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You can, but then you can't tell the bomb to blow up by remote control - which you want, because container shipping lines keep anything from 60 to 90 % schedule reliability.

But actually, the question you should be asking is "are shipping containers routinely monitored for radioactivity?"

To which the answer is "no, and building that capability would be expensive."

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Mar 9th, 2015 at 02:23:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
About what I thought. I recall reading of systems that could detect such radiation but that they were not widely deployed, not terribly portable and were a budget line concern. Detecting neutrons, neutrinos and the products of their decay is not for something that you plug into your smartphone for a walk amongst the containers. It may be possible to fit such a detector on the back of a truck and drive through the isles of stack containers in a port or sweep across the stacks of containers on a ship entering port. Knowledge that such a system existed in a given port would raise doubts by a potential state sponsor, even if the chance of it being used was low.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Mar 9th, 2015 at 08:33:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could probably catch most containers by monitoring the baker's dozen biggest transshipment hubs for each of the major carriers.

But detection is not the biggest problem with using commercial container shipping as deployment mode for an atomic first strike. The biggest problem is that commercial container shipping needs to still be serving your country by the time you decide that you would like New York to go away.

Which means you can only really use this deployment mode if you make your first strike completely out of the blue.

This is not what most people want to use nukes for. Most people who would like to have nukes want them in order to use them as back-stop of their conventional power plays - to provide an ultimate step on the escalation ladder that cannot be challenged.

And the kind of people who would use atomic weapons for out-of-the-blue first strikes are not the kind of people who can afford to buy atomic weapons. Nevermind setting up and maintaining the advanced industrial engineering infrastructure required to produce them.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Mar 10th, 2015 at 12:07:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't need actual containers on actual container ships, so there's no need to pass the cargo through the usual channels. Any other kind of merchant ship will do - even a large hired fishing vessel owned by a dumb captain who thinks he's being paid not to ask questions.

Modern warheads are incredibly small, so the container is optional. I suspect it's perfectly possible to transport a warhead on a small yacht or cruiser. It's certainly possible on those floating palaces oligarchs like to flaunt.

Security on the Thames in London is practically non-existent. I don't know what it's like in Washington. But I do know the Pentagon has a nearby marina, so it's probably not that high.

Which means you can only really use this deployment mode if you make your first strike completely out of the blue.

I'm guessing that would be the aim - a completely unexpected decapitation strike of unknown origin.

The point is the old Cold War machinery seems completely defenceless against a sneak attack. TSA shoe-pantomimes impress me a lot less than some hint that someone has taken the possibility seriously and set up credible defences against it.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Mar 10th, 2015 at 05:33:01 AM EST
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That kind of out-of-the-blue decapitation first strikes are not prevented by security measures. There simply is no way you can secure any halfway open society against an out-of-the-blue atomic attack. In the same way you might as well abandon any thought of securing your society against political assassins going after soft targets like newspapers or airports.

The thing that prevents this from happening is that most people with access to atomic weapons have a strong vested interest in the continued survival of industrial civilization.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Mar 10th, 2015 at 02:11:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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