The risk posed by nuclear weapons is valid. But does this threat increase with the use of terrorism?
Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but new technological innovations have changed the way it is conducted [Chaliand & Blin 2007]. Furthermore, terrorism is currently used to describe attacks on civilians, usually by non-state actors whereas historically it was used more to describe state-terror . This could imply that terror was more commonly practiced by states in the past. Perhaps the reason for this is the emergence of government by the people, in the form of democracy, therefore changing the relationship between civilian and state. Has democracy made civilians more vulnerable targets of warfare?
This leads to the main question being addressed – should politicians be concerned about nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. The answer would be yes in a logical sense. American politicians are however in an odd position given that the majority of nuclear weapons in today’s world are in the hands of its allies, some of whom, like Pakistan and Israel for example, reside in the most volatile regions in the world. What would happen if this instability led to nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists?
But US policy in the regions where such a scenario is possible is arguably counterproductive in this regard. The US strategy consists of military initiatives and interventionism. For this reason, weaponry and ideology have trickled down from the US’ closest allies to fanatical groups.
Perhaps a more policy oriented approach is necessary. While President Obama has not necessarily avoided military deployment – comparatively, he has shown reluctance [Indyk et al 2012].
This approach is arguably more effective. The fear of the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorism wouldn’t really exist had it not been for bad US foreign policy, but more importantly, the threat itself doesn’t exist anymore than any other threat. Tackling it should be about preventing its likelihood in the long-run. This means reconsidering policies and allies in regions like the Middle East, and South Asia [Obama 2007].
Chaliand, Gérard, and Arnaud Blin. The history of terrorism: from antiquity to al Qaeda. Univ of California Press, 2007.
Indyk, Martin S., Kenneth G. Lieberthal, and Michael E. O’Hanlon. “Scoring Obama’s Foreign Policy.” Foreign Affairs 91.3 (2012): 29-43.
Obama, Barack. “Renewing american leadership.” Foreign Affairs 86.4 (2007): 2-16.