Europe Simulates Nuclear Hit

IHT: What If? Europe Simulates Qaeda Nuclear Hit

European officials have conducted a simulation showing how Al Qaeda could kill 40,000 people and plunge the continent into chaos if a crude nuclear device were detonated outside NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“We are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe,” said the former U.S. senator Sam Nunn, who helped organize the exercise, named Black Dawn. “To win this race, we have to achieve cooperation on a scale we’ve never seen or attempted before.”

Nunn spoke to reporters Tuesday, a day after the closed-door war games, which were attended by top officials including the European Union’s security chief, Javier Solana, and his new counterterrorism coordinator, Gijs de Vries.

In the first part of the scenario, European officials were asked how they would respond to intelligence that Al Qaeda had obtained enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.

In the second, they were confronted with computer projections and video displays illustrating the impact of terrorists exploding the device at NATO’s headquarters on the outskirts of Brussels, immediately killing 40,000 people, overwhelming hospitals with hundreds of thousands of injured, spreading panic through Europe and plunging the world economy into turmoil.


Nunn appealed to the Europeans to step up funding for increased protection at sites where weapons-grade uranium and plutonium are stored – particularly in former Soviet states.

He said that preventing Al Qaeda from getting its hands on such material was the best chance of stopping it from building a bomb.

“It’s well within Al Qaeda’s operational capabilities to recruit the technical expertise needed to build a crude nuclear devise,” he said. “The hard part is getting the nuclear material, but we do not make it nearly hard enough.”

Rather sobering. One wonders if the EU will actually follow through on this; somehow, I doubt it.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sam says:

    But why would Al Qaeda hit NATO headquarters? While NATO might be a symbol, the headquarters is nearly an anonymous office building.

    I sure can think of a number of economic, political, and cultural targets in Europe which would also likely to have much higher casualties.