Courtesy Reuters

The Next Nuclear Wave

Not since the early days of the Cold War have proliferation experts and the general public been so attuned to the threat of nuclear weapons--and with good reason. There are more than 28,000 nuclear devices in existence today, more and more countries are acquiring the means to produce them, and there is mounting evidence that al Qaeda has every intention of using a nuclear weapon if only it can get its hands on one. Simply recognizing these dangers, however, is not a strategy for confronting them; workable remedies are sorely needed.

Nuclear threats fall into two basic categories. In the short term, nuclear terrorism poses the most acute risk. Once al Qaeda or another group possesses a weapon, deterring or preventing an attack will be all but impossible. Luck, as much as money and hard work, has helped prevent such an attack to date. A second, more complex danger stems from the proliferation of nuclear capabilities to governments. In the long term, the wider state acquisition of nuclear weapons dramatically increases the odds that one might be used, intentionally or not. This concern applies not only to so-called rogue regimes, but to key U.S. allies as well. Given the global insecurity of much weapons material, state proliferation also contributes to the risk of a nightmarish nuclear terrorism scenario.

The conclusions of the 1965 Gilpatric report on nonproliferation to President Lyndon Johnson noted,

The spread of nuclear weapons poses an increasingly grave threat to the security of the United States. New nuclear

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In This Review

Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe
Graham Allison
Times Books, 2004
272 pp. $24.00
The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices
Edited by Kurt M. Campbell, Robert Einhorn, and Mitchell Rei
Brookings Institution Press, 2004
367 pp. $52.95
The Future of Arms Control
Michael A. Levi, Michael E. O'Hanlon
Brookings Institution Press, 2005
180 pp. $44.95

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