This is a letter response to an article by Eric Schlosser on a break-in at the Y-12 nuclear facility. The letter argues that security vulnerability should not be translated into an exaggerated threat of nuclear terrorism, fear of which has had serious negative effects on American democracy and poses a more immediate threat than that of a nuclear terrorist attack.
Fear of nuclear weapons is rational, but its extension to terrorism has been a vehicle for fear-mongering that is unjustified by available data. The debate on nuclear terrorism tends to distract from events that raise the risk of nuclear war, the consequences of which would far exceed the results of terrorist attacks. And the historical record shows that the war risk is real. The Cuban Missile Crisis and other confrontations have demonstrated that miscalculation, misinterpretation, and misinformation could lead to a "close call" regarding nuclear war.
Hendrik Hertzberg writes that the end of the Cold War and the coming of global warming have brought about increased support for nuclear power, even among some environmentalists (The Talk of the Town, March 22nd). But many of us who work on nuclear-proliferation issues are dismayed by the growth of nuclear energy. Expanded nuclear power in industrial countries will inevitably mean expanded nuclear exports to less developed countries as manufacturers try to recoup their investments in a limited domestic market by selling abroad.
Israel has had an arsenal of nuclear weapons since the late 1960s, and its current inventory is estimated at between 100 and 200 warheads. Some of these weapons will eventually be, or have already been, placed on Israel's missile-carrying submarines, making them virtually impervious to preemptive military attack. They are or soon will be Israel's invulnerable nuclear deterrent.
On July 5, 2005, President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an agreement pledging their governments to actions designed to culminate in a formal nuclear cooperation agreement that would end a three-decade U.S. nuclear embargo against India. Although the formal agreement has not yet received final approval from Congress, concerns about the consequences of the agreement, particularly its possible adverse effect on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the worldwide nonproliferation regime, have made the agreement controversial.
Ever since President Obama made securing nuclear weapons assets a top priority for his global arms control agenda, guarding and disposing of these holdings have become an international security preoccupation. Starting in 2010, multilateral nuclear summits on how to prevent nuclear theft and sabotage have been held every two years – the first in Washington, the second in Seoul, the third in The Hague. Scores of studies have been commissioned and written, and nearly as many workshops (official and unofficial) have been held.