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Does Nuclear Deterrence Apply in the Age of Terrorism?

Does Nuclear Deterrence Apply in the Age of Terrorism?

By Adam Garfinkle, Editor, The American Interest

Reviewed by David T. Jones, co-author of Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs


Adam Garfinkle's analytic/philosophical lecture entitled, "Does Nuclear Deterrence Apply in the Age of Terrorism?" expends considerable effort on definitions. He chops through a labyrinth of sub-issues such as whether actually we live in an "age of terrorism," what effect terrorism has on nuclear weapons states, and even what is "deterrence."

Perhaps such intellectual excursions are de rigueur for a lecture such as Mr. Garfinkle delivered for the Foreign Policy Research Institute; however, it gives the eager reader a sense that he is incinerating straw men of his own devising before getting to "the meat." And the meat, essentially, is whether nuclear weapons can deter terrorism.

Here Mr. Garfinkle temporizes: "The answer is variably maybe; it depends; probably not most of the time." Again, Garfinkle resorts to contextual analysis. He notes, "There is no automatic, universally guaranteed static formula for deterrence."

Basically for deterrence to function, there must be agreement on the "rules"--and for terrorists there are no rules. However, if the terrorist (Hamas, Hezbollah) is involved in a social framework that it values, perhaps the threat of damage to that framework can deter. Al Qaeda is not so involved, thus it is a harder problem. In that regard, Garfinkle suggests that the prospect of swift, violent retaliation against a state sponsor/ally of a terrorist organization might be a deterrent for any state so contemplating. Almost tongue-in-cheek, he suggests that the threat of violent sanctions could reverse the normal function of deterrence: Instead of preserving our friends, it can damage enemies by threatening their friends.

More generally Garfinkle is dismissive of the likelihood of nuclear terrorism ("the threat of nuclear terrorism is very remote") and he sees greater concern with the prospect of cheap and easy attack with bio weapons where specific origins of the attack could be impossible to trace and retaliation hence equally impossible.

So far as prescriptions are concerned, Garfinkle is more than a bit bloody-minded. Are there greedy engineers, scientists, financiers supporting terrorists? Kill them. Work to divide and divert prospective terrorists with "false flag" operations and dud weapons. (We've seen more than a few proto-terrorist groups in the United States rolled up by the equivalent of entrapment--thus teaching other potential terrorists to be suspicious of everyone.) Against apocalyptic terrorists who have no return address, no assets to protect, and who may actually want to die, he dryly notes "the only thing we can reliably do to deter them is to kill them before they can hurt us."

More essentially he urges an intellectual toughening of the U.S. population. We are, in his view, terrorizing ourselves. We need to prepare populations to cope with disasters, natural and man-made. We should stop doing the terrorists' job for them by projecting the attitude that we are frightened--and thus might be frightened into submission, explicit or implicit, and into accepting terrorist objectives.
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Author:Jones, David T.
Publication:American Diplomacy
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 23, 2009
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