Deterrence Needed; Preventing Islamofascist Attack

Article excerpt


Delegates from a dozen nations are gathered this week in Morocco for the first-ever meeting of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. The conference is expected to focus heavily on measures to control and detect nuclear materials. Among the nuclear powers that have not joined the initiative are India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Unfortunately, the preventive measures and new layers of security under discussion in Rabat are at best half-measures. One of the great ironies of the post-Cold War era is that both policy-makers and the public feel more vulnerable today, even though America's population was at far greater risk of nuclear annihilation during that 50-year long conflict. The reason is the lack of a deterrent strategy. A robust deterrent policy coupled with preventive containment measures is the key to keeping nuclear terrorism from ever happening.

What would a credible deterrent to nuclear terrorism look like? For models, we should turn to the Cold War. Both the United States and the Soviet Union gave up attempts to prevent nuclear attacks from succeeding when they signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Instead, both sides concentrated on deterring nuclear attack by developing arsenals capable of annihilating one another's population. The consequences of war were understood to be mutual assured destruction. The Soviet population was held hostage to America's Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and vice versa. The result was stability, and, retrospectively at least, relative peace of mind.

John Nash, protagonist of the hit movie "A Brilliant Mind," conceived the origins of game theory that lead to nuclear deterrence in a series of papers written in 1948 when he was still a Princeton University graduate student. In 1994, Mr. Nash won a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work. When Thomas Schelling, a Harvard University professor, originated the MAD theory of nuclear deterrence in the 1950s in his landmark book, "The Strategy of Conflict," he applied Mr. Nash's insights.

Mr. Schelling won the 2005 Nobel Prize for making his work particularly easy for policy-makers to grasp, thereby fostering the Cold War equilibrium of nuclear standoff. According to the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, a determining factor in Mr. Schelling's Nobel award was his insight that the "capability to retaliate was more useful than the ability to resist a nuclear attack."

That same logic could be adapted today to nuclear terrorism. Instead of focusing on preventive efforts to resist nuclear terrorist attack, we should focus on the kind of retaliation what game theorists call "optimal threats" that would constitute deterrence for ideologically or religiously sanctioned terrorism.

Since the North Korean nuclear test, some have called for explicit threats to retaliate against Pyongyang for any attack using a North Korean device. …