Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?

By • on September 26, 2008

Will terrorists go nuclear? That is the essential questioned posed by counterterrorism expert Brian Jenkins in a book of the same title.

Jenkins has written a sobering and critical analysis of this question that spans over his decades of research on the topic. In fact, the book shares the title of a research paper Jenkins wrote over 30 years ago and it is that essay he uses as the entrance point for his observations. The issue of nuclear terrorism is one that has haunted policy makers, enriched movie producers, and fevered American apprehension for 30 years and the strength of Jenkins book is his categorical and tempered analysis of how each of these complex areas play into the nuclear terrorism debate.

Playing the role of mythbuster, Jenkins dives deep to determine the seeding point for a large number of nuclear terrorism memes that have propagated over the past decade. Upon examination, Jenkins finds that some of the memes are just that, organic ideas that developed a life of their own or had strategic sponsorship by individuals who were in a position to benefit from the propagation of the meme. Readers should draw some comfort from the thoughtful analysis and debunking of some of our most terrifying concerns.

In his analysis of terrorist motives, operational concepts and evolution Jenkins dissects the core issues in a way that few terrorism analysts can. This book will speak not only to his peers, but is very accessible to the general audience and it is this audience that Jenkins seems obligated to inform with this book.

That assumption brings us to the final and most essential element of the book, which is Jenkins’ differentiation between “nuclear terrorism” and “nuclear terror”. Nuclear terrorism is the threat that must be addressed by Western democracies through sound counterterrorism and non-proliferation policies. Nuclear terror is the state of perpetual societal fear that is exploited to erode civil liberties and generate apprehension within democracies. Of course, the fundamental question is how much apprehension can we cope with before the fundamental components of our society become unrecognizable.

Jenkins book is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in this essential subject and should be required reading for consumers of popular culture (the TV show 24, for example) that propagate the nuclear terrorism meme, or anyone who finds the concept of nuclear terrorism “terrifying”.

Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? is available for purchase from Amazon.


  • John P. Sullivan

    Jenkin’s newest work is essential reading for the CT Intel and emergency operations communites. There is much to learn from his observations. These are are not merely academic, musings, but reflect his tangible experience in addressing emerging threats. A terrorist attack using nuclear means will change the world! Those of us that play a role in preventing that outcome, or mitigating the impact of such attacks (which tragically may be more likely) would be well served to read this work carefully!