John Mceachran April 16, 2001 The Herald (Glasgow) SECTION: Pg. 2 HEADLINE: Professor's nuclear warning //VT2002acsln

NUCLEAR and biological weapons leaking from the old Soviet war machine could end up in the hands of terror groups, a terrorism expert has warned.

Professor Paul Wilkinson told the Edinburgh International Science Festival that changes since the cold war had made it more likely terrorists would get access to weapons of mass destruction, and developed nations would have to face the possibility of being targeted by these nuclear bombs or chemical weapons.

Terror groups were no longer willing to settle for supplies of Kalashnikov rifles and Semtex explosives, according to Professor Wilkinson, of the centre for the study of terrorism and political violence at Central Lancashire University. He said the problems in Russia meant nuclear, chemical and biological secrets were now on sale to the highest bidder.


Barry L. Rothburg, Fall 1997, "Averting Armageddon: Preventing Nuclear Terrorism in the United States", Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law.

The credibility of a terrorist threat from the technical end is one thing. but what about intent? Would a rogue state or subnational actor really execute an act of nuclear terror, knowing what the price would be? Is not an act of nuclear terror inherently suicidal? No, it is not. Nuclear terror can be anonymous. Even if the attack is claimed, retaliation may still be problematic. These and other factors make the threat of nuclear terror more likely, because the traditional deterrent of nuclear retaliation that kept the Soviets at bay may not apply to terrorists.

A generally accepted lesson of the Cold War is that the United States and the Soviet Union never exchanged nuclear salvos (at least once both sides had substantial arsenals) because of MAD doctrine. MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) dictated that even if one country fired its weapons in a surprise attack, the opposing country w ould either be able to retaliate in time, or have enough of its arsenal survive the first strike to ensure that the attacker was wiped out. Thus, nuclear war w as a no-win situation.

While experts may argue about the value of MAD and its role in history, what seems clear is that, for deterrence to work, one must know who the attacker is. As Joseph Nye has observed, "The logic of deterrence fails when there is no return address." Deterrence is problematic because the threat of retaliation must be absolutely credible. If a terrorist group detonates a nuclear weapon in New York and the authorities trace the bomb to the group, what sort of retaliation is credible (orjustifiabIe)? Say the group is based in the Bekaa Valley. Should the United States nuke Lebanon? Perhaps the bomb was stolen from Iran. Should the United States nuke Iran? Maybe the Iranians provided the bomb, but claim it was stolen. Then what? Perhaps the Iranians supplied a bomb to be used against Iraq, but the subnational actor executing the attack decided to shift targets. Should a country which allows the theft of nuclear materials or weapons, either through inadequate security, corruption, or negligence be denied its nuclear arsenal and related capabilities? For example, if Iran cannot safeguard its nuclear weapons, should the United States take down its entire nuclear infrastructure? What about Russia. which easily falls into the same category?

One more element in the deterrence problem is that of the rational actor. The MAD doctrine assumes that no one wants his own group, population, or country to be eradicated. But suppose that the perpetrator of nuclear terror is an Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, or that a subnational group of similar bent is involved. Indeed, some members of such groups might even stay with the bomb until it goes off. If a group has no fear or death, deterrence will not work. If a group believes that the coming dawn of a new century means "the end is near" and it must be helped along (as was true for Aum Shinrikyo), deterrence will not work. Dealing with actors who do not behave in a "rational" way increases the uncertainty factor inherent in nuclear terrorism