Deterring State Sponsorship of Nuclear Terrorism

Council Special Report
Concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contributions to current policy dilemmas.

Overview

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 Levi
Michael Levi

David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies

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.

More on:

Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

United States

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.

More on:

Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

United States

Top Stories on CFR

India

The election date for the world’s largest democracy is set to begin April 19 and last six weeks. What would the results of a third term for Prime Minister Modi mean for India’s economy, democracy, and position in the Global South? 

RealEcon

The response to the temporary closure of the Port of Baltimore—from a deadly tanker collision—demonstrates the resilience of U.S. supply chains despite fears of costly disruptions.

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Violence around U.S. elections in 2024 could not only destabilize American democracy but also embolden autocrats across the world. Jacob Ware recommends that political leaders take steps to shore up civic trust and remove the opportunity for violence ahead of the 2024 election season.