The problem with projects likeStar Wars is that it fails to address the real danger from nuclear weapons: nuclear terrorism. It is actually relatively easy to build a nuclear bomb (instuctions can be found here) and several terrorist organisations have the money and resources to buy weapons grade uranium or plutonium, from countries such as Russia, and to smuggle it to the required location. The missile shield would do nothing against such a threat. On the other hand, it is considerably more difficult to build an ICBM, which is also easier to trace and less accurate. Also, no country will launch an overt attack (i.e. using ICBMs) on America because enough of America's forces will remain to wipe out any "rogue state" (the basis of MAD), whereas it is very difficult to retaliate against a terrorist group, and there are groups fanatical enough to risk it.


September 16th 2002

Looking at this node now, unchanged since I originally wrote it, I scare myself with what could have happened on September the 11th: the Al Queada decision not to fly the planes into nuclear power plants. The truth was frightening enough. Let us hope that we succeed in preventing a repeat, because next time we may consider September the 11th a small attack.

A National Missile Defense or its smaller-scale counterpart, a Theater Missile Defense can itself be considered a weapon of nuclear terrorism, albeit terrorism performed by a major world power. As such it will not be called terrorism and, instead, will be referred to as "foreign policy".

An NMD allows a nuclear power, such as the United States, to have a credible threat of first strike nuclear attack in its bag of diplomatic tricks. Until recently, the US could not realistically threaten a rival nuclear power (only the former Soviet Union really filled this role) with first strike nuclear attack because of the problem of Mutually Assured Destruction, i.e. that both sides in a full scale nuclear war would be utterly annihilated, and therefore full scale nuclear war is illogical and extremely unlikely.

An NMD would, theoretically, allow a full scale first strike on a rival power while eliminating the rival's ability to retaliate. The balance of power is lost.

This is one of the reasons China and Russia are very unhappy about American plans to build NMDs and TMDs. Construction of such systems will allow the US to once again hold the world hostage with its nuclear weapons. China only has about 18 nuclear-equipped ICBMs (or so I've read), so you can be sure that construction of an American NMD/TMD will spark a massive nuclear weapons construction binge in China, as their only strategy to defeat such a defense system would be to overwhelm it with numbers.

The National Missile Defense is an aggressive tool of hegemony which will only succeed in sparking a new arms race and fattening the pockets of defense industry contractors. It is nuclear terrorism.

Imagine Being Nostalgic About the "Post 9-11" Era

In the news today has been the media frenzy over the "revelation" that the U.S. government may have known Osama bin Laden was planning to hijack some airplane, somewhere in the world, at sometime in the future. Other pundits discovered that people at FBI and CIA had read the same thriller novels you and I have, and ran "scenarios" in which terrorists fly a loaded commercial airplane into a high-value target. The inevitable smarmy, sophomoric follow-up question: "All the clues were there for us to see, why didn't the government connect the dots?"

Opposition party leaders, the very ones who complained bitterly when pundits raised these questions about the previous administration, have no problem suggesting this administration should be investigated.

The bad news is, its far too easy to blame Bush, or Clinton, for missing this. we're all responsible, because prior to 9-11, we all seriously believed it could never happen. Those few Cassandras among us were unable to elude Apollo's curse.

The "good" news is, we have another chance, and this time, we should listen to the seers. On May 5, 2002, one of them spoke with the Associated Press:

"We're going to have something in the way of a major nuclear event in this country," said Buffett, the firm's chief operating officer. "It will happen. Whether it will happen in 10 years or 10 minutes, or 50 years ... it's virtually a certainty."
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20020506/ap_on_re_us/buffett_nuclear_attack_1
How does the world's second-wealthiest person (as of 2001, http://www.forbes.com/lists/) pretend to know this? The "firm" is Berkshire Hathaway, one of its main businesses is re-insurance, in other words, providing insurance to the world's insurance companies. In the insurance business, this is the big leagues. Re-insurance companies suffer huge financial consequences when they guess wrong, while the CIA and the FBI fail miserably and get huge budget increases. Buffet fully expects the world markets to hold him accountable for his statement; he repeated it in his official address to Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting.

But even without the benefit of legions of researchers and actuaries, it isn't hard to imagine Osama (or his rivals) doing everything they can to prove Buffett right. They could probably convince themselves it would be an even greater validation if the US follows the "dictates" of MAD and retaliates. Like adolescents testing their limits, nuclear terror must appear the ultimate forbidden fruit.

Imagine if the phrase "post-9-11" came to represent bitter nostalgia for a time when terrorism only meant a few thousand dead, when fallout could be avoided with water and a cheap facemask.

Of course, nothing is inevitable unless we make it so. While some may argue that we begat Osama, its debatable if we should, or can act in loco parentis. But we can certainly stop living in the past and start organizing our institutions to detect and prevent nuclear terror. We cannot afford this blame game, lest we be left with nothing but the words of another seer:

Desine fata deum flecti sperare precando.

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