POLS 497-2—Floor Class, Fall 2005

Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe


Daniel R. Kempton                                                                 Class Information

Office: 415 Zulauf Hall                                                              Class Time: Tue. 7:00-8:15 PM

: 753-7040                                                                         Room:   Big Blue

Office Hours:    Monday, & Wednesday 10:30-12:00,

and Thursday 1:30-2:30

  e-mail: dkempton@niu.edu           



As Graham Allison suggests in his book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, the deadliest act of terrorism one can imagine is the use of a nuclear weapon against a major American city, which could easily kill a half a million people in the initial destruction.  While such an event is so awful as to seem impossible, Allison believes that given the current direction of US policy such an attack is almost inevitable.  Nonetheless, Allison believes that such a catastrophe is also preventable if his recommendations are accepted.  Students will evaluate the strength of Allison’s arguments and reach their own conclusions about nuclear terrorism.  At the end of the semester they will write a five page critical review addressing one or two of the questions raised in the book and class discussions.  Which groups are most likely to commit nuclear terrorism?  How are they likely to gain access to nuclear weapons?  How would they deliver them? Which types of weapons are they most likely to use?  Which US policies make such acts more or less likely?  Is nuclear terrorism inevitable?  Is it preventable?


Readings and assignments:

Students in the course will purchase a copy from the bookstore or on line.  For each class each student will have read the assigned chapters from Allison’s book.  Chapters must be read in advance of the class for which they are assigned.  At the beginning of each session every student will submit a one page or shorter commentary on the chapters read.  The commentary will list at least two, but no more than four, assertions made by the author in the chapters assigned for that week.  The commentaries should respond to the author’s arguments, rather than just summarize them.  Please tell why you agree, or disagree with the author’s assertions.  The weekly commentaries will count for a combined 25% of the final grade.  Commentaries must be printed and students shall keep a copy of each commentary for their own use.



In class participation is an important component of the class and will count for 25% of the final grade.  Each week two students will be assigned as discussants.  Their role will be to present the chapters assigned for that week.  The presentations should include the same information called for in the commentaries.  In short, the presentations should not be mere summaries.  Instead, give your assessment of the arguments presented in the reading.



At the end of the semester each student will submit a 3-5 page essay which answers two of the questions presented above.  All arguments must be supported by the evidence presented in the book, or elsewhere.  Arguments from the book can be cited with in sentence citations for example (Allison, 2004, p. 37), or with any regular format for citations.  The essay will count for 50% of the course grade.


Late papers will be down graded 1/3 letter grade for each day they are late.


Course Outline:

Session 1:       Defining Terrorism and Distribution of Syllabi

Sep. 6


Session 2:       Which Groups have the means & ability?

Sep. 20             Introduction and Chapter 1.


Session 3:       Which weapons & how they are acquired?

Oct. 4               Allison, Chapters 2 & 3


Session 4:       How soon? How can they be delivered?

Oct. 18             Allison, Chapters 4 & 5


Session 5:       Current US policies and their impact

Nov. 1              Allison, Chapters 6 & 7


Session 6:       Preventing Nuclear Terrorism

Nov. 15                        Allison, Chapter 8 & Conclusion


Nov. 29                        Paper is Due!