News | Nov. 17, 2017

Nuclear Terrorism - Imminent Threat?

By Brendan G. Melley


The fear of a nuclear apocalypse at the hands of terrorists has been amplified in the media, in movies and novels, and by political leaders’ statements since 9/11. In some respects, a violent extremist organization like al Qaeda already can be presumed to be a terrorist nuclear power, for they have been able to terrorize Americans about a possible nuclear attack without necessarily having to prove that they possess an actual weapon. Yet, a terrorist nuclear attack has not occurred to date. Terrorism experts and analysts have debated this for years, and no consensus exists as to why the world has not seen terrorists succeed at perpetrating a nuclear attack. Despite the seeming inevitability of a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon, terrorists may be substantially less likely to conduct such an attack than most analysts and policymakers expect, for two overarching reasons: 1. Nuclear terrorism is difficult to accomplish, both technically and operationally; 2. There is no basis for a prima facie assumption that would-be nuclear terrorists cannot be disrupted, if not deterred, from conducting a nuclear attack.