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After NK test, what can be done to reduce nuclear threat?

Via Eurekalert:

Scholars and policy analysts examine global security questions

In the wake of the announcement of a nuclear test by North Korea, new questions have been raised about proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism. Is nuclear terrorism preventable? What steps has the United States already taken to avoid a nuclear catastrophe and what steps should be taken in the future?

Scholars, scientists, and policymakers, including Graham Allison, Sam Nunn, and William Perry, address these crucial questions in articles that are currently available online in the September volume of SAGE Publication's The ANNALS of The American Academy of Political and Social Science. The volume is edited by Allison of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John. F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Of particular interest in light of North Korea's claim that it has conducted a nuclear test are Allison's article "Flight of Fancy," which traces the chain of events a Korean nuclear test might set in motion, Perry's article "Proliferation of the Peninsula: Five North Korean Nuclear Crises," Sam Nunn's "The Race between Cooperation and Catastrophe: Reducing the Global Nuclear Threat" and Robert Galucci's article on "Averting Nuclear catastrophe: Contemplating Extreme Responses to U.S. Vulnerability." All articles from the volume are available to read at no charge through the Academy Blog at or on the SAGE publications website at

"The authors devoutly hope for a future when world leaders recognize this grave danger, taking the actions necessary to defeat it," commented volume editor Graham Allison. "On current trendlines, however, the likelihood of failure is greater than that of success. We hope to remind the world just how horrible nuclear anarchy would be."

Nice to see mainstream risk analysts studying this situation as best they can.

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  1. I think unless its possible to buy ready-made nuclear weapons from nation states it’s unlikely that terrorists would have the industrial manufacturing capacity to build a bomb.

    They may be able to make cruder “dirty bombs” using radioactive materials. However, even in the worst case scenario such weapons could not pose any kind of existential risk. The low risks presented by these kinds of weapons could be countered by installing geiger counters at airports and other ports of entry (or even more generally on major roads), which would at least provide some kind of early warning.

    I think the main nuclear risk still comes from those countries who have large aging stockpiles of such weapons, left over from the cold war such as Russia, US and possibly also China.

  2. I have just read “A Flight of Fancy”; the title is all too accurate. Some minor details:

    – North Korea actually did test a nuke (or at least we all think they did), and South Korea and Japan have made no announcement of moving toward a nuclear weapons program.
    – Japan and South Korea would have nothing to gain from a nuclear program; they would come under heavy criticism, might be sanctioned themselves, would be heavily opposed by internal political pressure, and are already under protection from the US. They know we’ll come to their aid if NK attacks them; we don’t have all those troops there for nothing.
    – Iran is roughly ten years away from a nuclear weapon even if they wanted one ( I have not seen one shred of evidence that Iran is actually developing nukes; just “suspicions” by US and British officials.
    – India, Pakistan, and Israel have all developed nukes outside the terms of the NPT; this did not cause a “cascade” effect or the collapse of the treaty.
    – Iran going nuclear would put no real pressure on S.A., Syria, or Egypt; their primary opponent in the region is Israel, which is already known to have nukes.
    – There are no known cases of terrorists having serious plans to acquire or use a nuclear weapon.
    – North Korea has no reason to sell a nuclear weapon to terrorists. NK needs military equipment, food, and cash, of which terrorists are in short supply, and zealously protects its nukes for obvious reasons. Note that the UN resolution to interdict NK shipping and inspect for nukes is mysteriously absent. Very strange, considering that this world is obviously even more tense than ours.
    – The US and Russia would have no good reason to include NPT signatories in their retaliatory threats. No NPT non-nuclear signatory has even developed nuclear weapons, and South Africa actually got rid of its nukes after signing (the only state ever to do so).
    – The US and Russia already have more than enough nukes to deal with any threat presented. To a small nation with nukes, it doesn’t really matter whether America has 5,000 or 50,000 weapons; you’re still just as toast.
    – The MAD doctrine, although very risky, did in fact work for forty years; strange that it would fail four separate times in less than a year under this scenario.
    – Even a full-out nuclear war, with several times today’s megatonnage, wouldn’t be an existential risk. There’d obviously be large tracts of land left untouched because of its strategic worthlessness. Nuclear testing in the continental United States never posed a significant radiation hazard to those not close to the test site, and although we have no clue what the effects of a “nuclear winter” would be, the ~200 MT Krakatoa eruption in 1883 didn’t cause the end of civilization or even widespread crop failures.
    – If we do want to get rid of nukes (a good thing in any event), why don’t we start by getting rid of our own large arsenal, which is under our control both militarily and politically, and much larger than any rogue nations?

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