BOB BOWMAN – NUCLEAR TERRORISM ARTICLE

1998-06-07

Carolyn Ballard

For those who wish to visit Bob's web site, the address is:

            http://www.rmbowman.com



Nuclear Terrorism: Dealing With the Threat

by Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Lt. Col., USAF, retired

 

Reflections of a Cold Warrior

(as imagined by the author)

"Once upon a time, in a decade long, long ago, there was a communist threat (or 
at least, so we told the people). Oh, for those good, old days. Things were so 
simple then. We knew who our adversary was. We knew what weapons he had, and how
many. (Of course, the figures were inflated and exaggerated for the public.) We 
knew our chosen opponent was rational and unwilling to commit national suicide. 
We had a good idea what it would take to deter him from starting anything (if he
ever really wanted to), and we could calculate how many of what weapons we would
need to do the job. (Of course, we always built a bunch more, just to be on the 
safe side, and even built weapons that were downright destabilizing and 
therefore counter-productive, because it was so profitable. Besides, we insiders
knew it didn't really matter, because the threat was mostly myth anyway.) In 
short, we had a great big commie bogeyman with which to scare the bejeebers out 
of the public, so they would let us raid the treasury to line our pockets, and 
at the same time, we didn't have to really worry about nukes exploding in Times 
Square. Is this a great country or what?

"But now, things have changed. The communist threat has disappeared. Our defense
budget is 26 times as big as that of all our potential adversaries put together,
but how do we keep it that way? We are having a harder and harder time 
justifying our defense (corporate welfare, socialism for the rich) budget. And 
to make matters worse, now there's a real threat, one we don't know how to 
handle. It's nuclear terrorism.

"For one thing, we no longer have just one opponent. There are so many out there
who hate us! Any one of them would love to nuke us; and we don't know which one 
will be able to do it first. And they're all irrational, and perfectly capable 
of commiting suicide. We have no idea how to deter them. After all, deterrence 
is based on retaliation. But if a nuke goes off in Manhattan, whom do we 
retaliate against? And how? Even if we find out the nationality of the 
perpetrator, what do we do - nuke their whole country? And what if, like 
Oklahoma City, it's one of us??

"Another problem with this new threat is that it's much more difficult to 
translate into weapons programs. People don't see how a fleet of B-2s or a dozen
aircraft carriers or hundreds of new ICBMs is going to protect us from some nut 
in Queens with a homemade bomb. They don't even seem to understand the need for 
"Star Wars" weapons in space and anti-missile missiles in the Dakotas. The 
problem, of course, is not that the people don't understand the new threat. 
Since the World Trade Center bombings and the Federal Building in Oklahoma and 
the troop high-rise in Riyahd, they understand the new threat all too well. Just
a few years ago, we could sell them 'strategic defenses' against nuclear 
terrorists, but not any more. They know now that no terrorist would use an 
intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to deliver his nuke. Why would anyone 
use such a complex, costly, high-tech, visible means of delivery (and one which 
leaves a return address)? Unfortunately, the people also understand that all our
sophisticated weaponry will be useless against a suitcase bomb or a nuke in a 
sailboat or a Ryder truck.

"So how are we going to justify spending a quarter of a trillion dollars a year 
on the military if the people know it won't be able to provide them with any 
security whatsoever against the remaining threat they face? How do we justify 
the source of our profits, our power, and our opulent lifestyle? It would be 
nice to turn the Chinese back into the Yellow Peril again. After all, they are 
communists. But our corporate bosses won't let us. They're making too much money
trading with China. North Korea might make a good bogeyman. But they have less 
military power than our friends in South Korea. And somehow Kim Il Sung's son 
just isn't as scary as his old man. Thank goodness for Castro. He's the only 
commie they'll let us vilify. If it wasn't for him, we'd be down the tubes for 
sure. Sigh! I sure miss Brezhnev!

"Sorry; I still yearn for the days when a 'threat' was nothing more than a 
justification for doing what we had already decided to do anyway. Having to deal
with a real threat takes some getting used to. Sure, the nuclear terrorist 
threat is years from being fulfilled. But we don't know how many years. And we 
don't have a clue what to do about it. We're trying to buy up the world's 
plutonium and nuclear scientists (especially those in the old Soviet Union). 
That can slow the terrorists down and maybe give us a few more years. But it 
can't make the problem go away. And neither can our armed forces. We could 
quadruple their size, and spend a trillion dollars a year on the military, and 
we still would not be able to stop a single terrorist nuclear weapon. 
Eventually, the people who hate America will have nukes, and if they want to use
them, there won't be a thing we can do about it.

"So what do we do? Make them stop hating us? Turn our enemies into friends? Get 
real. That would mean changing our ways. We'd have to stop supporting 
third-world dictators who sell out to our multinational corporations. We'd have 
to quit exploiting people around the world. We'd have to end gunboat diplomacy 
and give up being king of the hill. Well, sure; it would work. How many 
terrorists threaten the Netherlands? Or Sweden? Or even Canada? But who wants to
be a good guy? There's no profit in that. Nah. Maybe we'll be lucky and Russia 
will go back to the communists. Sigh!"

===============================================

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