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Nuclear Terrorism

The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe

By Graham Allison

Reviewed by Thomas B. Newman, PSR Board member

Graham Allison's "Nuclear Terrorism" is the scariest book I have read in a long time. The first 2/3 of the book is a carefully documented and extremely readable demolition of all the myths that might comfort us about why nuclear terrorism is unlikely. It is so well done and so important that before I had finished the copy I borrowed from the library, I bought two more online, including one to send my congressman. Allison has done a great service by calling attention to this urgent problem.

Unfortunately, the last third of the book is disappointing. Rather than call for the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons, Allison's "solutions" will perpetuate the status quo, with current nuclear powers retaining their nuclear oligopoly. This not only violates Article VI of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (and hence the U.S. Constitution), it sends a message that we believe the use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons is morally acceptable and militarily useful. This wrong message undermines efforts to prevent proliferation to other countries. In fact, the U.S. would be a big winner if nuclear weapons were abolished. As Bernard Lown, co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) wrote in 1996:

"One can puzzle with dismay that the industrialized nations are not leading the pack in the quest for nuclear abolition...Their long-range security is categorically undermined by the spread of nuclearism. Nuclear weapons afford them scant advantage as they already command awesome military establishments capable of projecting their might speedily to the remote corners of the earth." (From the forward to the book "Crude Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and the Terrorist Threat," available free on the IPPNW website.)

In order to galvanize the population of the world to work together to prevent nuclear catastrophe, we need a goal and a message capable of inspiring people. Allison does a great job of sounding the alarm, but IPPNW's goal and message are more inspirational.

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