Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arriving at Oroumiyeh, 900 km NW of Tehran, Apr. 7, 2010. He ridiculed President Barack Obama's new nuclear strategy, which aims to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states or terrorists.
"Armageddon and the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism"
Journal Article, InFocus, volume IV, issue 2
Author: Chuck Freilich, Senior Fellow, International Security Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Counterterrorism is the policy theme of the InFocus Summer 2010 issue.
President Obama recently convened a global summit on the threat of nuclear terrorism, an issue that he considers to be the greatest danger currently facing the U.S. and the international community. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly believes that the gravest threat is not posed by rogue states, such as Iran, even if it acquires nuclear weapons, but rather "...a nuclear weapon reach[ing] a terrorist group, which will not hesitate to use it immediately. They will send it in a container with a GPS to a leading port in the U.S., Europe, or Israel."
Unlike traditional terrorism, nuclear terrorism would pose a potentially catastrophic threat to states across the world. Even a bomb considered to be relatively small would have devastating consequences, with estimates ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dead. Although Israel would survive such a strike as a state, the consequences would be devastating — and this scenario is based on the optimistic assumption that terrorists would detonate only one nuclear bomb. Should nuclear terrorists strike the U.S., the consequences while not existential, would nevertheless be extreme.
Nuclear terrorism poses a unique threat not only because of the magnitude of the destruction, but because those most likely to perpetrate an attack may be fundamentally nihilistic and therefore undeterrable — prepared to pay any cost in loss of life in pursuit of their objectives. As millennial movements for whom the crippling and even destruction of the U.S. and Israel are sacred missions, a nuclear terrorist attack where even a devastating response is assumed may be a worthy means of ushering in a messianic era.
Purpose of Nuclear Terrorism
There are several reasons why nuclear terrorism, whether against the U.S. or Israel, could serve strategic objectives and benefit those states and groups contemplating such actions. First, there is the actual use of nuclear weapons with the designed goal of dealing their victim a devastating blow. However, nuclear possession may also be used as a deterrent against an attack from the U.S. or Israel in order to counter their overwhelming military superiority. In this way, nuclear terrorism would provide an umbrella enabling the state or group to conduct lower level hostilities with the assumption that they would be spared the threat of massive retaliation....
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