Think tanks wrap-up II

Oct. 24, 2002 at 3:27 AM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the second of two wrap-ups for October 23.

The Pacific Research Institute

(PRI promotes individual freedom and personal responsibility as the cornerstones of a civil society, best achieved through a free-market economy, limited government, and private initiative. PRI researches and analyzes critical issues facing California and the nation, and crafts strategies for policy reform.)

WASHINGTON -- Capital Ideas: Consult the Book of Armaments

By K. Lloyd Billingsley

As I write this, a sniper is on the loose, gunning down innocents and baffling law enforcement. This writer, in fact, biked in the vicinity of the Home Depot in Virginia the day before one of the victims was shot there, a sobering thought.

Is the shooter a psycho in the tradition of David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz? Or could al Qaida or some other terrorist group be involved? Whatever the case, the attacks call to mind some basic principles.

During the Cold War, when realists wanted to counter idealists and pacifists, they would remind them that the world is a dangerous and violent place. It still is, perhaps more so, something easily forgotten in suburban America, where the major concerns are stock prices, day care, and maintenance of the Volvo. A strong case can be made that a multi-polar world is more dangerous than a bi-polar one.

As the shootings continue, along with the wrangling over Iraq, it emerges that North Korea's nuclear weapons plan is much farther along than some observers thought. Nuclear bombs are really the only weapons of mass destruction, and North Korea deploys some impressive delivery systems. North Korea is also the domain of Kim Jong Il, a Stalinist and the son of Kim Il Sung, also a Stalinist and the man who brought you the Korean War, which has yet to be officially ended.

This Stalinist regime is responsible for terrorist acts, such as blowing up airplanes, and has recently admitted to abducting Japanese citizens. The country is literally starving, which makes it even more dangerous.

All responsible policy, foreign and domestic, must begin with the knowledge of the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. In practical terms, particularly around election time, this means that nobody's wish list is a valid criticism of someone's actual record in dealing with the world.

Those on the conservative side agree that it is the role of the state to wield the sword. Those in charge of this task need to make threat assessment a full-time job. To borrow from the Holy Grail, consult the book of armaments to see if we have what is necessary to counter genocidal Islamic fascists on one hand and genocidal Stalinists on the other. Whatever you need, get it. As George Will put it, if you don't hold the strongest hand, you have two choices: bluff or fold.

The cause requires people, of course. It was with a largely conscript army that America and the allies took down a cracked National Socialist in Europe and the suicide bombers of imperial Japan in the Pacific. The volunteer military, which this writer supports, has shown it can do the job. A volunteer military, of course, must recruit. There is some merit, I suppose, to "be all you can be," but maybe the time has come for something along the lines of "join the Army and fight terrorism."

Like the sniper, terrorists enjoy the advantage of surprise. They will fall in due time, and so will the sniper, but not without a fight. That's the way it is in the real world, which will always be a dangerous place.

(K. Lloyd Billingsley is the editorial director of the Pacific Research Institute.)

The Nixon Center

WASHINGTON -- Not if, but when: Imagining a nuclear Sept. 11

By Graham Allison

As unpleasant and as frightening as it may be, the United States must come to grips with the prospect of facing a terrorist strike using nuclear materials -- a "nuclear Sept. 11"--within the coming decade.

Nobody can predict with any certainty how -- or when -- such an attack will occur. This does not mean, however, that such an assault is therefore unlikely or improbable. Sept. 11 proved that the United States is not invulnerable to terrorist attack. Indeed, I have never understood those who believed that America could not or would not be targeted for attacks. After all, we do not reside on another planet, apart from the rest of the world.

Moreover, we are an open society, with relatively porous borders. As I have been arguing for the past decade, we should anticipate the likelihood of major attacks on American soil, especially as groups like al Qaida were moving, step by step, to assault larger and more complex targets.

Why am I convinced that an act of nuclear terrorism lies in our future? Sherlock Holmes had a simple methodology for solving crimes -- motive, means and opportunity. I think that anyone who applies the same tools to this question will conclude that a nuclear Sept. 11 is a distinct possibility.

It is true that some terrorist groups, in the past, have refrained from acts of mass carnage, whether out of humanitarian or moral considerations, or because they judged such acts to be detrimental to their cause. As I see it, however, al Qaida has no such inhibitions.

Recently, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti-born cleric who functions as a spokesman for al Qaida -- a kind of terrorist Ari Fleischer, if you will-- declared: "al Qaida has the right to kill four million Americans, including one million children, displace double that figure, and injure and cripple hundreds of thousands."

He believes that only by inflicting mass casualties on the United States can al Qaida hope to even the balance sheet for what they consider to be the number of deaths caused by the West in the Muslim world. Such a desire to kill, maim, and injure millions provides motive for the acquisition of nuclear weapons -- the only real way to kill on that scale.

It is one thing, of course, to fantasize about killing millions, but another thing altogether to actually be in a position to carry it out. But I believe that al Qaida and groups like it will try to construct or acquire a nuclear weapon. Given the right materials -- and yes, as

President Bush stated in last week's address to the nation, a grapefruit- or soccer ball-sized amount of fissionable material is sufficient -- several masters-level nuclear engineering students from Ohio State with several hundred thousand dollars and the type of equipment you could purchase off the shelf at Radio Shack could make a device that would explode.

The last time I checked, researchers at Los Alamos, trying to develop strategies to combat this threat, had come up with 69 different workable designs for a nuclear device. The plain and simple truth is that the construction of a nuclear weapon is no longer beyond the means of groups with sufficient funds, expertise and materials at their disposal.

If a group has a device, what is there to prevent them from detonating it, say in Washington, or New York, or Boston? There is no magical shield protecting our cities from attack. We have no clairvoyant means to anticipate and eliminate such threats.

Certainly, the fact that it has not yet already happened indicates that we are doing some things right. We've also been lucky. But if a nuclear terrorist attack were to occur tomorrow, or next week, when we next met the consensus would be that such an attack was to be expected -- inevitable, over time.

To combat this threat, we must first be prepared to imagine the unimaginable -- there is a substantial probability that within the next decade that an act of nuclear terrorism will occur. We can then move to strategies commensurate with a real war on nuclear terrorism aimed at minimizing this danger. "The New Containment," the article that Andrei Kokoshin and I co-authored for the fall 2002 issue of The National Interest sketches out such a strategy. The prime target in preventing nuclear terrorism is to prevent terrorists from acquiring a nuclear weapon or the fissile material (enriched uranium or plutonium), from which a nuclear weapon could be made.

Physics, fortunately, presents an inescapable fact: no fissile material, no nuclear explosion, no nuclear terrorism. While vast, the amount of fissile material is finite (and the challenge of producing more is difficult). Technologies for locking up dangerous material are well developed. Thus a strategy that could prevent (or reduce to a very low probability) acts of nuclear terrorism is neither beyond our imagination or our reach -- if we would stretch.

The question remains whether governments must wait until the morning after the first nuclear terrorist attack to act.

(Graham Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. During the first Clinton administration, he served as assistant secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans.)

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