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Could worse be yet to come?

Nov 1st 2001 | CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS From The Economist print edition

Whether or not Osama bin Laden has acquired nuclear weapons, Graham Allison* argues that the world must respond as though he has—and without delay

AL-QAEDA'S terrorist assault on September 11th awakened Americans to the stark reality of mega-terrorism: terrorist acts that kill thousands of people at a single stroke. In the twinkling of an eye, possibilities earlier dismissed as analysts' (or Hollywood's) fantasies became brute fact. President George Bush rightly and resolutely declared war on Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and their Taliban hosts.

Yet as the American government scrambles to pursue a war for which it had not prepared, it must, in the idiom, “go with what we've got”. Assembling an international coalition of very strange bedfellows, acquiring intelligence from sources and by methods it had mostly neglected, and jerry-rigging defences against the most obvious vulnerabilities, it gallops off in all directions. It does so without a comprehensive assessment of the threats it now faces, and lacking a coherent strategy for combating mega-terrorism.

In contrast, Mr bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network have been thinking, planning and training for this war for most of a decade. September 11th demonstrated a level of imagination, sophistication and audacity previously thought impossible by the American, or any other, government. As the press has reported, just a year ago the FBI had assured the administration that it had a “handle” on all al-Qaeda operatives within the United States.

Long article. Here is the URL.


-- Martin Thompson (, November 01, 2001

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