Walker would have done well to include a broader history of the invention and testing of nuclear weaponry. The science behind the bomb is barely mentioned. Any eager scientist or physicist would likely be forced to venture to the library for a better film or for better literature on nuclear physics.
A nuclear holocaust can occur at any time, at any place and at the hands of a sane person or a madman with a death wish (formerly Saddam Hussein and currently Kim Jon Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). With this point hitting home, the narrators begin delving into the status of nuclear security globally.
One of the key narrators is Valerie Plame Wilson (the subject of much controversy for her outing in the American press as a deep cover CIA agent). She addresses the horrifying terrorist bombings in Madrid, London, Kenya, Mumbai, Bali, Riyadh, Buenos Aires, Oklahoma City, and in New York City. It is her assessment that if any terrorist group could have acquired a nuclear weapon they would have used it immediately without any hesitation. Al Qaeda wants to ruin us. One of the hallmarks of Countdown to Zero is its presentation of statements from the former leaders of nuclearized nations including: Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Pervez Musharraf and Tony Blair.
Perhaps the most interesting and revealing segments are the interviews of ordinary citizens from all countries and walks of life. When asked about how they feel about the existence of nuclear arms in the hands of unstable countries most are resigned to the fact that any outcome could happen but they have no control. If they cannot control the detonation of a deadly weapon why bother contemplating the horrific result every day? This is a nice transition into how the most devious can acquire deadly weapons. Nuclear materials can be stolen, purchased or built.
Another contributor Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (a former CIA operative) expresses shocked that terrorists are trying to construct bombs. I cannot detect any sarcasm on his part but how can anybody feel shocked that terrorists have a global death wish and particularly for Israelis and Americans? There is naiveté and obfuscation and this is obviously the latter.
Perhaps the crux of the entire film is the sounding of the alarm bell over nuclear theft. Many nations such as the former Soviet Union are vulnerable to nuclear materials burglary. Many stockpiles of the ingredients such as enriched uranium are unprotected and are waiting to be captured. Another narrator, a Harvard professor explains that former Soviet sites are often unguarded with no alarms or security personnel protecting them. Most black market sales are tracked and caught but how many occur under our noses?
Uranium can be easily smuggled to the Middle East and to Afghanistan. It should be noted that some of the interviewees have their faces concealed to protect their identities and lives. This should not convince anyone these are important witnesses willing to risk their lives to unveil the nuclear secrets of the Middle East. There are articles everyday about Iran’s nuclear program and Israel provides intelligence daily to the U.S. and its other supposed “allies” about their progress in constructing a functional missile.
Author Lawrence Sheets emphasizes that the world has a tremendous problem if a car mechanic can become a uranium dealer. He questions why a repair man would have any qualms with supplying terrorists with uranium to profit?
The speakers insist that at all times we are in danger from these sales and from the lack of morality on the part of the salespeople. Furthermore, as Plame points out, highly-enriched uranium (enough to produce a small nuclear bomb, yellowcake for example) may be stored with beer cans or any other daily/ordinary shipment to the United States through our ports. Our ports are vulnerable and port security according to many reports I have read is woefully inadequate. The narrators call smuggling HEU into the U.S. “easy”. Perhaps they are right. This had been the primary argument of the Democrats against allowing the sale of more of our ports to Dubai Ports World, or to any foreign owned corporate entity.
The next argument is the likelihood of a nuclear weapons accident occurring on account of carelessness or some random accident. By mistake a B-52 bomber with a poor safety record carried 6 nuclear missiles onboard across the country unbeknownst to the pilots or the ground controllers. Some missiles have fallen into the ocean and been deemed “irretrievable”. Images are shown of random missile testing mistakes. These are rather comical but do not involve nuclear warheads (so why are they shown?).
Something is missing here. There are no reports of safety protocols, and no indications of Washington’s awareness of the status of our missiles. This is quite possibly the narrowest video on nuclear weaponry and safety I have ever seen. Having shown educational films produced by the History Channel to my college students I can with some degree of authority state this film is intended to serve as a sort of scare tactic. Clearly the producers and contributors want nuclear proliferation to halt. They want the possibility of nuclear warfare to cease to exist. They would level the playing field internationally. No safety mechanisms are suggested. No safety measures are shown that could work. The motivation for the United States maintaining nuclear superiority is largely ignored.
It is asserted the world will be more dangerous if more nations adopt a nuclear strategy as a defensive measure. If a nation has a nuclear deterrent will a symmetrical invasion not be rendered impossible? Their arguments against obtaining nuclear arms as a deterrent are so short-sighted they are hard to accept. The entire premise for this documentary is unreasonable. From what I can interpret nuclear weapons are evil because of what they could do if they fall into the wrong hands (i.e. terrorists or rogue nations such as North Korea). What if is known in the historical field as “counterfactual” history is normally unacceptable for serious researchers. This documentary rests on the premise that it is likely the world will be embroiled in nuclear warfare on account of an accident or some security breach that will lead to these deadly weapons falling into the wrong hands.
What they fail to address is the pre-existence of nuclear weapons and the meaning of them as pertains to America’s national defense strategy. Nuclear weapons ended WWII on the Pacific front despite liberal arguments to the contrary. All estimates determine that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved more American lives than would have been the case had the invasion of Japan continued on schedule. Why are nuclear weapons evil if they can both win and prevent wars? Outpacing the Soviets helped lead to the downfall of the Evil Empire. It has not bankrupted the U.S.; it has protected us for decades.
I must give credit where it is due. Plame and others (such as the estimable Tony Blair) unveil their suspicions of Iran’s nuclear program. They admit Iran has deceived watchdog agencies for 17 years and should be considered a major threat to world security.
The primary objective of Countdown to Zero is to alert people about the ease with which a terrorist may acquire the ingredients to make a nuclear bomb. This is nothing new and nothing those of us who watch the news or read the newspaper have not understood for years. Am I supposed to be scared by a video that is unconvincing and barely scratches the surface? The arguments are not powerful enough for me to be swayed and even if they were what are they trying to convince me of? Just like the random people interviewed on the street what can I do about a breach of national security at our ports?
Before I conclude I would like to know how it helps to expose our vulnerability to potential terrorists in the form of a documentary? Sure I want to be made aware but not when the absurdity of the easy with which one may secure a nuclear ingredient but will this not inspire some terrorist group or disgruntled individual to vacation in the former Soviet Union? What happened to guarding security secrets? If I am still helpless to prevent an attack then how has this video helped me better protect my country? The short answer is it has not. I am not sure Lucy Walker and company has acchieved their objective. If anyone is frightened now after having viewed Countdown I wonder if they have ever followed current events prior to watching this underwhelming call to action.
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