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Columbia University Press

New York

Columbia University Press

Publishers Since 1893

New York   Chichester, West Sussex


Copyright © 2006 Fred Charles Iklé

All rights reserved

E-ISBN 978-0-231-51140-7

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Iklé, Fred Charles.

Annihilation from within :

the ultimate threat to nations / Fred Charles Iklé.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-231-13952-7 (cloth : alk. paper)

1. Security, International. 2. Technology—Social aspects.

3. Terrorism. 4. Radicalism. 5. Nuclear disarmament.

I. Title.   JZ5595.I35  2006

355′.033—dc22     2006019331

A Columbia University Press E-book.

CUP would be pleased to hear about your reading experience with this e-book at cup-ebook@columbia.edu.


What This Book Is About

1 Mankind’s Cultural Split

2 Science Pushes Us Over the Brink

3 Five Lessons of the Nuclear Age

4 Annihilation from Within

5 Time to Get Serious

6 Restoration





THE STORY LINE OF THIS BOOK IS AT ONCE FORWARD-LOOKING AND HISTORICAL. The prospect ahead features revolutionary new threats to national security and could end in demolition of the existing world order. Looking backward, the story traces this coming upheaval to historic forces that have been centuries in the making. Today’s menaces—jihadist terrorism, rogue nations producing nuclear bombs—may be viewed as mere symptoms of these forces, as the rustling wind that foretells the gathering storm. Few military strategists and political experts have grasped the dimensions of the storm awaiting us. Fewer still are mindful of its historic evolution.

The emerging crisis is the outgrowth of technological progress. It reflects the dark side of progress. Globalization guarantees the ceaseless spread of new technologies, whether beneficial or destructive. The nuclear age offers the clearest lesson of this problem. Until the end of the Cold War, it appeared that we were somehow managing the nuclear threat. Over a span of half a century, the political and military leaders of the nuclear powers were able to pursue strategies that averted the use of nuclear weapons. Their long-run success in maintaining the regime of “non-use” is one of the greatest achievements in the history of military strategy.

Alas, the world is now different. After our stressful journey through the Cold War—a journey with a happy ending—we now face a ghastly new predicament. One nation after another is starting up nuclear programs, allegedly for peaceful purposes, but often and obviously as a stratagem for getting to an arsenal of nuclear weapons. And the proliferation problem does not end there. A cascade of frightening news reports tells us that the control of national governments over nuclear materials and bombs is far from secure. The inescapable subtext of these reports is that, all too soon, we must expect these weapons to be acquired by doomsday cults, anarchists, and terrorist gangs.

Other technologies, not yet on the radar screens of the world’s media, will be even more resistant to political control. It is well known that immensely beneficial advances in the life sciences can be misused to develop biological weapons. But the most revolutionary impact of the life sciences might be the most difficult to control: the conquest of the human mind by brain science. A vast enhancement in intelligent decision-making might be just decades away. Some powerful nations have already built elaborate command and decision centers that exploit the capabilities of the latest computer systems. As day follows night, these projects will gradually take advantage of the rapid advances in brain science to complement the strengths of computers with the unique capabilities of the human brain. If these projects are successful, they will achieve a superhuman intelligence able to trump the performance of first-rate human experts and the latest super-computers. Any such leap forward in intelligent decision-making would be a change comparable to the evolution from primates to Homo sapiens. The transition would pose the most fundamental challenge to all religions. It would upend human civilization. It would instantly obliterate all previous notions about relative national power. And in light of our experience with nuclear proliferation, it would be absurd to expect the United Nations to “control” this new intelligence. Today, the United States uses computerized command centers for its military leaders, while China is experimenting with computerized decision centers that can serve both the military and its political leadership. If China moved ahead of America in the race to develop superhuman intelligence systems, would the U.S. Government wait for UN approval to catch up?

Today, our policymakers and analysts are preoccupied with terrorist attacks by militant Islamists. These attacks, often by suicide bombers, have been painful and enormously costly for the victims, but they cannot defeat established democracies or indeed any nation that is not already a failed state. The fact is that contemporary Islamic terrorism does not have a strategy for victory. It is swayed by impulses animated by a fervidness for revenge and religious utopias. It is as if these jihadist terrorists—enraged by their impotence—seek gratification from bloodshed and self-immolation. While these murderous assaults hurt us, they also spur us to increase our military power and to strengthen the defense of our homeland. What does not kill us makes us stronger.

Yet terrorists, anarchists, and other evildoers seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and some of them are bound to succeed. Most of them will merely want to use these weapons to inflict immense damage without knowing how to achieve a lasting victory. But keep in mind that, throughout history, mankind had to suffer the depredations of leaders who can rally throngs of followers and intimidate the masses. The twentieth century offers vivid examples. Among such historic evildoers, the most relevant in this context are Lenin and Hitler. The greatest threat to the world order in this century will be the next Hitler or Lenin, a charismatic leader who combines utter ruthlessness with a brilliant strategic sense, cunning, and boundless ambition—and who gains control over just a few weapons of mass destruction.

This new threat, still offstage, now awaits us. Any such evil but charismatic leader will be able to

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