Atoms for Terror: The Determinants of Nuclear/Radiological Terrorism
50 Pages Posted: 1 May 2009
Date Written: April 30, 2009
A rare bipartisan consensus among US leaders identifies nuclear and radiological (NR) terrorism as the greatest threat to national security. Although terrorists have yet to acquire or detonate nuclear weapons, an alarming number of other types of NR terrorism incidents occurred in many countries in recent decades. Surprisingly, there is little systematic statistical analysis of the causes of these NR terrorist events. Our research fills this important gap. We argue that an important but overlooked determinant of NR terrorism is the size of a country’s civil and military nuclear programs for several theoretical reasons. We conduct the first systematic analysis of NR terrorism incidents that occurred between 1992 and 2006. Our findings not only support our theoretical expectation but are also arguably quite provocative. Civilian and military nuclear programs swamp most other commonly perceived sources of NR terrorism. Corruption has little effect on NR terrorism, contrary to conventional wisdom. The US and Russia experience a large number of NR terrorism incidents because of their exceedingly large civilian and military nuclear programs. Civilian and military nuclear programs have little impact on chemical and biological (CB) terrorism. These findings bring to light a serious tradeoff between nuclear programs and the prevention of NR terrorism.
Keywords: nuclear terrorism, nuclear proliferation, international security, quantitative analysis
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation