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assessment, including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and radiological threats together (though possibly not including sabotage) is echoed in the October 2007 National Strategy for Homeland Security,192 while the September 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism calls for “deny[ing] terrorists access to the materials, expertise, and other enabling capabilities required to develop WMD,” mentioning in particular weapons-usable fissile materials—a fact that points to construction of a nuclear explosive, not a radiological device, as the greatest concern.193

Like in the United States, there is a great deal of official concern in Russia about the possibility of nuclear terrorism. However, over the past few years the threat of sabotage to nuclear facilities and radiological terrorism appears to have been seen as more of a threat than that of a nuclear device, in contrast to the U.S. view. For example, Russia’s 2006 White Paper on non-proliferation states that “although the probability of independent production of nuclear explosive devices by terrorists is low, given its technical complexity, it is possible that terrorists might develop primitive weapons using radioactive materials (so-called ‘dirty bombs’).”194 Further, the White Paper explains that the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism—a Russian initiative—is “designed to ensure the protection of both civilian and military nuclear facilities against terrorists.”195

It should be noted, however, that neither Russia nor the United States are a monolith. Stances on the threat vary from agency to agency and official to official. This naturally affects views of what must be done to alleviate the threat. In order to better understand the expert opinions that are informing policymaker stances, I now turn to assessments of the possibility of non-state actors constructing a nuclear device.


Although no serious terrorist attempts to construct an improvised nuclear device (IND) have yet been uncovered, terrorism experts cite increasing indications of terrorist groups desiring to create and use such devices.196 This is a distinct change from a decade ago, when there appeared to be little demand for such a capability, making the technical possibility of creating such a device a moot question.197 Today, however, a very few groups, generally associated with


National Strategy for Homeland Security, available at, accessed May 1, 2008.


National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, available at


The Russian Federation and Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Delivery Systems: Threats, Assessments, Problems and Solutions, English translation by Cristina Chuen, available at; accessed May 1, 2008.




For a brief history of terrorist attacks and insightful assessment of terrorist trends, predicting that terrorist groups are more likely to seek weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the future than they were in the past, see Richard Falkenrath, “Confronting Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Terrorism,” Survival, V. 40, N. 3, Autumn 1998, pp. 42-65.


For an interesting overview of early al-Qa’ida efforts in the nuclear sphere, see David Albright, “Al Qaeda’s Nuclear Program: Through the Window of Seized Documents,” available at; accessed May 1, 2008.

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