The Four Faces of Nuclear Terror

Potter, William C.; Ferguson, Charles D.; Spector, Leonard S.
May 2004
Foreign Affairs;May/Jun2004, Vol. 83 Issue 3, p130
This essay comments on the article "How to Stop Nuclear Terrorism," by Graham Allison, published in the January/February 2004 issue of "Foreign Affairs." Allison was among the first scholars to sound the alarm about the risks of Russian loose nukes, and in the article he continues to warn of this underappreciated danger. He is right to highlight the inadequacy of U.S. and international efforts to deny terrorists access to fissile material as of 2004. Unfortunately, the article is less successful in describing the full scope of the problem and recommending a nuanced response. In particular, it fails to distinguish among four distinct types of nuclear terrorism, the relative risks posed by the main two types of fissile materials used in nuclear weapons, and the means necessary for keeping such weapons from nonstate actors as well as states. Allison is right to propose a new international security standard to help guarantee that nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material are made inaccessible to terrorists. But he neglects to discuss the greatest risk in this regard, specifically, Russia's large stockpile of tactical nukes. These weapons, which are relatively small in size, are deployed in forward locations, and, in some instances, lack electronic locks to prevent unauthorized use. However, if U.S. policymakers hope to grapple with the full range of nuclear terrorist threats, they will need a more complete discussion of the differences between these dangers and a prioritized set of recommendations.


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