How to Stop Nuclear Terror

Courtesy Reuters


President George W. Bush has singled out terrorist nuclear attacks on the United States as the defining threat the nation will face in the foreseeable future. In addressing this specter, he has asserted that Americans' "highest priority is to keep terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction." So far, however, his words have not been matched by deeds. The Bush administration has yet to develop a coherent strategy for combating the threat of nuclear terror. Although it has made progress on some fronts, Washington has failed to take scores of specific actions that would measurably reduce the risk to the country. Unless it changes course -- and fast -- a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States will be more likely than not in the decade ahead.

The administration's inaction is hard to understand. Its behavior demonstrates a failure to grasp a fundamental insight: nuclear terrorism is, in fact, preventable. It is a basic matter of physics: without fissile material, you can't have a nuclear bomb. No nuclear bomb, no nuclear terrorism. Moreover, fissile material can be kept out of the wrong hands. The technology for doing so already exists: Russia does not lose items from the Kremlin Armory, nor does the United States from Fort Knox. Nascent nukes should be kept just as secure. If they are, terrorists could still attempt to create new supplies, but doing so would require large facilities, which would be visible and vulnerable to attack.

Denying terrorists access to nuclear weapons and weapons-grade material is thus a challenge to nations' willpower and determination, not to their technical capabilities. Keeping these items safe will be a mammoth undertaking. But the strategy for doing so is clear. The solution would be to apply a new doctrine of "Three No's": no loose nukes, no new nascent nukes, and no new nuclear states.


A few numbers starkly illustrate the scale of the problem the United States now faces in trying to control the

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