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Saturday, October 22, 2005

No nuclear Insight

Outstanding "Insight" story on Stuff. A bunch of billionaires getting together to produce a film about the nuclear threat to America posed by al Qaeda. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, Ted Turner is a bit of a whack job but he can do what he likes and this is better than cuddling up to Kim Jong Il. But I have to wonder if the film is as it is spun by the writer (notably NRO was neither hot or cold on it)

Warren Buffett is a turbulent tycoon. The American super-investor is worth about $60 billion only Bill Gates is richer and thinks the wealthy should pay more tax. "The rich people are doing so well in this country," he told CNN in May. "I mean, we never had it so good. It's class warfare ... My class is winning, but they shouldn't be."
That is the first paragraph, get one of the billionaires to say increase taxes. Like the IRS is going to turn down a personal cheque from Messrs Buffett and co.
If this brings him up against tax-cutting George Bush, so do Buffett's nuclear opinions. He and CNN founder Ted Turner have ganged up with senators and statesmen to campaign against Bush's policy over "loose nukes". Insecure nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel scattered around the world, they say, could fall into the hands of terrorists. Al Qaeda, they warn, could launch a mushroom cloud over Manhattan and Bush is not doing enough to prevent it.
Ah yes, there we go. Tax cuts by Bush are imperiling Manhattan. While funding of the Nunn-Lugar program has been reduced, its ambit has also been expanded beyond Russia. Additionally, what exactly is Russia doing itself? After all they are not exactly low on the target list when it comes to Islamic terrorists and present a much easier target than the US. But we get to that, sort of,
One scenario involves an impoverished Russian nuclear soldier, expecting his third child, offered five years' salary to provide nuclear weapons for terrorists. Russia's nuclear elite, pampered and cosseted in communist USSR, has shared in the economic woe and falling wages of free-market Russia.
Ah yes, the evil free market has impoverished the nuclear soldier. Never mind that Russia is a kleptocracy run by gangsters and ex-KGB hardmen with little free market. A free market requires little things, you know, like rule of law to function. However that seems to be mostly the emphasis of the hack writing the "insight", most of what I've read about the film from any source is that it is interesting but lacking.
Nunn, who has devoted his retirement to campaigning on this issue, heads the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a think-tank funded by billionaire Turner. While Bush has done much to shut down the threat of loose nukes in the former Soviet Union and in other nuclear states, says Nunn, he has not done enough.
So actually Bush has done a lot, but not enough, at least in Nunn's opinion. So maybe that tax cut, free market bullshit back at the top was somewhat exaggerated? Nice how he avoids mentioning places by name, conveniently wrapped up in "nuclear states", over which Nunn-Lugar has no effect. But what are the chances of someone like Iran, North Korea, the former Iraq, Pakistan etc losing a few kilos of uranium? Oh, but that wouldn't fit the story too well now. But I like this
They also said inadequate security for nuclear weapons was a global problem: "Many of the more than 130 HEU-fuelled (highly enriched uranium) research reactors round the world have little more security on-site than a night watchman and a chain-link fence."
Other countries are easier targets than the US, Moscow must be a juicy prospect for central Asian militants with porous borders and dodgy governments everywhere. Now why is the vaunted UN not in there paying to secure Russian sites or transporting the stuff away? What is the Nobel prize winning IAEA doing here? Surely this is precisely what a multinational organisation should be doing. Then out come the NZ experts
Former New Zealand diplomat Terence O'Brien wonders whether the threat from "loose nukes" is exaggerated. To equate the risk of a terrorist blast with the nuclear threat during the Cold War, for instance, is wrong, he says. A terrorist blast might destroy a city a dreadful prospect, but not the same as global incineration.
Of course it isn't, but to the millions of citizens of the unlucky city it won't look much different. Anyway, what does a Cold War style Armageddon have to do with this? No one ever compared them until now.
He says the fear a dictator such as North Korea's Jim Jong-Il might give a nuke to al Qaeda is unreal. "He'd get wiped off the map by the US and others."
Deterence works if (1) the opponents aren't barking mad paranoids and (2) they think they won't be able to get away with it. Do I fell lucky? Well do you punk?
Finally, he asks, would al Qaeda want to up the ante with nuclear weapons "when in their terms they're not doing too badly now"?
Why would they, except they have tried to obtain the materials before and are not entirely caring about deterence and place great value on symbolic acts. Additionally they are not doing that well and a pyhrric victory is quite appealing to the zealot with the promise of an eternal afterlife of happiness.
But there would be symbolic value in a nuclear attack. "Certainly, a small mushroom cloud over Grand Central Station would freeze the blood."
So which is it? Bush's tax cuts and the free market imperiling civilisation, or not really that much to worry about at all? Or maybe something a bit more complicated than the author could be bothered writing?

From what I've read the film might be worth a watch, but apparently 24 is more realistic. Doesn't make for a good old piece of nonsense political writing though, I suppose. It is also a bit sad when a film like Team America:World Police offers more relevant insight into these matters than an "Insight" column.

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Posted by Chefen | 10/22/2005 06:48:00 AM


Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

That stupid statement is enough for me to never pay attention to Terence O'Brien again.

The Communists didn't launch spectacular mass murder attacks on Westerners so everyone else on the planet would pay attention and be scared of them. They also had much to lose from launching a nuke attack.

Al Qaeda on the other hand...

10/22/2005 11:13:00 AM  

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