10 Questions: Global Instability

Will civil strife in Lebanon lead to another long civil war? Does the United States have any good options left to bring democracy to Iraq? And what's the chance of a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States? Graham Allison, a founding dean at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, weighs in on those issues and more. He's the subject of this week's 10 Questions.

1. Graham, we've heard a lot about battles between the government and Islamists leading to a possible new civil war in Lebanon. The government there is asking America for $280 million in aid to help end the uprising. What are the consequences of this fighting for the United States?

The fighting between the Sinora-led government of Lebanon and the Fatah al-Islam group in the Palestinian refugee camp is extremely dangerous. It risks igniting a new civil war in Lebanon. Recall the Palestinian fuse that ignited the last civil war that lasted 15 years and led to 100,000 dead.

2. And staying on the subject of the Middle East, we've learned more this week about Israel having to deal with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Put this into perspective for us. How far have we come from the point at which peace seemed possible, and what can America do now?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should redouble her efforts to persuade Israel and the Palestinian Authority to fulfill their promises made as part of the Roadmap to Peace process. Failure to have a high-level, full-time American working 24/7 on this issue has contributed significantly to what we are now seeing.

3. The Saudis reinvigorated their famous 2002 plan to give the Israelis full Arab recognition in exchange for full withdrawal from the 1967 borders. Can either side find enough breathing space to be able to seriously consider a negotiated settlement?

Yes. History is full of seemingly implacable enemies who learned to live peacefully side by side. However, a final solution must take into account realities on the ground.

4. You've written a terrific book on nuclear terrorism. Which almost every major politician agrees is America's biggest security threat. How safe are we? Have we locked down the so-called "loose nukes"?

While the Bush administration has taken some important steps to reduce the danger of a nuclear attack by terrorists, terrorists have also been active.

All things considered, the risks of a nuclear 9/11 are as great as they were before the attack on the World Trade Center. On current paths, I believe that there is a greater than 50 percent chance of a nuclear terrorist attack against the United States in the next seven years.

5. Still on the subject of nuclear weapons, if you were working in the administration today, what would you do differently to try to prevent Iran from being able to go nuclear?

Preventing Iranian completion of its nuclear infrastructure will require a combination of enticing incentives and credible threats to persuade Tehran to accept a "grand bargain" for denuclearization. The U.S. should engage Iran in direct negotiations in coordination with a six-party complement that includes the EU3 and Russia. President Bush must be prepared to provide a security assurance to Iran if and when it gives up its nuclear weapons program.

6. Is the deal America struck with North Korea actually working, in your view?

No. The Feb. 13 agreement is a sound framework in which the five parties provide fuel oil, financial assistance, and diplomatic recognition to North Korea in exchange for its verifiable nuclear dismantlement. That the very first step is six weeks behind schedule, however, suggests that while the agreement may succeed in closing the research reactor that is providing more plutonium, North Korea will retain the ten bombs worth of plutonium for many years to come.

7. Now onto Iraq: Are there any good options left?

No. There are no good options for the United States. The outcome in Iraq ultimately depends on whether or not all factions of the Iraqi political leadership will make the difficult compromises to forge an effective government. Unfortunately, that is not likely.

8. What would happen if American troops withdrew and the Sunni-Shia fighting in Iraq spills out to become a broader war?

It is unlikely that the Iraqi civil war will spill out onto the neighboring countries. What is more likely is that neighbors will provide money and arms to their sectarian brethren.

9. The British have accused an ex-KGB agent of poisoning the anti-Putin activist Alexander Litvinenko. Is it time to reassess America's close relationship with President Putin?

Russia and the U.S. share vital national interests that can only be defended by deep Russian-American cooperation. Among these, none is more important than preventing nuclear terrorism, preventing nuclear proliferation, preventing accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons and continuing to reduce the size of nuclear forces in both countries.

10. What should the next president's top foreign policy priority be?

Starting on Jan. 20, 2009, the next president should make preventing nuclear terrorism his or her highest national priority, and undertake all conceivable actions on the fastest possible timetable to do so.