Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Terrorism & Nuclear Weapons

There was an opinion piece in Monday's Wall Street Journal by the Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling called "The Nuclear Taboo," where he discusses a bit of history of nuclear weapons and, more interestingly, what would happen if a terrorist organization obtained nuclear capability:

"[Terrorists] will discover, over weeks of arguing, that the most effective use of the bomb, from a terrorist perspective, will be for influence. Possessing a nuclear device, if they can demonstrate possession--and I believe they can, if they have it, without detonating it--will give something of the status of a nation. Threatening to use it against military targets, and keeping it intact if the threat is successful, may appeal to them more than expending it in a destructive act. Even terrorists may consider destroying large numbers of people and structures less satisfying than keeping a major nation at bay."

What are the implications here? Do you agree with what Schelling says about the likelihood that terrorists will actually use a nuclear weapon if they obtain the capability? What factors could affect this likelihood?

I don't have a link to the article since you need a subscription to view it online, but for my students I have a copy in my room if you would like to read it.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Thomas Schelling that the bomb would serve the terrorists best as a threatening device. But i do not think that the large terrorist opposing nations around the world would just sit back and allow these poeple to get away with holding their countries at bay. I think that these countries will do everything necessary to turn the threat back on the terrorists. When this happens the bomb's role will change. They will be almost forced to use it as protection against more powerful armies or just to prove they were not bluffing. For the most part, the bomb would be a threatening tool but pressure for its recovery would result in its distruction.
- David Hale

Jessica Wetstone said...

I agree that terrorists would most likely use nuclear capability as a bargaining tool. If they actually detonated a bomb, the other country could respond by nuking them as well, which would obviously not be in the terrorists' best interest. Also, once they've actually used their bomb, they wouldn't have it anymore to bargain with or otherwise use, and the new status would be gone.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Thomas Schelling. Terrorists mainly plant bombs and destroy and kill for emphasis, impact, and to prove that they have some control. Nuclear Weapons are enough of a major issue that to even mention that a nation has them is chilling and serious. I agree with David Hale that other countries will do everything to turn the threat back on the terrorists. But, rather than actually using the bombs, I believe a repeat of the Cold War would be a result if a terrorist group had nuclear weapons. A race would begin of who has the most showing that they had the most power and could control the other. Hopefully, however, we've learned from our mistakes.
-Emily Freebairn

Anonymous said...

As long as the terrorists have one bomb, it would serve best to threaten opposition. But I believe they would use a bomb if the opportunity for major damage presents itself. A nation would have a hard time retaliating against a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons since terrorists dont have an established location where they are all based, they can be scattered in a large city. Nations wont nuke when there is 100% civilian casualty rate, even if it means destroying the terrorist group responisble.


Anonymous said...

A nuclear weapon would possess much greater potential and influence if it was not used at all, as it could be used by Terrorists to gain additional wants. Just by using the weapon as a leverage tool, the Terrorists can achieve a higher status of power and influence. Other nations would have to make careful decisions to ensure that the Terrorists do not use their weapon, otherwise a nuclear weapon build-up could ensue between the Terrorists and the other nations as Emily mentioned. But I think there is a chance that the Terrorists would actually use the weapon if a major opportunity presented itself.
-Ravi Bhatia