The Sum of All Fears

The Sum of All Fears

Infobox Book |
name = The Sum of All Fears
title_orig =

image_caption = First edition cover art
author = Tom Clancy
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series = Ryanverse
genre = Thriller novel
publisher = Putnam
release_date = 1991 (1st edition)
media_type = Print (Hardback)
pages = 798 pp (hardback edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-399-13615-0 (hardback edition)
preceded_by = Clear and Present Danger
followed_by = Without Remorse

"The Sum of All Fears" is the best-selling thriller novel by Tom Clancy, and part of the Jack Ryan series. It was the fourth book of the series to be turned into a film.

An interesting note is that this book was released just days before the Moscow uprising in 1991, which finally signaled the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russian politics in the aftermath of the destruction of the Berlin Wall is a main element of the book.

Plot summary

The plot begins in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War; at its height the Israelis opt for a tactical nuclear strike, but this is changed at the last minute. Unfortunately, one Mark 12 nuclear weapon is not yet removed from an Israeli attack aircraft. That aircraft is shot down and crashes into mountains in Syria, and the nuclear weapon is lost (an empty quiver).

The plot then moves to 1991. After the Palestinians start using non-violent protesting and one of the unarmed, seated protesters is murdered by an Israeli police official, the U.S finds that they can no longer support Israel at the UN or politically versus the Arab nations. But the U.S. also cannot leave Israel without this support since it would risk destabilizing the region. A clever plan to accelerate the peace process is put into action, based on Jack Ryan's contacts with the Vatican and with support from the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia, and to everyone's surprise it seems to work. However, the venal National Security Advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Elliott hates Ryan and makes sure he does not get credit for crafting the "Vatican Treaty"; the fact that she has begun a romance with the widowed President Fowler makes this more achievable. She later launches a smear campaign that makes it seem like Ryan is having an affair with a woman whose husband died in "Clear and Present Danger" and almost costs him his marriage before John Clark and Domingo Chavez reveal the truth. Ryan is later told he has to resign, but not before he puts together a covert operation involving the uncovering of a deal between corrupt Japanese and Mexican officials.

A small group of Muslim extremist terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are not pleased though. With a lasting peace looming around the corner and the state of Israel still in existence, they are looking at a failure in their campaign. Their anger is directed towards the U.S. which has supported Israel throughout the years and now is instrumental in creating a lasting peace that makes it impossible to eradicate the Jewish state.

When the terrorists come across the lost Israeli bomb, they manage to recover it and construct their own version using the plutonium as fissile material. They also enlist the help of a disenfranchised East German physicist named Manfred Fromm. Fromm, an expert on nuclear technology, agrees to help the terrorists because their plan is designed to exact revenge on those responsible for the downfall of East Germany and the unification of his country into a capitalist, democratic state. With Fromm's expertise, the group is able to enhance the weapon and turn it into a thermonuclear device. The terrorists decide to use the weapon at the Super Bowl in Denver, Colorado, while also planning a false flag attack on U.S. forces in Berlin by East Germans disguised as Soviet soldiers. The goal of the terrorists is to start a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. This will accomplish two things. First, it will eliminate the American's ability to support Israel, and second, it will eliminate those two nations as the superpowers, thus punishing them for bringing an end to the Cold War and betraying World Socialism, which is a driving motivator for the East German characters in the book, who are led by a bitter ex-Stasi agent named Günther Bock.

The bomb explodes and partially destroys the stadium; however, its yield is much lower than planned due to an assembly error. The error is caused when the terrorist leader, Ismael Qati, orders that Fromm be killed so as to avoid a potential security breach (since Fromm is seen as a mercenary and an unbeliever). Qati's technical expert, Ibrahim Ghosn, is to complete the final stages of the assembly, but does not know that the tritium obtained from Fromm is old and therefore has partially decayed into Helium-3 - had Fromm been kept alive until total completion, the terrorists would have known about this and been able to purify the tritium, thus enhancing the total yield of the bomb. Because of the He-3, which poisons the nuclear chain reaction through neutron starvation, the bomb's designed yield of 500 kilotons is greatly reduced to a meager 11.2 kilotons.

Nevertheless, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State are both killed, as well as the thousands of fans in attendance and hundreds more residents of Colorado due to the primary and secondary effects of the initial detonation. One of these effects is the release of a large amount of energy into the pavement of the stadium's parking lot, releasing complex and volatile hydrocarbons from the blacktop and igniting them in a secondary fireball. This, as well as the fact that the pavement is a dark color and thus readily absorbs and radiates residual heat, inadvertently fools American and Soviet reconnaissance satellites into believing that the bomb was a large, strategic type weapon, since the heat signature is artificially enhanced. Through a series of coincidences, misunderstandings and the aforementioned attack on American forces in Berlin, the plan is almost a success and for a brief moment the U.S. assumes DEFCON-1 as both President Fowler and NSA Elliott have lost control and are ready to begin a nuclear war. The crisis is averted when Jack Ryan, after receiving forensic evidence that the bomb originates from the U.S., gains access to the Hot Line and manages to defuse the situation by communicating directly with the Soviet president and helping to engineer a stand-down in Berlin and cancellation of the pre-nuclear launch sequences in both countries.

A curious twist is that the terrorists devise a backup plan in the event of failure. When this indeed happens and they are captured, they put it to work by implicating the Iranian Ayatollah as responsible for the attack. The American President, Bob Fowler, is enraged and orders the city of Qom destroyed through a nuclear attack. After Ryan averts the attack by enforcing the two-man rule, the terrorists accidentally reveal the ruse and that they devised it in order to discredit and shame the U.S. in the eyes of the world. This would destroy the delicate peace process, allowing the campaign against Israel to continue. The plan can be seen as employing the commonly used terrorist tactic called "Agent provocateur", the inciting agent.

The book ends with the terrorists being executed by beheading in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Ryan being presented an ancient sword held by the Saudi royal family. The sword is meant to honor all who died, but it also serves to remind Ryan of all who didn't die because of his actions.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

*"The Sum of All Fears (film)"

*"The Sum of All Fears (video game)"

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