Graham Allison, who has for years been issuing graves warnings about the danger of nuclear terrorism, writes about last week’s nuclear security summit in Washington:
With all the immediate challenges demanding President Obama’s attention today, his choice to invest so much of his own mind-share and political capital in an issue seemingly so remote is remarkable.
We are accustomed to the triumph of the urgent over the important. In assembling the largest number of heads of foreign governments by an American president since FDR invited leaders to San Francisco to create the United Nations, this president demonstrated his ability to distinguish between the vivid and the vital.
The question remains: So what? How is the world different today? How will it be different a year from now?
To score this undertaking, it is necessary to assess performance on four dimensions. First, what is the single largest national security threat to the lives of American citizens? Far-fetched as it still appears to many, President Obama’s answer is unambiguous. As he said Monday: Nuclear terrorism is “the single biggest threat to U.S. security, short term, medium term and long term.”
Nuclear terrorism — a bigger threat to American security than climate change? Hardly.
The critical difference is that unlike the threat of nuclear terrorism, with climate change there will probably be no singlular event that will result in any particular political leader being called to task to explain how they could have allowed this unfolding calamity to happen.
So when it comes to the exercises in self-protection that consume a significant amount of time and energy for the world’s political leaders, the issue of nuclear terrorism is indeed more vexing than climate change. Obama’s attention to this issue does not — at least as far as I’m concerned — indicate his willingness to distinguish between the vivid and the vital.