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Friday, December 15, 2006

I don't worry about the missiles

The discussion of the current risks of nuclear attack on the United States in this essay (hat-tip InstaPundit), written by the "former Editor in Chief of the Encyclopædia Britannica," is interesting — but not so much for its content as for what it ignores.

The essay has a snappy title — "How Likely Does It Have to Be?" — and it has a nice opening riff on "the post-Korea, pre-Cuban Missile Crisis days" when one could "dream up a [nuclear attack] dream that wasn't entirely a nightmare." But except for one brief reference to "non-state actor[s], i.e., terrorists," the author then goes on to discuss our risks from nuclear attack by nation-states — which of those nation-states are most risky and which of them have delivery systems (by which he only seems to mean missiles) that could hit the United States.

I don't mean to suggest that we're at zero risk of an open nuclear attack by a nation-state — although I think it's a whole lot more likely that North Korea would hit Tokyo, or Iran hit Tel Aviv, or Pakistan hit Delhi, than that any of those would lob a nuclear-tipped missile at the U.S. And the risks of the U.S. being attacked by Russia or China are vastly smaller, and the risks of our being attacked by Israel, India, Britain, or even France are negligible.

Moreover, with respect to any open attack by any nation-state, the risk is still greatly affected — reduced — by our retaliatory capacity. Our ability to turn another country's populated areas into a "green-glass parking lot" is mostly something that's referred to jokingly (albeit with black humor) or mockingly now. But yeah, we can still do that, in a matter of hours, to any country anywhere in the world. No country is remotely capable of even minimally interfering with our capacity to do that. And having now invaded two countries in response to 3000 American deaths on 9/11, any nation-state would be extremely fool-hardy to assume that we wouldn't respond to a nuclear attack on American soil with anything less than nuclear retaliation — if not necessarily to wipe out population centers, then certainly in a way to instantly, absolutely, positively decapitate the attacking country's entire leadership and government structure, along with its entire war-making and even defensive capacities (because we'd soon be patrolling the fringes of that green-glass parking lot with Marines in radiation suits, I expect).

I grew up in the "duck and cover" days, and I can actually (if barely) remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I just don't lose sleep any more about the risks of nuclear attacks via missiles from other nation-states.

As someone who lives (and has four kids who also live) in the fourth-most-populous city and third-most-populous county in the U.S., however, within a half-dozen miles from the world's largest petrochemical manufacturing area, the top American port for international commerce (second-largest overall nationally, 10th largest in the world), and the third-highest concentration of Fortune-500 headquarters in the world — I do worry about nukes in cargo containers routed through, say, Malaysia or Argentina or just about damn-near anywhere. I worry about trucks driving up from Juarez. And I worry about a frustrated Kim Jong-Il, who may or may not be able to get his atomic bombs to light off properly, and who may or may not be years away from having a missile that could hit Seattle, but who can certainly manage to hand off several kilograms of dirty-bomb material to non-state terrorists. And those terrorists already have plenty of plastic explosives to spray particles of plutonium over Houston or New York or San Francisco or Chicago or anywhere else. In fact, I worry about these things enough to make them the overriding factor in my voting in national elections.

With due respect to this author (who writes well and I'm sure must be an intelligent, serious person), anyone who doesn't worry more about that sort of nuclear attack on the U.S. needs to get serious about dusting the cobwebs off of his encyclopedias and his noggin.

Posted by Beldar at 09:01 PM in Global War on Terror | Permalink


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(1) DRJ made the following comment | Dec 16, 2006 12:27:51 AM | Permalink

Amen, and I'm starting to believe that only Texans worry about these things.

My father's grandmother was the sole survivor of an Indian raid that killed her parents and siblings, and during her lifetime she routinely fended off marauding Indians as a rural Texas wife and mother. Ironically, my mother's grandmother was a full-blooded Plains Indian who grew up on a reservation. I remember each of these grandmothers, and I have pictures of me on their laps.

Maybe it matters that some Texans have a vague connection to times when life was dangerous. Or maybe it's relevant that there are still places in Texas where there are predators like rattlesnakes and mountain lions, or forbidding terrain that even today claims the lives of immigrants who cross them. For whatever reason, I see risk in life that many of my countrymen don't seem to see.

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