July 14th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER: Singapore's economic lessons for Australia

Canberra Observed: Electoral map shows uphill battle for Coalition

Falling fertility debate reignited

Dissenters highlight dangers in UN report

Cloning: how far will states ban go?

Keep the single selling desk for wheat

The Media

Straws in the Wind

Letter: Export figures disputed

Minister resists competition push

Mass destruction in the future

Manufacturing and the sinew of war

Is corporate cost cutting becoming lethal?

French applaud 35-hour week

Books: Colonial Consorts, by Marguerite Hancock

Books: The China Threat - How the People's Republic Targets America, Bill Gertz

Letter: Barley story wrong

Letter: Trade, US-style

Letter: Riddle solved

Books promotion page

Mass destruction in the future

by W.C. Wentworth

News Weekly, July 14, 2001
The ghost of French Cabinet Minister Andre Maginot may well be walking the corridors of the White House today. As President Bush prepares his Missile Shield for the United States, the Minister could be reminding him of how his own Maginot Line failed to save France from Hitler.

In the 1930s, France, fearing an attack from its German neighbour, built an ''impregnable" line of defence behind the frontier between them. This "Maginot Line" was never tested, because Hitler simply sent his Blitzkrieg around the northern end of it, and within a few days was occupying Paris and accepting the French capitulation.

It is unlikely that President Bush's Missile Shield can be completed in fewer than five years.

When it is, it may or may not be more impregnable than the untested Maginot Line would have been in 1940. But that will not matter, because it is clear that there will be ways of getting round it.

Those ways could include the use of either atomic or other weapons.

For instance, a seemingly innocent merchant ship could enter New York Harbour on a suicide mission.

Before any custom inspection, it could explode the bomb it was carrying.
Such a bomb could devastate New York.

We have been accustomed to think in terms of fission bombs, like the one which destroyed a few square miles of Hiroshima. But once you have a bomb like that it is not so difficult to use it as a trigger for a fusion device.

By adding additional fusion material (e.g. lithium six deuteride) the power of explosion can be made unlimited.

No major fusion ("thermonuclear") device has been tested for the last 40 years, when the Americans were so appalled by the results of their 1954 Bikini Atoll experiment that they have kept relatively quiet about it ever since. Some work has been done both on increasing and decreasing the radioactive effects from thermonuclear explosion.

So a ship-borne device, positioned a few miles from Manhattan, could effectively destroy the New York conurbation.

The power of such destruction also provides the opportunity for blackmail. Once the vessel had been stationed, threats publicly expressed, would make it very difficult to refuse "reasonable" terms of settlement.

No doubt, during negotiations, clandestine attempts could be made to destroy thc bomb-bearing ship before it has an opportunity to explode the device, but the success of such attempts could not be guaranteed, whereas the price of failure might he unacceptable.

Most large cities are on the coast, but an "innocent" cargo plane could serve just as well as a ship.
Such scenarios would not be the only or indeed the most likely way of bypassing President Bush's "new Maginot Line".

Biological attack seems to be the main danger.

In the next five years (i.e. before a Missile Ship could be fully operative) gene manipulation will be making further advances.

The creation of some virulent and novel pathological organism is only too probable. After all, the genetic differences between chicken pox and smallpox are not fundamental.

Quarantine precautions can give substantial protection against chance spread of disease, but they can give virtually no protection against the deliberate spread, without a complete ban on international intercourse.

An aggressor couId prepare in advance remedial measures against its own biological war, but the victim of aggression, not knowing what it must provide against, would not he similarly advantaged.

The Bush Shield would be by passed by biological weapons, but this is far from the end of the matter. Against such weapons (which could be made by the individual terrorist), there seems to be no effective protection at all.

Technical advances are now proceeding at such pace that humanity (or such portion of humanity, which may survive a disaster) may have to contemplate new organisations and outlook.

Once they get out of the bottle, the behaviour of genes is difficult to predict.

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