September 1995. Loyola University of Chicago, Rogers Park campus. My graduate school classmates and I are busy one autumn evening randomly-drawing names of notable political scientists to interview for a class project. I pick Alexander George out of Stanford University (was fantastic and insightful to talk to, by the way). My classmate and good friend Allison ends up with Graham T. Allison out of Harvard. I have no idea at that time how much Dr. Allison, now director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, would eventually contribute to my future knowledge about- and concern over- the threat of nuclear terrorism to America. The author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, which was selected by The New York Times as one of the “100 most notable books of 2004” and is now in its third printing, had this to say about the danger in a 2007 debate (also noted in my “About” page):
This debate asks how likely is it that terrorists will explode a nuclear bomb and devastate a great American metropolis. In the judgment of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, the likelihood of a single nuclear bomb exploding in a single city is greater today than at the height of the Cold War. Nuclear Terrorism states my own judgment that, on the current trend line, the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade are greater than 50 percent. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has expressed his own view that Nuclear Terrorism underestimates the risk.
From the technical side, Richard Garwin, a designer of the hydrogen bomb who Enrico Fermi once called, “the only true genius I had ever met,” told Congress in March that he estimated a “20 percent per year probability with American cities and European cities included” of “a nuclear explosion—not just a contamination, dirty bomb—a nuclear explosion.” My Harvard colleague Matthew Bunn has created a probability model in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science that estimates the probability of a nuclear terrorist attack over a ten-year period to be 29 percent—identical to the average estimate from a poll of security experts commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar in 2005.
“The chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade are greater than 50 percent.” And Dr. Allison said this in 2007. I’ll have to check with the Harvard professor and administrator to see if he still believes this is the case in light of the progress being claimed by the Obama administration in the “War on Terror.” But based on recent reports about advancements in the nuclear programs of both Iran and North Korea, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still sticking to his guns here.
Concerning Iran, the Associated Press reported Wednesday:
Iran will step up its uranium enrichment program by sharply increasing the number of centrifuges used to make nuclear fuel, a senior official said Wednesday, in direct defiance of Western demands.
The statement by Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, is likely to escalate tensions…
“Despite sanctions, we will most likely see a substantial increase in the number of centrifuge machines this year. We will continue enrichment with intensity,” Abbasi was quoted by state TV as saying Wednesday. The Iranian calendar year ends on March 20.
His remarks came days after the U.N. agency said Iran is about to double its output of higher enriched uranium at its fortified Fordo underground facility. That could move Iran closer to weapons capability.
Anyone out there still think the Islamic Republic of Iran won’t be getting a nuclear weapon short of a military conflict?
I wonder if the Iranians will be televising the parade from downtown Tehran when that happens?
As for the North Koreans? Reuters’ Fredrik Dahl reported Thursday:
North Korea has made further progress in the construction of a new atomic reactor, the U.N. nuclear chief reported on Thursday, a facility that may extend the country’s capacity to produce material for nuclear bombs.
Pyongyang “has continued construction of the light water reactor and largely completed work on the exterior of the main buildings,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said…
North Korea says it needs nuclear power to provide electricity, but has also boasted of its nuclear deterrence capability and has traded nuclear technology with Syria, Libya and probably Pakistan.
At the end of summer, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was already thought to have 23 nuclear weapons in their arsenal.
The world was already a dangerous place, but grows even more so in our time. Especially as it concerns nuclear proliferation.
“Iran nuclear chief: Uranium enrichment to be stepped up with new centrifuges, reactor.” Associated Press. 28 Nov. 2012. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-nuclear-chief-enrichment-to-move-ahead-with-intensity/2012/11/28/98834224-3965-11e2-9258-ac7c78d5c680_story.html). 30 Nov. 2012.
Dahl, Fredrik. “North Korea pushing ahead with new nuclear reactor: IAEA.” Reuters. 29 Nov. 2012. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/29/us-korea-north-nuclear-idUSBRE8AS0OT20121129). 30 Nov. 2012.
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