Gene Healy has a great column on the “existential” threat of terrorism:
As political scientist John Mueller notes in his recent book “Atomic Obsession,” “no state has ever given another state — even a close ally, much less a terrorist group — a nuclear weapon (or chemical, biological, or radiological one either).” And home-grown WMD tend to be ineffective.
The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo had roughly a billion dollars devoted to developing chemical and biological weapons, the most sophisticated such program in the history of terrorism. But when it released sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995, it only managed to kill 12 people.
Building a nuclear weapon is even harder. Any group trying to do so faces “Herculean challenges,” according to the Gilmore Commission, the advisory panel President Bush set up to assess terror threats in the wake of 9/11. There has been no known case, Mueller points out, of any appreciable amount of weapons-grade uranium disappearing.
None of this should be taken as a counsel of complacency. The low risk of terrorist WMD doesn’t make guarding against it a waste of time. It makes sense, for example, to boost funding for international efforts to prevent nuclear smuggling, as the Obama administration has done. But when we overreact, we’re doing terrorists’ job for them.
Conservatives understand that exaggerated fears of environmental threats make government grow and liberty shrink. They’d do well to recognize that the same dynamic applies to homeland security.