The very mention of nuclear terrorism is enough to rouse strong reactions, and understandably so, because it combines the most terrifying weapons and the most threatening of people in a single phrase. The possibility that terrorists could obtain and use nuclear weapons deserves careful analysis, but discussion has all too often been contaminated with exaggeration, even hysteria. For example, it has been claimed that nuclear terrorism poses an ‘existential threat’ to the United States.
This Adelphi Paper develops a more measured analysis of the risk of terrorists detonating a true fission device. The problem is attacked from two perspectives: the considerable, possibly insurmountable, technical challenges involved in obtaining a functional nuclear weapon, whether ‘home-made’ or begged, borrowed or stolen from a state arsenal; and the question of the strategic, political and psychological motivations to ‘go nuclear’. The conclusions are that nuclear terrorism is a less significant threat than is commonly believed, and that, among terrorists, Muslim extremists are not the most likely to use nuclear weapons.
1. Introduction 2. Nuclear terrorism – an overview 3. Terrorist Nuclear Weapons 4. The Nuclear Black Market 5. Improvised Nuclear Devices (INDs) 6. Amateur and ‘Low End’ Weapons Design 7. The Nth Country Experiment 8. The Teenager’s 10kt Beachball 9. An Artistic Representation of the Fat Man 10. South Africa: Quick and Dirty Bombs? 11. An Unholy Bomb: the Aum Shinrikyo 12. ‘Loose’ Russian nuclear weapons 13. Terrorist Psychology, Motivation, and Strategy 14. Psycho Killer, Qu’est Que C’est? 15. Motivation and Constraints 16. Nationalists/Separatists 17. Social-Revolutionaries 18. Right-Wing Terrorism 19. Religious Terrorism 20. Single-issue terrorism 21. Terrorism and Nuclear Deterrence 22. Is Al Qa’ida a Nuclear Threat? 23. Al Qa’ida and Jihadist Strategy
The Adelphi series is The International Institute for Strategic Studies' flagship contribution to policy-relevant, original academic research.
Six books are published each year. They provide rigorous analysis of contemporary strategic and defence topics that is useful to politicians and diplomats, as well as academic researchers, foreign-affairs analysts, defence commentators and journalists.