Nuclear Terrorism and Probability

Jeffrey has a good “post”: about the “Allison/Levi exchange on”: abut nuclear terrorism. He correctly points out that the debate should be “about a particular policy that might be controversial—say, domestic nuclear detection efforts.”

I’ve always thought that, from a policy perspective, the risk of nuclear terrorism does not make much difference – we should do things like fissile material control, threat reduction, and counter-terrorism anyway. The exception may be for things like nuclear detection programs.

Jeffrey (and Matt Bunn) point out that

probabilistic models [of a nuclear terrorist attack] are only useful to identify the optimal allocation of resources in deterring, preventing and responding to nuclear terrorist attacks. As Matt Bunn said in the comments on an earlier post:

… a systematic approach helps in focusing the discussion, identifying areas of disagreement, identifying areas where additional information would reduce the range of uncertainty, and, yes, offering an at least somewhat more focused approach to assessing which policy options might be most important.

My point is that the universe of policy options to which the actual probability of a terrorist attack is relevant seems to me to be pretty small.

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