A New York Times Notable Book
A Foreign Affairs Bestseller
Americans today are keenly aware of our vulnerability to hijackings, biological attacks, and chemical weapons. But the deadliest form of terrorism is almost too scary to think about: a terrorist group exploding a nuclear bomb in an America city.
In this urgent call to action, Graham Allison, one of America's leading experts on nuclear weapons and national security, argues that we must face this terrible threat squarely in order to understand it and neutralize it. Nuclear Terrorism presents a compelling case for two propositions. The first is that on the current course nuclear terrorism is inevitable. Indeed, it may be closer than we think. In October 2001 President George W. Bush received a CIA report that Al Qaeda had smuggled a ten-kiloton nuclear weapon into New York City. It turned out to be a false alarm, but if such a weapon were to explode in Times Square, up to a million New Yorkers would die instantly. In Washington, an explosion like this could vaporize the White House, the State Department, and the Treasury, while the Pentagon and the Capitol building would look like the federal office building in Oklahoma City. Allison lays out the true nature of the threat: who are the groups likely to seek out nuclear weapons, what kind of material is available to them, where they are likely to get it, when such a nuclear device could be made operational, and how they might deliver it to our shores.
But Allison does more than weave a tale of doom, because his second proposition is that nuclear terrorism is preventable. He outlines an ambitious but feasible strategy by which we can essentially eliminate the danger of nuclear terrorism. The centerpiece of this strategy is to deny terrorists access to nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. It is certainly within our power to keep uranium and plutonium secure; the United States does not lose gold from Fort Knox, after all. Moreover, producing new fissile material requires large, expensive, complex, and visible facilities—giving a determined world opportunities to interrupt such efforts. Preventing nuclear terrorism may be a huge undertaking but it is nonetheless a finite one, subject to a finite solution. It is a challenge to our will and conviction, not to our capabilities. Whether one considers the continuing revelations of Pakistan's black-marketeering, Iran's clandestine programs, North Korean's brazen rejection of any restraints, or Libya as a window on a system spinning out of control, Allison's book provides a framework to help readers make sense of the news and to connect these dots to what matters most: how to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack here at home.