Leiden Safety and Security Blog

Harvard professor Graham Allison on nuclear security issues

Harvard professor Graham Allison on nuclear security issues

Saturday March 8, 2014, professor Graham Allison gave a lecture on the threat of nuclear security at Leiden University, Faculty Campus The Hague. The event was part of a number of meetings to raise awareness and inform students and the general public about nuclear security issues in general and nuclear terrorism in particular. It was organized against the backdrop of the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit 2014.

Graham Allison, professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is not only a renowned scholar in the field of international relations and security, but also has much first-hand experience as policy maker. Amongst others, he was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans (1993–1994) coordinating strategy and policy towards the states of the former Soviet Union. In this capacity, he had the opportunity to see for himself and do something about the risks posed by stockpiles of (weapon grade) nuclear materials and small nuclear weapons.

Perhaps it is this background that allows Allison to be able to sound the alarm bell about nuclear terrorism, without being an alarmist. In his presentation at Leiden University, he pointed at the various threats and challenges, such as the fact that highly enriched uranium is still used by industry and in research facilities or the growing number of challenges to the Non Proliferation Treaty regime – think of the situation regarding Iran and North Korea. At the same time, Allison also produced a list of positive developments  including the weakening of Al Qaeda central command in Pakistan and Afghanistan, examples of resilience and adaptation of the system of global nuclear order and the Nuclear Security Summits that have put the issue of nuclear terrorism on the international agenda.

This particular threat, according to Allison, can be reduced significantly if world leaders will implement a strategy for preventing nuclear terrorism organized under a doctrine of 'Three No’s': no loose nukes; no new nascent nukes; and no new nuclear weapons states. At the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, world leaders could improve nuclear security by reducing stockpiles of hazardous nuclear material around the world; better securing nuclear material; and intensifying international cooperation – the three main goals of this summit. Allison warned that there is still much work to be done and that without doing so, world peace and security remain at risk. He clearly stressed that it can only be 'The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe' (the title of his key publication on nuclear terrorism) if we take the necessary steps. With this warning in mind, we can only hope that the world leaders will do what is needed on the 24th and 25th of March.

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