Author: Charles D. Ferguson, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Science and Technology
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Council on Foreign Relations Press
Council Special Report No. 11
A nuclear attack by terrorists against the United States has the potential to make the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, look like a historical footnote.
In addition to the immediate horrific devastation, such an attack could cost trillions of dollars in damages, potentially sparking a global economic depression. Although, during the 2004 presidential campaign, President George W. Bush and Democratic challenger Senator John F. Kerry agreed that terrorists armed with nuclear weapons worried them more than any other national security threat, the U.S. government has yet to elevate nuclear terrorism prevention to the highest priority. Despite several U.S. and international programs to secure nuclear weapons and the materials to make them, major gaps in policy remain.
This report makes clear what is needed to reduce the possibility of nuclear terrorism. It identifies where efforts have fallen short in securing and eliminating nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear materials, and it offers realistic recommendations to plug these gaps in the U.S. and international response. The result is a clear primer on a critical subject and a set of practical proposals that policymakers would be wise to consider carefully.
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Charles D. Ferguson is a fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and an adjunct lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to the Council, he was scientist-in-residence at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. At the Center, he codirected a project that systemically assessed how to prevent and respond to nuclear and radiological terrorism. This project’s major findings were published in The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (Routledge, 2005). He is also the lead author of the award-winning report Commercial Radioactive Sources: Surveying the Security Risks, which examined the threat of radiological dispersal devices, such as “dirty bombs.”
In addition, Dr. Ferguson has worked on nuclear safety issues in the Nonproliferation Bureau at the U.S. Department of State and analyzed nonproliferation and arms control issues at the Federation of American Scientists. He has done scientific research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the University of Maryland. After graduating with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy, he served as a nuclear engineering officer on a ballistic-missile submarine. He holds a PhD in physics from Boston University.