03:06 PDA Bulletin - Empire and Fear
Twenty-nine additional publications were added today to the
collection at Militarized Globalism and Empire - Advocates, Skeptics,
and Critics -- http://www.comw.org/qdr/empire.html
A version of following op-ed by PDA co-director Charles Knight was
published July 20th on the Common Dreams Website.
Fear-mongering and Bad Thinking Are Real Threats to Our Security
by Charles Knight
July 18, 2003
Even a casual reading of current news reports and speeches about the
threat from North Korea reveals a gathering bipartisan war party.
While the press reports on centrist and liberal leaders urging more
adroit diplomatic efforts from the Bush administration, the ten
thousand pound bipartisan guerrilla in the room insists that if the
North Koreans don't back down from their nuclear ambitions the U.S.
will forcibly disarm them -- that is, start a second Korean war.
Graham Allison, director of Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and
International Affairs and former Assistant Secretary of Defense in
the first Clinton Administration, is one prominent centrist helping
build the consensus for the next preventive counter-proliferation
war. In a 14 July 2003 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Europe,
Allison states his case that nuclear terrorists are coming and that
America must be prepared to take preventive action. Given the
seriousness of the issue it is remarkable how flimsy his evidence and
his reasoning are. It is worth closely reviewing this text, because
it is likely we will hear versions of its lines again and again in
the coming months.
Early in his op-ed Allison quotes Czech President Vaclav Klaus -- "a
fundamental question: Was 9/11 an isolated act, or typical of
phenomena the world will face in the first half of the 21st century?"
Allison provides an answer: "Beneath the headlines, deeper
trendlines point to the latter. The relentless diffusion of deadly
technologies allows progressively smaller groups to wreak
increasingly greater destruction. Globalization has enhanced
terrorists' ability to travel, communicate, and transport weapons.
America's overwhelming dominance on all conventional battlefields
drives rational adversaries to asymmetric responses like WMD
Allison's answer is hypothetical in nature and at best remotely
related to the realities of 9/11. The increasingly common use of
wide-body commercial aircraft was the only diffusion of technology
relevant to the events of 9/11. The terrorists didn't need to
transport weapons; they simply took advantage of dangerous vehicles
routinely available in the vicinity of their targets. As for
communications and coordination, this rather basic commando-type
operation could have been equally well carried out long before the
age of cell phones and electronic money transfers. And the statement
that "America's overwhelming dominance on all conventional
battlefields drives rational adversaries to asymmetric responses like
WMD terrorism" is neither substantiated nor convincing as it stands.
Next Allison presents a what if: "In 1993, an al Qaeda-linked
terrorist, Ramzi Yousef, tried to collapse the World Trade Center by
exploding a truck filled with fertilizer-based explosives. Had that
same truck carried an elementary nuclear weapon, the blast would have
vaporized not just the World Trade Center, but also the entire New
York financial district." Yes, we all should be deeply impressed by
the threat of a nuclear explosion. But, Ramzi Yousef didn't have a
nuclear weapon and Allison can't tell us about any terrorist who has
Of course, it is a possibility that someday a motivated terrorist
organization could get a nuclear weapon, since there are thousands in
the world, including hundreds small enough to transport in an SUV.
However, this threat has been around for longer than commercial jet
airliners or SUVs. If my memory serves me right, several of the bad
guys in rather old James Bond movies stole nukes and threatened
civilization. And critics of nuclear weapons have been complaining
from day one of the nuclear-age that nations building and storing
thousands of bombs are bound to leak one to irresponsible actors
sooner or later.
Allison goes on to say: "The status quo is fatally flawed. The U.N.-
chartered, rule-based international security order that was accepted
pre-9/11 leaves America or Europe vulnerable to a series of nuclear
9/11s. Such conditions are incompatible with our survival as free
nations whose fundamental institutions and values are intact." But
our "existential vulnerability" to nuclear weapons existed long
before 9/11 and so the allusion to 9/11 in Allison's diatribe against
a U.N.-chartered, rule-based international security order is really
beside the point.
If Allison wishes to argue in favor of the sort of
unilateralist 'might makes right' international security order the
Bush administration is constructing he is free to do so. On the
other hand, it may be the very rule-based type system he disparages
that has the best chance of permanently reducing our existential
vulnerability to nuclear weaponry. The Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty with its requirement that nuclear powers pursue disarmament
contains the germ of eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. Such a
disarmament program coupled with comprehensive international controls
on fissile materials is ultimately the only regime that can reduce
the nuclear threat toward zero. Allison's preferred nuclear class
war between the nuclear haves and the nuclear not-yets is inherently
unstable and prone to the very disaster he hopes to avoid.
Not only does Allison evoke the fear of 9/11 to lead us toward
preventive war doctrine, but he vastly exaggerates the significance
of a speculative nuclear terror incident. He says, "leav[ing]
America or Europe vulnerable to a series of nuclear 9/11s
incompatible with our survival as free nations whose fundamental
institutions and values are intact." A nuclear terror incident would
be a terrible thing, as we know from observing the attacks on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would not, however, result in the
destruction of our free nation and our fundamental institutions and
values. Instead it would take a nuclear war with a large nuclear
power or the establishment of a dictatorial "war on terror" national
security state to have that effect.
Which brings me back to the current target of the preventive war
advocates -- North Korea. Allison points out, correctly I think,
that the most likely source of a terrorist nuke would be Russia.
Pakistan is the next most likely source, and then, says
Allison, "comes North Korea, the world's most promiscuous
proliferator." He doesn't mention that history has shown that nation-
states are loathe to share nuclear weapons. It is actually a very
hard case to make that a reclusive North Korea prone to paranoia will
think it is a good idea to sell a nuclear weapon to Jihadists over
whom they exercise no control. But Allison doesn't try to make the
case. Instead he employs the cheap rhetorical device used so
successfully by the Bush administration in making the case for war on
Iraq -- use the name of your target enemy in successive sentences
with the name of a currently feared enemy. Thus Allison's next
sentence after "North Korea, the world's most promiscuous
proliferator" begins, "Were al Qaeda terrorists to acquire a nuclear
By now we should expect this sort of threat-mongering from the
extreme right-wingers occupying Cheney's and Rumsfeld's offices. It
is another indicator of the enormity of the crisis we face as a
nation that a Harvard centrist (one well-positioned to advise and
serve a future Democratic president) is so eager to join the right-
wingers in spreading fear in support of a foolish and dangerous
national security strategy.
Graham Allison's op-ed is entitled "Nuclear Terrorism Poses the
Gravest Threat Today" and appeared in The Wall Street Journal Europe
on 14 July 2003. http://bcsia.ksg.harvard.edu/publication.cfm?
Project on Defense Alternatives
Cambridge, MA USA