Council Special Report

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Deterring State Sponsorship of Nuclear Terrorism

Author: Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies

Deterring State Sponsorship of Nuclear Terrorism - deterring-state-sponsorship-of-nuclear-terrorism
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Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press

Release Date September 2008

48 pages
ISBN 978-0-87609-419-8
Council Special Report No. 39


The basis of nuclear doctrine during the Cold War was deterrence. Nuclear powers were deterred from attacking each other by the fear of retaliation. Today, much of the concern over possible nuclear attack comes in the context of rogue states and terrorism. And since only states are known to possess nuclear weapons, an important question is how to deter them from letting terrorists acquire a device, whether through an authorized transfer or a security breach.

Michael A. Levi analyzes this aspect of deterrence in the post–Cold War world, as well as what to do if deterrence breaks down. He suggests how to discourage states from giving weapons or nuclear materials to terrorists and how to encourage states to bolster security against any accidental transfer. The report also discusses the role of nuclear attribution—the science of identifying the origin of nuclear materials—in deterring transfers, an essential link in assigning responsibility to governments for transfers of nuclear materials.

Deterring State Sponsorship of Nuclear Terrorism offers thoughtful analysis and practical guidelines for U.S. policy on a complex and important question and makes an important contribution to the thinking in an underexplored but unavoidable area of the post–Cold War security debate.

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Michael A. Levi is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was previously fellow for science and technology at CFR and, before that, science and technology fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Levi, whose research focuses on the intersection of science, technology, and foreign policy, is the author of two books, On Nuclear Terrorism (Harvard University Press, 2007) and (with Michael E. O'Hanlon) The Future of Arms Control (Brookings Institution Press, 2005). He is also director of CFR's program on energy security and climate change, and was project director for the CFR-sponsored Independent Task Force on Climate Change, which published its report, Confronting Climate Change: A Strategy for U.S. Foreign Policy, in June 2008. Dr. Levi holds an MA in physics from Princeton University and a PhD in war studies from the University of London (King's College).

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