Donnerstag, September 14, 2006

Rethinking the Unthinkable and A Lack Of Imagination...

This article should be a must-read. It's from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, by Graham Allison, who is Director of the Bellfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard.

With the benefit of glorious hind-sight, 9/11 should have been preventable.

A nuclear 9/11 should be preventable, but the likelihood that the solutions mentioned in the article above will be implemented is rather slim.

But I think the article above - please do read it - is too US-centric: if there is a nuclear terrorist event, it may well not be New York or San Diego, but rather Tel Aviv. Or even Delhi. Why? If terrorists want to create absolute chaos, absolute anarchy, then an attack on the US will not create it: the US is too decentral, with what amounts to a shadow infrastructure of the Federal government in each and every state. Destroy New York and the US will survive; destroy Washington, DC and the US will survive.

But destroy Tel Aviv and you have eviscerated Israel. Destroy Delhi and India may well collapse. Not today, not tomorrow, but these are countries heavily centralized or, in the case of Israel, simply too small geographically for the to be any meaningful decentralization. This is also true for France, but not, for instance, for Japan; it is true for England, but not, for instance, for China.

Further, nuclear weapons are traceable by analyzing the chemical composition of the fissile parts of the warhead, which are available even after detonation in the shape of fallout. Hence each and every weapon has its own unique "thumbprint" of where it was built, and can hence be identified even after detonation.

But what happens when the material is home-grown in Iran or North Korea, since their weapons have never been tested anywhere and there are no fallout samples from their tests to identify the plant and process?

Why, then we know that there is at least one new member of the nuclear club.

The real danger, of course, is one that is not explored in the article above completely, is that there be collusion between rogue states and terrorists. This exists already for "normal weapons", as can be seen with Iran and Hezbollah.

This is a deliberate usage of a grey zone in international affairs: a non-state acting as if it were a state but without identifiable assets and infrastructure, using instead that of other states, either in a deniable form (like Iran with Hezbollah) or covertly (like Hezbollah in Lebanon).

In other words, they can avoid becoming a target.

What if Hezbollah detonates a bomb in Tel Aviv that we find was built in downtown Teheran in facilities that do not officially exist? Do you destroy those facilities as well, killing millions as "collateral damage"?

The dangers of asymmetric warfare are greater than we think, and the key question will be how to deal with an enemy that deliberately uses civilians to hide behind. The only real answer is that you have to ensure that the civilians do not accept that this can be allowed to happen. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done...

The dismal thing is that this here is not my nightmare scenario: that's the one I don't want even to be discussed. Thinking the Unthinkable is all very fine for rational actors, but add irrationality to the equation, and all bets are off.

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