Our Coast Guard and Customs services (last line of defense).

2) Our intelligence agencies.

3) Foreign agencies of the same type.

4) Our military and para military forces who are engaged with actual TERRORISTS overseas (and this does NOT include the Iraqi government which had no WMDs).

5) The commercial entities involved with international trade (i.e. freight forwarders and the shipping community).

Of these protective factors it is the last that is most important. The worst case scenario is if a shipping company or freight forwarder is infiltrated by Al Queda type sympathizers. Our BEST and most effective defense is a person of conscience in some freight forwarder office in Yemen who would go to the authorities if he sees something 'wrong' in a commercial transaction.

I know that doesn't sit well with the armchair generals but I believe it to be true.

The more people we antagonize into thinking that we are subhuman and worthy of mass murder, the more likely it is that such an 'infiltration' of a commercial entity will occur. The more people who think we are arrogant, disrespectful mass murderers - the more likely it is that someone may look the other way if they see something 'strange' on a bill of lading or in a dockside warehouse.

Bin Laden has managed to provoke a significant fraction of Americans into considering 'ragheads' to be unworthy of normal moral consideration. We've dehumanized or sub-humanized the opposition (as is normal in wartime). In the process, our reaction has, in turn, created some unknown but huge number of Muslims to regard us with equal contempt.

Unfortunately it's a lot easier to commit mass murder when you convince yourself that your victims are unworthy of human respect.

The problem is that BOTH sides have the ability to perpetrate mass casualty attacks on each other. We have trillions of dollars worth of high tech weapons and they have trillions of dollars worth of our international commercial infrastructure to exploit.

What Rumsfeld and Cheney doesn't want to let out of the bag is the fact that we actually have a sort of Cold War II in which both sides have a form of Mutually Assured Destruction capability over each other.

Except THIS time around we don't have relatively rational 'godless' Soviets on the opposite side of the conflict. This time we have a bunch of people who sincerly believe that the 'next life' is superior to this life. Sometimes I think we have a bunch of those people on our side as well.

Basically I believe the Bush Doctrine is 'sub optimal' and is raising the possibility of a catastrophic event.

A smarter doctrine would have been described as an 'iron fist in a velvet glove'. It would have avoided using an axe when a dagger would do. It would have utilized, exploited and MAINTAINED the solidarity after 9/11 while rebuilding a healthy respect for the power of the US via an effective, judicious and justifiable level of force in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would have involved going after the terrorists ruthlessly but it would have avoided the generation of more opponents than are eliminated.

For all intents and purposes it simply boils down to the fact that Poppy, Powell and Scowcroft were right about Iraq and Junior, Cheney and Rumsfeld were dead wrong.

Posted by: Bram | Dec 13, 2004 4:33:55 AM


Posted by: Educated & Caring (unlike nazi rightwing)

It is quite remarkable that the American state, with its unelected president, venal Supreme Court, silent Congress, gutted Bill of Rights and compliant media leads our attention to the slaughter of thousands of children by Air Force cluster bombs. Nevertheless, the appropriation of Arab resources represents the crushing of internal dissent in order to propagate a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable scale. Presumably, a minority of warmongers and apologists is solid evidence of the end of any possibility of social justice in a reactionary state. For one thing, Americanism as an ideology represents the repudiation of international law in order to bring about a McCarthyism which threatens everything we hold dear.

In the works of Spelling, a predominant concept is the distinction between ground and figure. Dialectic postcapitalist theory holds that sexuality is part of the economy of art. However, the subject is interpolated into a cultural rationalism that includes consciousness as a whole.

"Sexual identity is meaningless," says Baudrillard; however, according to Reicher, it is not so much sexual identity that is meaningless, but rather the absurdity, and therefore the fatal flaw, of sexual identity. Lyotard's critique of neocapitalist discourse states that the task of the observer is significant form, but only if culture is interchangeable with narrativity; otherwise, government is capable of social comment. Therefore, the primary theme of the works of Spelling is the common ground between society and class.

"Sexual identity is part of the genre of consciousness," says Derrida. Humphrey implies that we have to choose between Baudrillardist simulacra and substructuralist theory. But an abundance of desituationisms concerning Marxist capitalism may be discovered.

Cultural rationalism holds that narrativity is a legal fiction. It could be said that Lyotard suggests the use of Derridaist reading to challenge sexism.

Lyotard uses the term 'cultural rationalism' to denote the meaninglessness, and subsequent dialectic, of cultural language. Thus, Lacan promotes the use of Marxist capitalism to deconstruct and modify society. The premise of Baudrillardist simulacra implies that expression is created by communication. But Foucault uses the term 'cultural rationalism' to denote the difference between sexual identity and class.

Any number of theories concerning not, in fact, construction, but postconstruction exist. Therefore, Marx suggests the use of neosemiotic rationalism to challenge colonialist perceptions of art.

The creation/destruction distinction which is a central theme of Spelling's Beverly Hills 90210 emerges again in Melrose Place, although in a more mythopoetical sense. In a sense, a number of theories concerning Baudrillardist simulacra may be found.

Posted by: Educated & Caring (unlike nazi rightwing) | Dec 13, 2004 8:44:07 AM


Posted by: Kane

Bram,

My job happens to put me in contact with Customs officials (especially ICE), USCG officers, NYPD, FDLE, JTTF and other Security or intel groups. IMHO our transportation system is not even close to being as porous and unmonitored as you write. There are quite a few things that are being done to secure out transportation supply chain and infrastructure. Some things to look into are first the MTSA and all the NAVICS released (these can be googled). You can also look in to USCG Activities Europe for more information on international port security cooperation btwn US and foreign entities. ISPS from IMO is also a good info base on international requirements. For US customs initiatives there are CTPAT, CSI, Project Shield America and a few more.

As far as I know the from working in the industry and meeting with both private industry and Gov personnel tasked with security the administration has been very receptive and fairly proactive(as receptive and proactive as our Gov can be)in this area.

There is a ton more to write about WMD/Nuclear threat, but back to work. Hopefully this info will help a little.

Posted by: Kane | Dec 13, 2004 12:15:10 PM


Posted by: Bram

Kane,

There are hundreds of thousands of forwarders and millions of shippers engaged in international commerce. There are hundreds of millions of consignments in a year. Only a few percent of the containers are physically opened and unpacked. A growing number are X-rayed but the number is still probably relatively small. There are computer assisted screening systems in place but you can only put so much artificial intelligence into analysis of electronic bills of lading. The 'paper trail' for a consignment could be fudged by a clever opponent. The gold standard is to physically examine more than a trivial amount of the containers overseas. Sure we have personnel moving into some of the foreign ports but again, the physical inspection rate is low and probably dependent on analyzing the electronically submitted manifests/bills of lading (origin, destination, commodity, etc.).

But we're unlikely to examine more than a small fraction of incoming containers because that would put a serious crimp in the modern international logistics flow. Time is money and US manufacturing (what's left of it) and retail has become very dependent on smooth, fast flows of international cargo. It takes a lot of time, money and effort to strip and repack a container. The industry will never agree to a 100% inspection (or even 20% inspection rate) - until an 'event' occurs.

It doesn't take a terrorist mastermind to figure out ways of 'fudging' the 'paper trail' of a container so as to evade the screening systems you allude to. I'm sure the drug/contraband smugglers have already perfected many such techniques. This is where the 'kindness of strangers' comes into the picture. We need the good will of civilians involved in this process as our first line of defense. All the government folks you mention in your note are great and I'm sure they're doing a hell of a job - but I bet if you talk to them after a few beers you'd get them to admit that they have to be lucky as well as very good at their jobs.

The international shipping system has until recently been based mostly on trust. Inspections were mainly motivated towards the relatively trivial issues of policing tariff payments and drug interdiction.

In a purely economic sense the pre-existing 'audit style' two percent inspection rate was probably a reasonably effective deterrent. If some shipper or forwarder mis-declared the contents of a container and was caught they could be severely fined and they could find themselves on various government 'S lists' for years to come. They might have to go out of business. So the pre 9/11 system was probably mostly self enforcing among the commercial shipping community. There was peer pressure and enough self enforcement to keep fraud somewhat under control.

Now imagine a shipper and/or forwarder who isn't particularly worried about Customs fines or getting a 'bad name' in the industry. Actually imagine just a few employees at such a company who don't give a damn about the old rules and are just trying to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the system.

I stand by my basic premise. I know things are tightening up 'at the ports' but we're probably going to be vulnerable in this regard for the forseeable future. Institutional change is difficult. I fear that the transition from a tariff audit/drug interdiction level of enforcement to a full national security mode of operation will take years. You can't just enact laws and wave a magic wand. Perhaps things aren't as dangerous as I think they are. But I suspect the truth is somewhere in between my 'chicken little the sky is falling' attitude and your 'everything is under control' point of view.

I'll google your suggested keywords but I'll probably remain worried and I'll remain critical of the current foreign and defense policies which I suspect are gnawing away at that first line of defense which is predicated on a reasonable level of good will overseas.

Ps. Ask your Customs and Coast Guard friends if they have an effective sensor that can 'sniff out' a properly shielded nuke from OUTSIDE a container. Remember the bad guys have 60,000 pounds of capacity to work with. I do not want to know the answer but I think I do...

Posted by: Bram | Dec 13, 2004 1:41:08 PM


Posted by: Kane

Bram,

I understand your worries and can empathies with you seeing that I live in NYC. Just to let you know I don’t think everything is ok with our security system. I see many areas that we could enhance, but it is a balance btwn security and our economy’s needs. I feel that huge steps in security our country have been take, but that is also a never ending challenge. Other info that may help:

-100% of all manifests/BoL are inspected and supposedly given the Good to go or they will not be allowed on the vessel at the loading port.
-It is not possible to ship any freight as “AFK” anymore, terminals and shipping companies will not accept this cargo.
-Inspectors are not in “some” ports, they are in the major transshipment ports (not sure if you are familiar with this) and many smaller ports with direct ties to vessel entering the US. These hub ports (Singapore, Rotterdam, Gia Torro, etc.) are major facilities in each area of the world that receive large (4500-10000 TEU) container vessels. These are the major shipping hubs of the world and have huge container through put. This lends inspectors the ability to be in far fewer ports and still inspect a very good percentage of inbound containers to the US.
-If you have been to ports recently you will see that most (at least all the ones that I have been to in the past two year) of the major ports have stepped up security measures enormously. Some ports have visible security measures like tall yellow posts on either side of the outbound lanes which search for fissile material (I’m not sure of the scientific accuracy of the equipment) and enumerable invisible measures. They have mobile VACIS vehicles and stationary VACIS facilities in each port to name a few items.
-Increasing technology in container seals also helps to ensure that pre cleared containers are not tampered with in transit.
-Personnel education (a requisite in both IMO & USCG security plans) is a huge boon to the industry. Having personnel that earn their livelihood loading or transporting cargo, learn basics on what to look for increases security personnel many fold. Personnel have been very receptive to this type of training because their lives and livelihood could be affected if any dangerous material enters the facility or gets on the vessel.
-The USCG boards every vessel before it is allowed to enter a US port and they do a basic search of the vessel. I’m not sure of the percentage, but the personnel do carry personal detectors that do work. Most recently example of the equipment working was the Palermo Senator (even though it turned out to be radioactive roofing tiles).

I would suggest reading some the items that I mentioned, because they would have answered some of your questions. For instance the requirement of a Port to have an IMO/USCG certified security plan. Terminals are highly unlikely to accept containers for shipment that don’t have intact documentation or seem suspicious. Likewise Shipping companies are vigilant because they don’t want to carry dangerous cargo. Both have their own reasons, one being insurance for non secure facilities and vessel increases, hitting them in the pocket. Another interesting point is that vessels calling at ports must supply the last 10 ports that they have called on and if any of those ports is not considered a secured port the vessel is subject to another time consuming inspection. This is a big incentive for shipping companies to only call on secured facilities and ports to secure their facilities in order keep shipping companies at their ports.

I know there is a lot of info on the items that I mentioned in the above post (I have 3 binders full of it), but it does answer some of your questions, and I hope sets your mind at rest somewhat.

if you have any other questions, send me a an email. :)

Posted by: Kane | Dec 13, 2004 2:42:25 PM


Posted by: Bruce Allardice

The original posting asserts that "cooperative action, not unilateralist ideology" is needed to stop terrorists from obtaining and using nucleur weapons.

The faith expressed in the efficacy of "cooperative action", or even the willingness of nations to "cooperate", is heartwarming, if a bit simplistic and non-nuanced.

Anyone knowledgable of military history knows that nations have been trying for the last 1,000 years to cooperate to stop the spread of weapons systems. The first attempt was made by the Catholic Church, in medieval times, when it tried to ban the WMD of the time--the crossbow. At this time the Church was the spiritual, and in large measure political, exemplar of western Europe. And in this first attempt at weapons banning, it had the cooperation of the rulers of the western european nations. In short, this WMD ban had entities behind it at least as strong as any possible cooperative banning entities today.

The crossbow ban collapsed, of course. And crossbows continued to be used, until a new technology (firearms) made it obsolete. The genie was out of the bottle, and not even the ruling church could put the genie back in.

There have been subsequent efforts at weapons bans. For example, around the turn of the last century the relevant nations of the world signed onto treaties banning, among other weapons, poison gas and submarines. Anybody familiar with WWI knows how successful this cooperated-upon ban was.

Now, we all wish that terrorists not obtain or use nucleur weapons. That is not really a matter for debate.

However, I'd like to ask: Can anyone come up with an example, in history, of "cooperative action" (or anything else) actually succeeding in preventing a weapons system from being used?

Posted by: Bruce Allardice | Dec 13, 2004 4:49:39 PM


Posted by: Bram

Kane,

Glad they banned FAK as an acceptable term on a manifest. That was a loophole you could drive a tank through.

Bruce,

I don't think this conversation was about 'cooperation' to 'ban the bomb'. That genie is out of the bottle. It makes sense to try to go the non proliferation route but as you suggest it's kind of hard to pull that off.

I think this conversation was related more to the idea of cooperation with respect to securing existing weapons and stockpiles of weapons grade material - particularly in the former Soviet Union which has tons and tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium sitting in depots. Reports indicate that the security at many of those facilities is less 'robust' than the security in similar US or European facilities.

Posted by: Bram | Dec 13, 2004 5:05:53 PM


Posted by: Linus Unbound

Bram, I don't think it's a straw man at all. Look again at Mr. Cohen's essay:

"The problem is unilateralism: the people running the country have an ideological allergy to all forms of cooperation ..."

We're obviously dealing with a person who believes that any alliance formed outside the U.N. is illegitimate ... either that or he is simply ignorant of those alliances, which would be just as shocking for other reasons, particularly if Mr. Cohen is being paid to know these things and write about them.

I'm certain that anyone writing for this publication would be sufficiently vetted that they would need to demonstrate some knowledge of, for instance, the re-election of outspoken pro-American John Howard of Australia, a new partnership with Israel (on counterterrorism training in particular), of new allies in the former Soviet Bloc, particularly Poland, of our cooperation with the EU (yeah, even those who took bribes from Saddam) on the Ukrainian election crisis, and of course the all-important Tony Blair.

To label the diplomatic policies which produced these alliances "unilateral" begs the question, "Relative to what?"

The customary answer by all of Bush's other critics has been, "Relative to the U.N." Why should we assume differently for this particular essay?

Liberals throw the word "unilateral" around like they toss off "imperialism" and "racism" -- the words don't actually fit the situation, they're just used for dramatic effect. When an essayist says, "The problem is unilateralism!" you have to kind of read between the lines.

Pearl Harbor was unilateral. I don't think I've met anyone who believes we rolled tanks into Bagdad without warning like the IJN's torpedo planes suddenly appearing over Pearl Harbor. That's not what Mr. Cohen means when he says, "unilateral".

More likely he believes the U.N. is the sole source of international legitimacy, and that it thus follows that any action taken outside the U.N. is "unilateral".

I reiterate that I find such a position limiting, naieve, and in the present era dangerous. Alliances between nations motivated by common interest provide, and have historically provided, far better results. It is in these alliances that our counterterrorism strategy has the best chance of preventing a "nuclear 9/11".

Posted by: Linus Unbound | Dec 14, 2004 7:20:36 AM


Posted by: Bram

There's nothing in the original post that mentions the UN.

There is some brief mention of the World Criminal Court which is probably peripherally related to the UN but that's it.

The author was commenting on the generally recognized trend towards relative unilateralism in the Bush administration.

If I would criticize the piece from your point of view I would nitpick the author on the use of ALL in the following phrase.

The problem is unilateralism: the people running the country have an ideological allergy to all forms of cooperation, which—to all appearances—they take to be a sign of weakness and an invitation to danger.

Obviously the Bush administration will reach out bilaterally to individual countries when it can. Like everything else in life there is a continuum from NONE to ALL. Shades of grey exist. However most observers would probably agree that there appears to be more unilateralism and less multilaterism exhibited by the Bush administration. They haven't shut down ALL cooperation - just a lot of it. It's pretty clear that the increased unilateralism is a side effect of the simple fact that the US can't persuade many countries that its current policies are worth following. The unilateralism isn't the policy - it's all the other policies being rejected by foreign countries that are causing the unilateralism.

For some reason the UN seems to be a big worry of the right. I can't understand that. To me the UN varies from being irrelevant to being a useful tool. Occasionally it's a minor annoyance. On balance it's useful. In recent years we've been able to use it as a fairly powerful tool and when we can't get it to do what we want - we (used to) politely ignore it - but retain it in place for the next time it can be useful to us.

I'll never fully understand the 'black helicopter' paranoia that it seems to bring out from the right. To me the fixation on the UN seems irrational.

Posted by: Bram | Dec 14, 2004 2:24:50 PM


Posted by: Linus Unbound

YES! That's exactly what I've been saying: the idea that the U.N. has any relevance in the world we find ourselves in today is imminently irrational.

It is as irrational to believe the U.N. can stop terrorism or fix Darfur or legitimately decide whether or not to invade Iraq as it is to believe the U.N. has black helicopters circling Montana. As a basic question of competence they really aren't in a position to do any of those things.

If I believe in any "conspiracy" it is the linguistic conspiracy of the left to use the word "unilateral" when they really mean "outside the U.N."

Maybe I'm wrong, here, but every other criticism of Bush involving the word "unilateral" has been aimed directly at Bush's choice to form our Iraq coalition outside the U.N., even while inside the U.N. France was selling its Security Council veto to Saddam Hussein. (Wonder what a French veto goes for these days? Maybe a few bucks on Ebay?)

Posted by: Linus Unbound | Dec 14, 2004 9:47:42 PM


Posted by: John

Speaking of Security/Terrorism
There is one issue that has not been discussed in these posts, concerning the possibility of a terrorist nuclear attack, and that is the issue of deterrence. Deterrence, though flawed, was a cold war strategy that was highly effective. Of course, there were attempts at cooperation--not very successful attempts—engendered by “enlightened self interest” since neither the USSR nor the US wanted nuclear obliteration. So to stave off the possibility of an attack both nations 1) fought proxy conventional wars around the world, 2) engaged in a nuclear arms race (a kind of one-up-man-ship insanity) and, 3) periodically signed non nuclear proliferation treaties. President Reagan finally ended this madness.

To some extent the Cold War is analogous to our present situation, because terrorists do not operate in a vacuum, and even though some of them, or perhaps all of them, are willing to commit suicide for an their cause, the countries that support them are not willing to be obliterated from the earth, for a nuclear terrorist attack would immediately provoke a nuclear response directed at the host countries who support and encourage terrorists. Moreover, countries like Syria, Iran, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea know that this President is not an equivocator: he will attack if we were attacked by terrorists, using WMD’s.

Would we survive such an attack? Absolutely. But that is not the issue: the real issue is would the nations sponsoring and financing terrorism survive; certainly not. This ladies and gentleman is what power is about, viz., those nations, cited above know that we have the power, and they also know that this President will use it to protect our country. This is the best, albeit, a last resort deterrent.

Posted by: John | Jan 8, 2005 11:25:24 AM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

There is only one rational strategy in the game: Tit-for-Tat-(plus reluctant mercy). See Axelrod. It is tempting to believe that "Always Cooperate" is the most effective strategy in a two player game when there is a deus ex machina willing to step in and Defect for you. Europeans would quickly change their tune if Americans suddenly became decidedly non-lateral (indifferent, completely disengaged).

"Why not just negotiate in good faith until something good happens? It worked with Yugoslavia, didn't it? Hell, it *always* works in the long run, doesn't it?"

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Jan 20, 2005 9:57:27 PM


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