Alexander The Great

November 26, 2007

The Nuclear Genie and the Bottle

Filed under: Modern Life,Terrorism — alexanderthegreatest @ 7:05 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Every decade the world gets a new nuclear power. There are nine today, Pakistan joined the club in the 1980s, North Korea for all intents and purposes in the 1990s, and it looks sure enough that Iran won’t get theirs until after 2010, simply because they can’t produce enough fuel quickly enough. It’s more difficult to tell when Israel got its nuke, since theirs is undeclared. However, BBC paperwork shows Israel had two crude nuclear bombs like those dropped on Japan in 1967 before the Six Days War.

Pakistan is on the verge of collapse, in an intense power struggle with an army coup d’etat A.Q. Khan against the
general likely. While AQ Khan was pardoned by George W Bush’s friend for stealing nuclear technology, giving it to Pakistan, and selling it to North Korea as well as possibly Libya and Iran, Georgia’s collapse has earned no more than a mention because of the fantom menace that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands. This is doubly worrying when one stops to remember that the country is the world’s Madrassa capital.

Drugs, Nukes, and Fine Arts

When a person looks at the drug trade, they see reason to worry. Cocaine is from South America, Marijuanna is from British Columbia, Mexico, Hawaii, even south east Asia (Chocolate Thai), Opium and Heroin from Afghanistan (production is currently on the rise here). It’s well known that 5 % of entrants to our ports are scanned for safety, just as its known that Bush wants to outsource this vital security to the same “Islamo-Fascists” American idiots find themselves obsessed with. It would seem like we should be counting the days until a nuclear terrorist attack.

Drugs are a bit different than bombs, though. For one thing, they can be broken up. Across the supply chain, when people who don’t much trust each other are compelled to do business, it’s almost always in units of less than $10,000. If a “coworker” (of sorts) betrays you, or is arrested, you’ve spread your risk enough that it’s no more than a minor inconvenience. If 5 % of your product is caught in border checks, you raise your prices an offsetting 5 % rather than letting this be the death blow to your empire. Here, “costs of doing business” involving lost or stolen product translate to less supply against the same consumer demand.

Nuclear weapons don’t work this way. They’re more of an all or nothing deal, either a terrorist vaporizes Chicago, or he doesn’t. There’s no halfway point at which a bomb will still function. On that note, the fissile material that will fuel a bomb is worth millions. Most of the fuel is worthless. This is a “dilemma” Iran well knows.

Similarly, although we occasionally hear about disputes involving artwork stolen by the Nazis, often with claims of eminent domain, there really is no black market in fine art, the way there is in drugs of all sorts. A Van Gogh can’t be sliced into small pieces and either reassembled, or sold off to individual collectors, the way drugs can. Even more than nuclear weapons, artwork is elemental, or as the Christo-Fascists like to say, “irreducible.”


In the 1980s, the Irish Republican Army nearly killed Margret Thatcher. A conventional bomb missed her by a matter of minutes, and surprisingly this happened at the 3 am hour. The next day, the IRA issued a press release saying “You were lucky. But remember, you have to be lucky always, we only need to be lucky once.”

George W Bush has repeated this terrorist motto ad nauseam, except for the benefit of al Quaeda’s campaign of fear. The truth is, reality stands this concept on its head. Assume we could begin tomorrow to inspect 25 % of the cargo passing through our ports. From our perspective this is still an abysmal failure. From the perspective of a drug lord with the Medellin Cartel, this is slightly worrying, but the market will correct any “excess” risk as more seizures are met with price hikes. To an apocalyptic terror cult with a single nuclear weapon, this would be a good reason to pause. What we see as a 3/4 failure rate becomes a 1/4 chance that the terrorist’s hard laid plans will be foiled at this one step. (In baseball, if you need your shortstop to be more effective, you can get a better shortstop, or you can get a better pitcher so the shortstop has easier work.)

A nuclear weapon isn’t exactly fragile, but it has a great many moving pieces. The detonation sequence is a bit complicated, not only for obvious reasons, but also because a nuclear weapon actually has a fairly complex job. It needs to be moved with the utmost care, which seems false given what we’ve all seen in the news (Pakistan driving one of theirs around in a parade, America accidentally flying six across the country).

This all applies to a pre-built nuclear weapon, the type that might be stolen from Pakistan, Israel, or Russia. There are worries that, like Iran, a terrorist group might instead decide on the home-brew solution. This is nearly impossible, however, and the fact that Iran’s concerted effort has yet to produce a bomb after decades attests to this fact. While the internet contains frighteningly detailed instructions on how to build a nuclear weapon, it also contains a great deal of nonsense. I wouldn’t be able to tell these apart – would you? One can only hope the average terrorist, generally a religious extremist who thinks modern ways are evil, lacks the same advanced knowledge molecular physics. Even just the fuel to power a nuclear explosion would cost uncountable millions, due in large part to its rarity.

Who Really WANTS A Nuke?

From all the information available to us, al Quaeda would love one. Or several. There are groups whose aim is death for its own sake, and Jim Jones or Tim McVeigh would be great examples. However, terrorism is defined by the United Nations as

intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.’s unabridged definition is

1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
[Origin: 1785–95; terror + -ism]

Anyone familiar with “the troubles” knows that the IRA is by definition a terrorist organization. Quite obviously, its aims would not be helped by nuclear annihilation. Destruction of oppressing England with a modern nuclear weapon would make Northern Ireland unlivable by radioactive fallout. All of the current fears of “Eurabia” fall under this category. The truth is that most terrorists engage in terror because they want something, and obliteration of all life will not accomplish their goals.

While brinksmanship and mutually assured destruction look back to what seems a gentler, bygone era, and even in the face of (conventional!) suicide bombers, terrorists are still unwilling to cut off the nose to spite the face. Vaporizing Iraq is not a viable way to end the American occupation there.

Ultimately, what this means is we don’t all need to live our lives in fear.



  1. Simple answer: drop nuclear power for good. Then there are no ways that nations can claim they need nuclear for peaceful purposes. Much of the USA, the right by far the most, need to drop their “I don’t care” or “It won’t affect me” attitude to climate change and pollution and start building renewable energy resources.

    Today, our government announced it plans to build up to 7000 wind turbines by 2020 with other renewable sources, to possibly provide up to 20% of all of the UK’s energy. The wind farms will be placed offshore as we’re surrounded by miles of coastline and we’re only a small island.

    The USA (people and government) needs to get it’s act together and start doing the same. Blaming China is an easy way out. They are going through their industrial revolution and their emissions per person is far lower still than the US. Put up wind farms. Purchase solar panels. Build hydroelectric power stations and dams. The USA is the richest country on the planet – if they can’t sort out renewable energy, which is more expensive than fossil fuels in the short term, how can the rest of the world be expected to do ANYTHING?

    Note that this is not an attack on you. I am sure that you are all for renewable energy. My references to the US residents is to the typical (probably stereotyped) Christian Right wing voter that elected George Bush in – who seem to turn a blind eye to the very existence of climate change and blame China for not meeting any targets whatsoever.


    Comment by Dan — December 10, 2007 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

  2. Of course I’m for renewable energy. And while I’m a very devote Christian, I don’t understand how my brothers and sisters say “Show me scientific proof” for evolution, but then ignore what they ask for in terms of climate change.

    Now, the other side of the picture is that even if we ( Republicans especially ) have a love affair for hating China, it’s not how rich a country is that matters in this game. It’s how much they pollute. China has less wealth to be sure, but they contribute more to global climate change. What that means is they have more power to influence the situation. ( Of course, the rich world should help in whatever way they’re able – not want – to. ) They also have more to loose: the Hunan Dam Flood of the 1970s killed around 20 million Chinese peasants.

    Comment by alexanderthegreatest — December 31, 2007 @ 6:58 pm | Reply

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