Terror In Extremis

Issue: Nov-Dec 2008

Brian Michael Jenkins, Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? (New York: Prometheus Books, 2008), 457 pp., $26.95.


BRIAN JENKINS does not think we, as a nation, should ignore the risks associated with a nuclear terrorist attack. He does not believe the consequences would be trivial. He thinks we ought to take specific steps to reduce the likelihood of such an event occurring. But he also thinks that the probability of a nuclear terrorist attack is lower than "expert" estimates, that these estimates create an atmosphere of terror, that deterrence is still a useful defense against the threat, that by planning we can reduce the effects of an attack if it occurs, that we should stop hyping the threat and putting our civil liberties at risk, and that, in general, we ought to be less hysterical in our approach to nuclear terrorism.

In short, he sounds like the experienced field operative turned cold, calculating analyst of terrorism that he is. Jenkins seeks to overturn the emerging conventional wisdom of what constitutes the greatest threat to American security, and his arguments cannot be dismissed. But to what extent they ought to be embraced and genuinely cause us to revise our risk assessment about nuclear terrorism is a fair and important question of national security. Or, as President Bush is supposed to have asked simply, "How real is this nuclear terrorism thing?"

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