Maggie Gallagher
It is clear now, after the president's United Nations speech, what is keeping George Bush up nights: the vision of a small nuclear bomb going off in Manhattan, on his watch.

"Outlaw regimes that possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them would be able to use blackmail and create chaos in entire regions. These weapons could be used by terrorists to bring sudden disaster and suffering on a scale we can scarcely imagine," he warned Tuesday. The FBI warns that it has credible intelligence from al-Qaida agents arrested in Saudi Arabia that terrorists are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Think of that mushroom cloud rising over the Statue of Liberty. Think of the millions of people packed into a few square miles. Think Nagasaki. Think Hiroshima. A city devastated and unlivable. The charred remains, the agony of hundred of thousands dying of radiation burns. All our powerful technology, our arsenal of retaliation, even the Star Wars defense system, would be useless against such an unnamed foe.

What protects us and other peaceful nations in a dangerous world? The answer is not United Nations law, but the balance of power. Any state that attacks knows that it could be attacked in turn by a powerful combination of nations. This is why nuclear peace has held for more than a half-century. The vivid horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima are warnings to any government foolish enough to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons, warnings of what horror it will in turn reap.

None of this balance of power logic applies to terrorists, who strike namelessly and offer no clear target for retaliation. But thankfully, small bands of stateless terrorists on the run cannot realistically hope to build weapons of mass destructions. To pose a credible threat, terrorists require the implicit or explicit cooperation of nation-states to provide sanctuary for training camps and leadership infrastructure, or, worst nightmare of all, to pass on the deadly weapons needed to terrorize Americans and other free peoples. The ultimate goal in Iraq and of this administration is to change the way such governments look at terrorists who direct their threats at the U.S. and others. After Iraq, it is clearly no longer safe for governments to cut deals with terrorists. A new balance of power has been forged.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.