Imagine the day a terrorist organization announces three shipping containers loaded with nuclear devices have arrived in Los Angeles, Rotterdam, and Shanghai. The devices will detonate in 24 hours, unless the United States satisfies certain demands. The cost in lives, treasure, and international relationships could be calamitous. As the White House weighs the risks and determines a response, how much confidence will we have in the integrity of the global supply chain?
Nuclear terrorism is a threat to worldwide peace and security. Deterrence will not restrain non-state actors, for whom there is no return address. Nuclear terrorists do not adhere to the ethics of just war that have defined the international order since Westphalia. Moral equality between combatants is nonexistent, and terrorists place no value on stability among sovereign nations. The strategies and practices (and luck) that somehow prevented a nuclear exchange between nations for the preceding 71 years provides little solace today in a world in which terrorists seek these weapons. A new strategy is required.