The US is the target of a serious act of war. In the short term, fierce unilateral American action is necessary to punish the perpetrators. But in the longer term, a continuation of American unilateralism would be a mistake. The real threat to the world order comes not from states, but from below - combating terrorism has to involve economic and social programs, not simply military strikes.
Tuesday's terror attacks on New York and Washington DC should bring about a major shift in US nonproliferation policies. Until now, the main goal of US nonproliferation policy has been to prevent the emergence of new nuclear nations. After Tuesday's terror attacks, however, the focus of US efforts is to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In most ways these policies are complementary and not in competition. But making the shift will pose risks and require tradeoffs.
The horrific September 11 attacks will change forever the way we assess threats to the United States. This catastrophe crossed the line from conventional terrorism to terrorism with weapons of mass destruction. The terrorists caused thousands of casualties not with chemical, biological or nuclear agents, but with aviation fuel. As the victims are recovered and remembered, the attacks should force a painful reappraisal of the threats all nations face in the 21st century.
Former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory Siegfried Hecker warns that
the enormous nuclear complex in Russia still represents the gravest danger to
the United States. At Carnegie on September 7, he detailed his list of the most
serious nuclear threats facing the country, beginning with "avoiding a nuclear
exchange" with Russia.
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