If New York Were Nuked by Terrorists – What Then?

Please elaborate. I look forward to your cogent analysis.

Evil One, you seem almost anxious for that scenario.

The response to an act of nuclear terrorism would depend on the source of the nuclear material and on the kind of negligence or complicity involved by government parties in the loss of those materials. Tracing the source is less complicated than one might think; uranium sources vary in specific ways throughout the world, so that any weapon has a “fingerprint” indicating the ultimate source(s) of the fissionable material. As much as we fret about North Korea exploring the possibility of putting nukes on the international market – and I’m afraid that’s a very real risk, given NK’s extensive track record of perpetrating the most outrageous, unlawful international incidents – there’s little chance of such a nuke ever being untraceable to Kim Jong-Il. I doubt there’s a single uranium mine (and NK has lots of uranium) which hasn’t been probed and sampled by agents from SK or the US. I trust that we’ve also communicated as much to Pyongyang through diplomatic back-channels, since we don’t maintain official relations with the Kim regime.

But probably the most likely immediate sources of a smuggleable “loose nuke” – i.e., a small-medium-sized fissionable atom bomb without a missile delivery system attached – are Pakistan and Russia. I trust we’ve already made it clear to Pakistan through official diplomatic channels that the price for one of their nukes finding its way into terrorists’ hands would be the end of Pakistan as an independent, and for that matter, viable nation-state. I believe our response in such a scenario would justifiably be, and probably would be, the nuclear incineration of all of Pakistan’s major cities and the entirety of the densely-populated Kandahar region, which borders Afghanistan and has long been a stronghold for Sunni terrorists.

The question of retribution becomes a bit murkier if the nuclear weapon was created in, say, Iran or Syria, under the aegis of rogue Pakistani and Russian nuclear scientists assisting the government in building a nuclear-weapons program. This is a less-likely scenario in the short-term, in part because even with the brainpower assist, this is still a very substantial investment. OTOH, I have no idea if such a weapon would be as reliably traceable; it might take awhile before intelligence (either ours or an ally’s, like Israel’s) could produce the information necessary for nucleotide identification. I would also hazard that Iran’s Shiite orientation offers us a margin of protection vis-a-vis Iran’s willingness to slip a nuke to a Sunni Wahabbist terrorist group. I doubt the Iranians would ever trust a mostly-Sunni group to that extent, because, as we can see in Iraq, Sunni terrorists will attack Shiites at any given opportunity.

The question of retaliation would be an even thornier one if the loose nuke later proved to be Russian. But FWIW, if the Russkies lost one to Islamic terrorists, they’d probably be in greater immediate risk than us, provided the Chechen conflict was still simmering (and with Putin in the Kremlin, it likely always will). For a Russian nuke to fall into the hands of, say, Al Qaeda instead of the Chechens would suggest the complicity of one or more rogue Russian military and/or KGB officers, an extremely unsettling prospect.

A real wild card “loose nuke” scenario would be that of an Indian or even French source, and these possibilities are difficult to evaluate. India has a growing number of nukes believed to be fairly small and relatively smuggleable. India also has a large Muslim minority. Could a militant Islamist cell permeate the Indian military with the aim of attacking us with it? Or would India itself be a more likely target? As for France, one of the first nuclear powers, it has to contend with a growing minority of unassimilated Arabs and Berbers who are nursing a chip on their shoulder over issues of poverty, inequality, discrimination, international Jewry, and the bad ol’ USA (to say nothing about France’s generalized anti-American sentiments and resentments). One can only presume that Muslims are constituting an increasing percentage of French military officers and will continue to do so for the indefinite future. I don’t know anything beyond that; key questions include how many of France’s nukes are smuggleable, what internal security measures are in place to prevent terrorist infiltration from within the French military, and so forth.

None of the above addresses the question of Islamicist ideology, of Saudi Arabia in particular as the source of the global Wahabbist campaign of (mis)education, radicalization, and Sunni Arab supremacist beliefs. I believe we need to continue to pressure the Saudis and their ilk towards greater anti-terror cooperation with the US, towards greater reform initiatives, and towards the cessation of their toxic propaganda programs overseas. We won’t have a real option of a military response to the Persian Gulf states, however, until we curb our abject dependence on their oil. We must continue to develop a globally expanded oil production capacity with a greater variety of sources, while pushing conservation and alternative energy technologies at home.

I believe, however, that in the meantime we have only two effective means of preventing and deterring the nuclear terrorism: by stepping up the sort of international nuclear-materials containment and transfer initiatives (which former Senator Sam Nunn has been so influential in spearheading and overseeing), and for the president to publicly declare a new doctrine extending the Cold War-era principle of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) to the Arab and Islamic world, to be implemented in response to catastrophic terrorism of the WMD variety. The Prez has to state, in no uncertain terms, that wholesale genocide and economic destruction against us or our allies will not be appeased by tracking down a dozen individuals for criminal trials and executions; that nukes in particular (but also the more sophisticated of biological and chemical weapons) are of governmental provenance and that the govt’s that develop them (against co-signed international treaties, in the cases of the nukes developed by Pakistan and India) bear ultimate responsibility for them. The promulgation of such a doctrine would raise an immediate international hue and cry of course, with bullshit charges of “Crusaderism” slung liberally at us from the Islamic world.

To allay the predictable reaction and, far more importantly, to make disarmament a viable and desirable option to troubled and rogue states, the president should also accompany this forbidding policy with a big, fat, juicy carrot: a corollary policy that any state which renounces its WMD programs, allowing inspectors into the country, etc. etc., will, over time, be able to capitalize from a restructured and much closer relationship with the US. The carrot side should include the whole diplomatic menu of gifts and goodies, such as the following: diplomatic recognition and/or an upgrade to friendly-nations status; the lessening or removal of existing trade barriers, travel restrictions, and education- and work-related US visa restrictions; the usual menu of civilian and military aid initiatives; a greater degree of US military cooperation and assistance, including greater access to USA-sourced arms purchases and assisted-training programs, and even the guarantee of national security as underwritten by the US (i.e., if your neighbor attacks you, we will come to your aid).

It would be nice if we were able to enlist any allies to co-initiate this double-barrelled policy initiative with us, but even if they declined to do so, it would still be a desirable and, I’m afraid, necessary move on our part, even if we had to go it alone.

Wouldn’t randomly nuking any nation be bad for the US? I guess if some country nukes where I live, retaliation would be OK. But just lobbing nukes around the world would piss off a lot of innocent people.

I don’t think the response would be nuclear. We have plenty of other ways to get our point across. Just like after 9/11, I think the response would come after the cleanup and investigation. We would need some time to get our stuff together anyway.

Anxious? No. But I am afraid it’s going to take something like 9/11 to force some people to pull their heads out.


Bolivia hosted El Che Guevara --> Afghanistan hosted Bin Laden.

Only this time, we’re going nukular on their asses!

Iraq had fuck all to do with 9/11 or TWAT --> Argentina has fuck all to do with this hypothetical.

Perfect symmetry.

PS-Of course, should your CIC be feeling magnanimous, he may opt for simply using napalm on Bolivia.

US lied to Britain over use of napalm in Iraq war


This administration does not fire anyone whose errors politically benefit them.

Are you saying all republicans will think heads we win, tails we win? An attack to New York would be the biggest failure for this administration.

Of course I must said should, because with the media in their pockets that little detail: “that it would be a failure for this administration” will not be discussed then.

Thank you. I suspected as much.

The Scrivener- I think this was a very informative and well thoughtout piece. A lot of really good information well presented. Thanks.
Evil One- I think you are spot on as well. I heard many people make statements of knee-jerk reactions by the Administation or the US in gerneral following 9/11. “Oh, we were gonna nuke’em all and start nuclear war”. Or, *“we were gonna roll over and do nothing”. * "We were gonna show our true yellow nature".
I didn’t agree with them then and don’t think such responces would happen here. I do think that our responce would be well informed… and terrible for those responsible. We lost two buildings, they lost two regimes.

Keep telling yourself that. Mantra-like even.

Reality, as opposed to individuals such as yourself, is impervious to chants and/or propaganda. Really.

Quite welcomed and quite right. You, OTOH, leave no room for suspicion. In fact, you’re about as subtle as a massive coronary.

Well, yellow cake at least.

Well, yes, Chalabi and buddies really delivered!

mmm, where is Osama?

We all bring the best we can to the table, Red. You obviously included.

I’d be worried if I were you :::shudder:::

Why just yesterday, Democracy reared its ugly head in your country. Admittedly, it was a rather timid appearance, but one also needs to consider its been at sea for so long that it’ll require some time to get back on firm footing.

House Votes To Curb Patriot Act

Baby steps. But steps just the same.

I think you rather overestimate the fondness of the American people for the inhabitants of the Middle East. We nuked two Japanese cities and they just attacked Pearl Harbor. If someone nukes a U.S. city, the President’s gonna have a HELL of a time not nuking somebody else in retaliation. I don’t think Bush would nuke the Saudis, even if they were the ones behind it, but I don’t think he’d have any problems with any number of other Middle Eastern countries.

It may surprise you, but I agree with this. It still allows the FBI to do the search if they get approval from a judge or a grand jury. And information like this should not be time-sensitive enough for that to be an issue.

Or terrible for those NOT responsible … Iraq had nothing to do with 911.

Our presence in Iraq at this point is accomplishing a couple of things.

First of all, there is the “hearts and minds” issue. There are a lot of people in Iraq that are happy that we are there. We are helping them rebuild their society and showing them that the hate-mongering mullahs are full of shit.

Second, radical muslims from all over the middle east are coming to Iraq to battle the “great satan”. Usually that results in about a 20 to 1 kill ratio. Each one of them that is killed is one less that could potentially strap on a bomb to detonate in the middle of Manhattan…or Barcelona.

Some bad behavior by a very few of our soldiers has been well documented. I wish it had not happened, but it’s being dealt with. I still feel like we have the moral high ground over the animals we are battling in Iraq on a daily basis.