Graham Allison's Views on the Possibility of Nuclear Terrorism on American Soil


G. Stolyarov II

See Mr. Stolyarov's Index of Selected Writings, Originally Published on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices.
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2004 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007, where it received over 500 page views. To preserve a record of my writings following the shutdown of Yahoo! Voices in 2014, I have given this article a permanent presence on this page. This article should be read as a factual exposition, not an endorsement, of Graham Allison's views.

~ G. Stolyarov II, July 28, 2014

Few threats to American security today have the possibility of claiming as many human lives as nuclear terrorism, and a September 30, 2004, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations lecture by Dr. Graham Allison, a Harvard scholar, advisor to numerous Presidential administrations, and author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, highlighted this most disturbing possibility. Dr. Allison suggested that scant improvements have been made during the Bush administration to establish countermeasures to this threat, and, if United States policy regarding this matter continues on its present course, we shall be living on borrowed time.

Dr. Allison began his presentation with two stories, which he titled "Dragonfire" and "Four Million." Dragonfire was the code name of the CIA agent who, in October, 2001, alerted the United States government of the realistic suspicion that Al Qaeda had smuggled a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon into New York City. This report aroused much fear within the top tiers of the administration, and Vice President Cheney was even evacuated to a secret location to be prepared to head an alternate government in the event of a nuclear tragedy. According to Dr. Allison, the threat was quite credible, since Russia had (and still has) numerous relatively small, unaccounted for nuclear weapons, which could easily have been smuggled into New York City. As a joke, he quoted a remark by an official who claimed that the terrorists could have concealed the bomb in one of the many cases of marijuana that daily enter large American cities. Fortunately, the report proved to be false, and no traces of a nuclear weapon were found. Nevertheless, Al Qaeda is still fervently pursuing the goal of nuclear terrorism, as Dr. Allison's second story demonstrated.

"Four million" is the target number of American deaths that Al Qaeda seeks to inflict as "compensation" for perceived Western "abuses" of Muslims throughout history. The terrorists do not conceal this scheme, but proudly display it on their websites, adding the clarification that 2 million of the victims are meant to be children. To achieve such staggering death tolls, several thousand planes crashing into skyscrapers would be insufficient. Only a nuclear blast could come anywhere near actualizing Al Qaeda's target, and Bin Laden, who has called the production of nuclear weapons a "religious duty," knows this all too well. With each day that passes, North Korea is building up its nuclear arsenal, and Iran is nearing completion of its own nuclear weapons programs. Both nations are likely sellers to terrorists; the communist dictatorship of Kim Jong-Il may use its nuclear weapons sales to counterbalance a perceived American threat, while the Iranian theocracy may employ them to aid its fundamentalist brethren. But Russia, with its vast, often unguarded territory, lax security, and lack of accountability for its degrading nuclear arsenal, is by far the greatest possible source of weapons of mass destruction.

After presenting these stories, Dr. Allison outlined his solution to the nuclear terrorism problem, which he considers to be finite and manageable. His strategy consists on three points. "No loose nukes" is a policy that would seek to bring about worldwide accountability for all existing nuclear weapons, which would be guarded under conditions comparable in security to those of Fort Knox. "No new nascent nukes" implies that nations should agree not to develop new methods of enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium for nuclear weapons. "No new nuclear weapons states" sets up a categorical prohibition of any acquisitions of nuclear weapons by regimes that did not previously have them, including North Korea. Dr. Allison recommends a firmer policy with respect to North Korea, and a more resolute commitment by the Bush administration to prevent its possession of nuclear weapons at all costs. This implies forestalling not only the actual acquisition, but all the circumstances and avenues that could potentially lead North Korea to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Allison's overall assessment of the situation, however, seemed to me more pessimistic than not. He claimed that further acts of conventional terrorism on American soil were "inevitable," and that the only choice before policy makers and the public is whether or not to permit nuclear terrorism, which would have far wider-ranging implications, to occur. It seems, to the contrary, the probability of terrorism occurring on American soil has been decreased as a result of America's offensives against Al Qaeda and the regimes that supported it in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II) is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. 

In December 2013, Mr. Stolyarov published Death is Wrong, an ambitious children’s book on life extension illustrated by his wife Wendy. Death is Wrong can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

Mr. Stolyarov has contributed articles to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), The Wave Chronicle, Le Quebecois Libre, Brighter Brains Institute, Immortal Life, Enter Stage RightRebirth of Reason, The Liberal Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

In an effort to assist the spread of rational ideas, Mr. Stolyarov published his articles on Associated Content (subsequently the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices) from 2007 until Yahoo! closed this venue in 2014. Mr. Stolyarov held the highest Clout Level (10) possible on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and was one of its Page View Millionaires, with over 3,175,000 views. Mr. Stolyarov’s selected writings from that era have been preserved on this page.

Mr. Stolyarov holds the professional insurance designations of Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA), Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS), Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA), Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), Associate in Reinsurance (ARe), Associate in Regulation and Compliance (ARC), Associate in Personal Insurance (API), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), Accredited Insurance Examiner (AIE), and Associate in Insurance Accounting and Finance (AIAF).

Mr. Stolyarov has written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a philosophical treatise, A Rational Cosmology,  a play, Implied Consent, and a free self-help treatise, The Best Self-Help is Free. You can watch his YouTube Videos.Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.