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State-Sponsored WMD Terrorism: A Growing Threat?

NCJ Number
Chris Quillen
Date Published
26 pages
This document discusses the threat of state-sponsored weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism.
No state has used its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capability in a terrorist manner against citizens of another country. One reason is because of their fear of WMD-armed terrorists. Some states cannot completely control the groups they supply and train. They cannot guarantee that a terrorist group would not use WMD against them in the future. Fear of retaliation from the target country is also a great impediment to states contemplating WMD terrorism. Plausible deniability is the key to avoiding a retaliatory attack for a state. Such deniability is possible with WMD terrorism because it offers an excellent opportunity to disavow the strike much easier than any other form of attack. Both biological and chemical attacks have the benefit of being misidentified. The states most likely to threaten this country with WMD terrorism share similar traits of sponsoring terrorism, proliferating WMD, and ruthlessly suppressing their citizens. WMD terrorism becomes more possible as the pressures of international condemnation, economic sanctions, and technology-driven democratization challenge the leadership positions of the men holding onto power in terrorist organizations. Many states are unstable, corrupt regimes unable to provide reliable command and control systems for their WMD. As more states approach and cross the nuclear threshold the danger of state-sponsored WMD terrorism will increase quantitatively and qualitatively. The nature of international system makes WMD terrorism appear as a viable option for many states. The overwhelming power of the United States forces states to seek unconventional methods of counteracting American predominance. The development of a National Missile Defense system makes state-sponsored WMD terrorism a dangerous possibility. North Korea, Iran, and Iraq have invested time, effort, and money in developing effective deterrents for American power. The deployment of a national missile defense system is likely to make WMD terrorism more attractive to potential adversaries. Recommendations include coordinating Federal response to WMD threats, making domestic preparedness programs permanent, and maintaining pressure on state-sponsors of terrorism, eliminating ambiguity of retaliation. 56 notes