a terrorist mushroom cloud
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
The images of the hijacked planes crashing into the
World Trade Center are nightmare images of unspeakable
horror that will forever be a part of our
Imagine, however, another nightmare -- that of a
mushroom cloud rising over an American city. This is a
threat we can no longer ignore. Perhaps today citizens
and leaders alike will better understand the seriousness
of the nuclear threat.
Our leaders have failed to grasp that our present
nuclear weapons policies contribute to the possibility of
nuclear terrorism against our country. Large nuclear
arsenals do not protect us any more than a missile shield
would have prevented the attacks against the World Trade
Center or the Pentagon.
In 1998 India and Pakistan both demonstrated their
nuclear capabilities. Pakistan, which borders on
Afghanistan, is now the only country in the world to
recognize the Taliban regime. Should there be a US led
war in Afghanistan, it is possible that the Pakistani
government could fall to extremists linked to the
Taliban, thus putting nuclear weapons into the hands of a
regime that might well support and harbor terrorists.
Up to now, the Bush Administration's primary response
to the nuclear threat has been to push for a national
missile shield costing billions of dollars, the
technology of which is unproven, and which would at best
be years away from implementation. A missile shield would
likely do irreparable harm to our relations with other
countries, countries that we need to join us in the fight
against international terrorism, including Russia.
The mad nuclear arms race during the Cold War, and the
paltry steps taken to reverse it since the end of the
Cold War, have left tens of thousands of nuclear weapons
potentially available to terrorists. Today there is no
accurate inventory of the world's nuclear arsenals or
weapons-grade fissile materials suitable for making
nuclear weapons. Estimates have it, however, that there
are currently some 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world.
We simply don't know whether these weapons are adequately
controlled, or whether some could already have fallen
into the hands of terrorists.
A US blue ribbon commission, headed by former Senate
majority leader Howard Baker, has called for spending $3
billion a year over the next ten years to maintain
control of the nuclear weapons, nuclear materials and
nuclear scientists in the former Soviet Union. The Bush
administration had planned to cut funding for this
program from $1.2 billion to $800 million next year.
The US government was put on notice that the World
Trade Center was a target of attack by terrorists after
an unsuccessful attempt to topple the Trade Center towers
in 1993. Yet, despite this previous attempt to destroy
the World Trade Center, our intelligence services were
ineffectual in protecting it in the face of determined
and suicidal terrorists.
Can we continue to ignore the determination of those
who hate this country? Is there any reason to believe
that they would not seek to attack the United States with
nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction if
they could obtain them?
More than ten years after the end of the Cold War we
and the Russians still have more than 10,000 nuclear
weapons each with a total of some 4,500 of them on
hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired in moments. The
Russians have been urging the US to move faster in
reducing the size of the nuclear arsenals in both
countries, while we have been largely indifferent to
Since the inauguration of the Bush presidency, the US
has been increasing its unilateralism, demonstrating its
disregard for international law. But we cannot combat
terrorism unilaterally, and our disregard for the rule of
law will only cause others to follow in our footsteps,
making the world an even more dangerous place.
Our response to the despicable terrorism perpetrated
against us must be multilateral and consistent with the
rule of international law. We should urge the United
Nations to convene a World Peace Conference of leaders of
all nations to find solutions to the outstanding problems
of war and other forms of violence. Unless these problems
are solved we will never be able to eradicate
Our vulnerability demands that we hear from and
respond to all who have grievances. We need justice under
the law, but acts of vengeance will only make matters
worse, leading to even greater threat. "The chain
reaction of evil &endash; hate begetting hate, wars
producing more wars &endash; must be broken," said Martin
Luther King, Jr., "or we shall be plunged into the dark
abyss of annihilation."
None of us wants to awaken to see the image of a
mushroom cloud and know that one of our cities has been
destroyed. The destruction of the World Trade Center
should send powerful warning signals.
The elimination of nuclear weapons can no longer be a
back-burner issue. The danger of the use of nuclear
weapons has actually increased in the wake of the
terrorist threats. We must act to reduce and eliminate
the nuclear arsenals of the world as if our very futures
depended upon it because it is clear that they do.
David Krieger, an attorney and political scientist, is
President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. For
further perspectives on the terrorist attacks and ideas
on waging peace, visit the Foundation's web site at
You may write to David
Krieger at <email@example.com>
© TFF 2001 & the author
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