The Corner

Unthinkable

Yesterday I shot an episode of Uncommon Knowledge with nuclear experts Scott Sagan and Graham Allison (for Allison’s new book, Nuclear Terrorism, click here). Sagan and Allison made the following points:

**In an interview in the mid-1990s, a Russian general, Alexander Lebed (now deceased) admitted that the Russians were unable to account for more than 80 one-kiloton “suitcase” bombs developed by the Soviet Union. More than three years after 9/11, we still don’t know where they are.

**Under legislation sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Nunn-Lugar Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, the United States has been cooperating with the Russians in destroying now-superfluous Soviet-era nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has made no effort to accelerate this program. To the contrary. More nukes were decommissioned in the two years prior to 9/11 than in the two years afterwards.

**Even at our own nuclear facilities, security appears lax. At the Oak Ridge Tennessee facility not too long ago, the Department of Energy hired a group of former Navy SEALS to conduct a mock raid, probing for weak points. Yet as emerged afterwards, the raiders collaborated with the guards, making sure nobody lost his job, so that it only looked as though the raiders were probing for weak points. The test, in other words, proved a sham.

**All the evidence suggests that the North Koreans have been moving smartly ahead with their nuclear program. They either possess already, or could possess literally any day, at least two nuclear weapons and perhaps as many as eight. On the watch of George W. Bush, in other words, North Korea has all but certainly become a nuclear power.

I hope John Kerry loses. But I also hope that before November 2 he has the wits and guts to do some good, pushing the incumbent around in the way that all incumbents need to be pushed around. Immediately after asking why we still haven’t caught Osama (see John Miller, below), Kerry should ask Bush to explain precisely what the president has done to protect the nation against the possibility that terrorists will one day very soon be able to purchase or steal fissile material, and then do the unthinkable.

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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