Recommended Readings

In our recommended readings section, we suggest a collection of readings which can form the foundation for university instructors who would like to
arrange their own courses on non-proliferation and disarmament issues. These recommended readings are not limited to timeless arms control
classics, but also include more recent and critical literature.



Biological and Chemical Weapons

  • Ralf Trapp, The Chemical Weapons Convention – Past Successes, Current Challenges. In: Crowley, Michael; Dando, Malcolm; Shang, Lijun (eds.), Preventing Chemical Weapons: Arms Control and Disarmament as the Sciences Converge, London: Royal Society of Chemistry 2018, pp. 27-68.

The text provides a detailed overview and analysis of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and its control regime. It first gives a brief overview of the historical and political context of the CWC negotiations, before presenting the “key concepts and provisions” of the CWC in detail and thematically arranged. The third section describes achievements in the implementation of the CWC, such as chemical weapons destruction, and covers current and future challenges. Special attention is drawn to scientific and technological developments in the context of chemical weapons control. The text is suitable for readers with a basic knowledge of multilateral arms control and with an interest in the details and complexities of chemical weapons disarmament and the prevention of their re-emergence.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Jeremy Littlewood, The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. In: Crowley, Michael; Dando, Malcolm; Shang, Lijun (eds.), Preventing Chemical Weapons: Arms Control and Disarmament as the Sciences Converge, London: Royal Society of Chemistry 2018, pp. 69-100.

In this text, readers get a concise overview of the history of the biological weapons prohibitions, including negotiations of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and of past biological weapons use. It then analyses the evolution of the BWC regime chronologically in three phases. The last section is dedicated to the implications of scientific and technological developments on the BWC regime. The text is useful for readers with an interest in norm and regime evolution. Prior knowledge of the main provisions of the BWC is not essential, but may help to fully appreciate the analysis presented in the text.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Alexander Kelle, Prohibiting Chemical and Biological Weapons: Multilateral Regimes and Their Evolution, London: Lynne Rienner 2014.

This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the chemical and biological prohibition regimes from an institutionalist and regime theoretical perspective. It gives detailed overviews of all elements of both regimes and pays special attention to scientific and technological developments, export controls and the problem of non-state actors in their context. Having been published in 2014, it does not include the more recent developments, such as the repeated use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war and in assassinations. It is nevertheless a useful source for readers who wish to study either one of the two regimes, or both, holistically and with a theoretically informed perspective. 

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

This paper provides an analysis of the problem of chemical weapons use in Syria. It briefly explains the background of the chemical weapons prohibition and control mechanism in general, before describing the investigation mechanisms and activities that have been applied in Syria since 2012, and also the related political dynamics. While the text does not cover the more recent activities of the Identification and Investigation Team (IIT) since 2018, it still informs readers about the situation in Syria up to then and also presents ideas for additional steps to deal with cases of non-compliance with the CWC. 

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

Conventional Weapons

  • Oelrich, I. (1990) Conventional arms control: the limits and their verification. [Cambridge, Mass.] : Lanham, Md: Center for Science and International Affairs ; University Press of America (CSIA occasional paper, no. 8).

To say that conventional arms control is not very popular now would be a gross understatement. With the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) almost irrelevant, it is hard to see the benefits once being associated with conventional arms control in Europe. In this vintage article, Oelrich lays out the fundamental goals of conventional arms control from a military perspective, and focuses on how issues like the reduction in force readiness or constraints on maneuvers can lead to an increase in stability. He also points to the problems of verifying conventional arms control treaties. Altough many current debates on arms control and disarmament are heavily influenced by normative aspects, Oelrich’s analysis is soberly grounded in a strategic analysis of how incentives for a military strike can be reduced. While students might feel that the text is out of time, it is a good start to understand the basic rationalist logic behind conventional arms control – in Europe and elsewhere. 

Suitable for: Undergraduates


  • Braut-Hegghammer, M. (2011) ‘Revisiting Osirak: Preventive Attacks and Nuclear Proliferation Risks’, International Security, 36(1), pp. 101–132. doi:10.1162/ISEC_a_00046.

In this article, Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer assesses the success of preventive, military counter-proliferation efforts by revisiting the1981 Israeli airstrike against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. By providing a new historical account of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, she argues that the Israeli attack not only intensified Iraq’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons, but also lead to a clandestine nuclear weapons program that did not previously exist. Integrating realist and liberal/domestic perspectives, Braut-Hegghammer also reveals that the delays in the Iraqi nuclear program were primarily caused by highly inept management. Therefore, the airstrike eventually proved counterproductive, even though it forced Iraq to adopt a more challenging technical route to make the bomb.

Suitable for: Advanced Undergraduates / Postgraduates


  • Altmann, J. (2019) ‘Confidence and Security Building Measures for Cyber Forces’, in Reuter, C. (ed.) Information Technology for Peace and Security: IT Applications and Infrastructures in Conflicts, Crises, War, and Peace. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien, pp. 185–203. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-25652-4_9

The question whether or in how far classical instruments of arms control are applicable to the cyber realm has preoccupied arms control experts for years. Many would agree that “hard” controls and verification are difficult to implement when it comes to cyber weapons. Another classical instrument, developed by the UN and implemented in Europe by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)  are so-called Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs), aiming at creating transparency and trust between actors. In this chapter from an edited volume completely devoted to cyber war and cyber peace, Jürgen Altmann debates the difficulties which arise when trying to apply classical arms control concepts such as verification. He concludes that as long as cyber arms control is not available, one has to settle for confidence and security building measures as a prior step. Two exciting topics are discussed with the text: It not only debates the problems of applying arms control to “cyber” in a reader-friendly way but is also suitable as an introduction to the topic of CSBMs. 

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

European Union Policies

In the field of disarmament and non-proliferation, the EU has become an extremely important player over the last couple of years. This is especially true in the areas of weapons of mass destruction, cyber, and small arms and light weapons (SALW). However, articles summarizing the EU’s efforts are surprisingly rare. In this text, Nils Duquet presents the 2018 EU strategy on illicit firearms. He puts the strategy into an historical context and presents earlier relevant initiatives on which the strategy rests. While the author hails the many positive elements the 2018 adds to already existing instruments, he also points towards the need to  upgrade member state’s arms export policies.  While the text does not feature any theoretical perspective in particular, it is a very helpful start to get to know the EU’s initiatives to combat illicit trade of small arms and light weapons.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

Export Controls 

In this SIPRI research paper, SIPRI’s expert for arms export controls Kolja Brockmann describes how current export control efforts can be undermined by additive manufacturing (AM), better known as 3D printing. The text first summarizes the state of the art in 3D printing technologies and then describes how these technologies lead to proliferation risks in the fields of Small and Light Weapons or missiles technologies. Brockmann shows that 3D printing is or will become highly problematic even in the nuclear realm, for example when building centrifuges for enrichment or even “printing” a nuclear device. Finally, Brockmann debates how multilateral export control regimes can control AM itself. A general background on arms export regulations is helpful to follow the text, but not essential, and no theoretical knowledge is needed to follow the argument.

Suitable for: Advanced Undergraduates / Postgraduates

Means of Delivery

  • Wilkening, D. (2019) ‘Hypersonic Weapons and Strategic Stability’, Survival, 61(5), pp. 129–148. doi:10.1080/00396338.2019.1662125.

This article by Dean Wilkening offers a neorealist analysis on hypersonic weapons and their effects on strategic stability. After explaining the three different types of hypersonic weapons and the concept of strategic stability, Wilkening examines how these systems could affect crisis stability and arms race stability. In his analysis, he argues that the substantial maneuverability and high speed of hypersonic boost-glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles could contribute to inadvertent escalation. Similarly, Wilkening claims that hypersonic weapons are hard to defend against and will foster an intense offense-defense competition. Finally, the author explores several approaches which could ameliorate the destabilizing effects of hypersonic weapons, but finds none of them promising.

Suitable for: Advanced Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Tracy, C.L. and Wright, D. (2020) ‘Modeling the Performance of Hypersonic Boost-Glide Missiles’, Science & Global Security, 28(3), pp. 135–170. doi:10.1080/08929882.2020.1864945.

In this article, Cameron L. Tracy and David Wright model the performance of hypersonic boost-glide vehicles using a new computational model and a notional glide vehicle based on a real-world experimental glider tested by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Their calculations challenge the widespread assumptions that hypersonic boost-glide vehicles would be faster than traditional ballistic missiles and that they could evade existing early warning systems. In order to explain this mismatch between perceived and actual technical capabilities, Tracy and Wright draw on the sociology of technology and argue that erroneous facts about hypersonic weapons have been socially constructed by the organizations developing these systems.

Suitable for: Postgraduates

Miscellaneous: Autonomous Weapons

  • Altmann, J. and Sauer, F. (2017) ‘Autonomous Weapon Systems and Strategic Stability’, Survival, 59(5), pp. 117–142. doi:10.1080/00396338.2017.1375263.

Since 2014, there has been a debate within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva whether (lethal) autonomous weapon system (LAWS) should be banned. The main arguments brought forward by proponents of a ban or at least a regulation of these emerging weapon systems have focused on ethical and legal aspects, e.g. the assumption that LAWS will violate International Humanitarian Law (IHL). In their text, Altmann and Sauer approach autonomous weapons from a classical state-security-oriented perspective. They ask how automated and autonomous weapons would impact on stability – both crisis as well as strategic stability – and whether (and if so: how) classical arms control concepts like verification can be applied to the new technology. The authors conclude that the acceleration of warfare will have a tremendous negative impact on stability, thus supporting the call for regulation or even a ban with classic security-related arguments.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

Miscellaneous: Drones

  • Horowitz, M., Schwartz, J.A. and Fuhrmann, M. (2022) ‘Who’s prone to drone? A global time-series analysis of armed uninhabited aerial vehicle proliferation’, Conflict Management and Peace Science, 39(2), pp. 119–142. doi:10.1177/0738894220966572.

Almost no emerging military technology has been discussed as intensively as the armed drone. Surprisingly, there are nevertheless relatively few empirical studies that underpin the often emotional debate with facts. In their article, Horowitz, Schwartz and Fuhrmann build on earlier work based on their original time-series dataset on drone proliferation, looking for the driving forces behind the current increase in drone proliferation. Based on a comprehensive statistical analysis, they conclude that former theories arguing that democracies are more prone to drones have to be rejected. In fact, the opposite is the fact: After the 2010s, non-democracies have been more likely to acquire armed drones due to China entering the world marked. While security threats are a non-surprising factor for drone procurement, the authors also show that status seeking – a constructivist perspective – is also a relevant factor explaining drone proliferation. 

Suitable for: Postgraduates

Missile Defense

  • Lewis, G. and von Hippel, F. (2018) ‘Limitations on ballistic missile defense—Past and possibly future’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74(4), pp. 199–209. doi:10.1080/00963402.2018.1486575.

This article by George Lewis and Frank von Hippel describes the past, present, and future of United States missile defense programs, including the rise and fall of the 1972 US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and Ronald Reagan’s vision of a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). From a realist point of view, the authors highlight the adverse consequences of deploying strategic-capable ballistic missile defense systems and the potential of a renewed offense-defense competition between the United States and other nuclear powers, especially Russia and China. Finally, Lewis and von Hippel discuss six approaches – technical fixes, arms control agreements, cooperation on missile defense, transparency, restraint, and diplomacy – to limit the impact ballistic missile defense deployments.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Arbatov, A. (2018) ‘The vicissitudes of Russian missile defense’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74(4), pp. 227–237. doi:10.1080/00963402.2018.1486595.

In this article from the same issue, Alexey Arbatov explains the history of Russian missile defense programs, as well as Russian perceptions of US missile defense systems. Rather than limiting his analysis to strategic considerations derived from the realist paradigm, Arbatov argues that Russia’s vision of missile defense – including its steadfast opposition against US ballistic missile defense systems – should be attributed at least partly to other political factors, personal grievances, and the peculiarities of Soviet/Russian decision-making procedures on matters of military and defense. Moreover, the author evaluates the likelihood of a new agreement on missile defense between Russia and the United States, and outlines how such a deal could look like.

Suitable for: Advanced Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Tsypkin, M. (2009) ‘Russian Politics, Policy-Making and American Missile Defence’, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), 85(4), pp. 781–799.

This article by Michael Tsypkin addresses Russia’s response to US missile defense deployments in Central Europe. Tsypkin uses a liberal perspective and argues that the domestic political context in Putin’s Russia is crucial for understanding the forceful Russian reaction. In doing so, he demonstrates how a combination of anxieties that Russia could loose its nuclear weapons, domestic popularity of the great power status, worst-case threat assessments by the intelligence services, Putin’s reluctance to consult experts, and the Russian elite’s worldview have shaped Russian politics and policy-making. In addition, Tsypkin argues that US-Russian strategic miscommunication has exacerbated Russian worst-case thinking, and that the prospects for an agreement about missile defense in Europe look dim.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

Nuclear Arms Control

  • Adler, E. (1992) ‘The Emergence of Cooperation: National Epistemic Communities and the International Evolution of the Idea of Nuclear Arms Control’, International Organization, 46(1), pp. 101–145.

In this social-constructivist study, Emanuel Adler explains that nuclear strategy and arms control theory are not based on rigorous scientific principles, but on a set of unproven, nonscientific suppositions. In the remainder of the article, he analyzes how the core ideas of arms control – devised by a small number of national intellectuals affiliated with the RAND Corporation in the United States – were diffused into US government circles, the Soviet Union, and eventually became the foundation for arms control negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States. Adler concludes by arguing that the beliefs established by the arms control epistemic community were a necessary condition for creating the arms control architecture during the Cold War.

Suitable for: Postgraduates

  • Schelling, T.C. (1985) ‘What Went Wrong with Arms Control?’, Foreign Affairs, 64(2), pp. 219–233. doi:10.2307/20042570.

This remarkably timely classic by Thomas Schelling explores why arms control has gone awry following the implementation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 1972. In his essentially realist essay, he argues that arms control has become an end in itself, rather than a set of measures to achieve strategic objectives. Among other things, Schelling identifies a lack of coherent theory about what arms control is meant to accomplish, a fixation on formal negotiations and treaties, as well as an unduly focus on numbers and categories of weapons – instead of their character – as some of the main culprits. In the last section, Schelling also reaffirms his belief in the principles of mutual deterrence.

Suitable for: Advanced Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Tannenwald, N. (2020) ‘Life beyond Arms Control: Moving toward a Global Regime of Nuclear Restraint & Responsibility’, Daedalus, 149(2), pp. 205–221. doi:10.1162/daed_a_01798.

As formal arms control treaties come out of fashion, this article by Nina Tannenwald explores alternative measures to formal, legally binding binding international agreements. Tannenwald does not endorse a particular theoretical perspective, but she calls for a global regime of restraint and responsibility that would aim to reduce the risk of nuclear use and strengthen the norms of nuclear restraint. In doing so, Tannenwald outlines three principles on which the regime would rest on, and she proposes 12 specific measures that governments could implement. Finally, she makes the case that pressure from civil society will be crucial for fostering nuclear restraint and making her proposed agenda feasible.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

Nuclear Weapons

  • Cohn, C. (1987) ‘Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals’, Signs, 12(4), pp. 687–718.

This classic by Carol Cohn examines the language used by defense intellectuals through a feminist lens. In her article, Cohn claims that the sanitized, “technostrategic” language about nuclear weapons and nuclear war so prevalent in think tank, government, and universities allows both speakers and listeners to ignore the horrors and human suffering which any nuclear exchange would entail. Moreover, Cohn discusses the plethora of sexual connotations used in professional discourse on nuclear strategy, such as “deep penetration” or “thrust-to-weight ratios.” She further contends that technostrategic language severely limits what is considered a politically relevant opinion, and that it effectively portrays critics who do not speak this language as irrational.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Sagan, S.D. (1997) ‘Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb’, International Security, 21(3), pp. 54–86. doi:10.1162/isec.21.3.54.

In this seminal article on nuclear proliferation, Scott Sagan challenges the realist notion that states acquire nuclear weapons to enhance their national security. Drawing on the liberal and constructivist traditions in international relations theory, he develops two alternative models: the domestic politics and the norms model. Sagan argues that states acquire or abandon nuclear weapons not merely because of narrow security considerations, but also due to domestic parochial and bureaucratic interests, and due to the symbolic function of the atomic bomb. This argument is supported by case studies on India, South Africa, France, and Ukraine. In addition, Sagan outlines how the three models should affect US nonproliferation policy.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Sagan, S.D. and Weiner, A.S. (2021) ‘The Rule of Law and the Role of Strategy in U.S. Nuclear Doctrine’, International Security, 45(4), pp. 126–166. doi:10.1162/isec_a_00407.

This article by Scott Sagan and Allen Weiner analyzes how the law of armed conflict applies to US nuclear doctrine and war planning. By applying the key principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution to nuclear strategy, the authors argue that the law of armed conflict would allow for some, but certainly not all, counterforce strikes against legitimate military targets. Any attack on civilians, on the other hand, would be illegal. Sagan and Weiner also discuss the legal concept of belligerent reprisals and conclude that they are prohibited under customary international law. Finally, the authors explore the implications of their analysis and call for changes in US nuclear doctrine and decision-making procedures.

Suitable for: Advanced Undergraduates / Postgraduates

  • Tannenwald, N. (1999) ‘The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Normative Basis of Nuclear Non-Use’, International Organization, 53(3), pp. 433–468. doi:10.1162/002081899550959.

In this article, Nina Tannenwald suggests that deterrence and other realist arguments cannot explain why nuclear weapons have never been used again after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Therefore, she introduces a social-constructivist account into the study of nuclear non-use and argues that a normative element – the nuclear taboo – is necessary to explain this phenomenon. After introducing her idea of the nuclear taboo, Tannenwald discusses three types of normative effects and compares her explanation to more prevalent, materialist accounts. Finally, she analyzes the role of the taboo in four empirical cases: Japan in 1945, the Korean War in the 1950s, the Vietnam War during the 60s, and the 1991 Gulf War.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

Proliferation Crises

  • Kim, M. (2021) ‘Why Nuclear? Explaining North Korea’s Strategic Choice of Going Nuclear and Its Implications for East Asian Security’, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 56(7), pp. 1488–1502. doi:10.1177/0021909620971338.

In this article, Min-hyung Kim explains why North Korea has decided to go nuclear. By drawing on various theoretical perspectives, he argues that North Korea pursues nuclear weapons to safeguard its independence from external powers and to ensure regime security. In contrast to many realist accounts, however, Kim conceptualizes regime security not just as “national security” – he factors in internal security, too. With that in mind, the article makes the case that nuclear weapons do not only protect North Korea from foreign aggression, but also enhance the Supreme Leader’s domestic power and legitimacy. After exploring the implications of a nuclear North Korea for East Asian security, Kim argues that Pyongyang is highly unlikely to renounce its nuclear arsenal.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Graduates

Regional Security

  • Kühn, U. (2019) ‘Between a rock and a hard place: Europe in a post-INF world’, The Nonproliferation Review, 26(1–2), pp. 155–166. doi:10.1080/10736700.2019.1593677.

When it comes to conventional European arms control, the Russian invasion in Ukraine has rendered almost all texts written before 2022 outdated. While all articles acknowledge the deep crisis in arms control between the West and Russia, almost all focus on the remaining potential to somehow find working arms control anyway. This text by Ulrich Kühn is no exception. However, it is still a worthwhile read. Based on the concepts of strategic stability and crisis stability, Kühn debates the European options after the end of the INF treaty. He predicts that the US will develop INF-missiles to counter Russia and China, which will lead to a debate within NATO about a new round of missile deployment. Kühn believes that this debate has the potential to significantly weaken NATO. While not in favor of missile deployment, Kühn nevertheless points towards a “number of different military options … below the level of deploying new INF missiles in Europe,” thereby arguing for a stronger military position of Europe vis-à-vis Russia years before the war in Ukraine.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates


  • Mutschler, M.M. (2013) ‘Space Weapons and Arms Control’, in Mutschler, M.M. (ed.) Arms Control in Space: Exploring Conditions for Preventive Arms Control. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK (Palgrave Studies in International Relations Series), pp. 104–148. doi:10.1057/9781137320643_5.

This book chapter by Max Mutschler offers an excellent insight into the militarization of space, starting with the Sputnik-shock in 1957. Mutschler debates what kind of weapons can be stationed in space, e.g. Anti-Satellite Weapons (ASAT), and points to the difficulties defining a space weapon. He then shifts to arms control in space, i.e. the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967. Mutschler shows himself to be an excellent expert on national space programs. While this chapter 5 from his broader book on “Arms Control in Space” does not refer to any particular theory but features a very thick empirical description, the overall book is guided by “Preventive Arms Control”-theory and tries to identify conditions for preventive arms control theory to work. So, other chapters might be of interest as well, for example the chapter on regime theory and preventive arms control (chapter 3). Sometimes the text is very fact-heavy and a bit tough to read, but this is made up for by the wealth of information conveyed in a short space.

Suitable for: Postgraduates


In this report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the authors debate the two contradictory perspectives with which arms deliveries to the security forces of fragile states can be viewed. On the one hand, equipping security forces in fragile states can be seen as a precondition for stability and the execution of statehood. On the other hand, arms exports to fragile states might lead to more violence and instability rather than less. Based on empirical case studies, the authors focus on the question how the former effect can be achieved while limiting potential negative countering effects. Here, up-to-date information is key and multilateral measures on the supply side are recommended. In the heated debate about arms exports, this sober analysis is a very helpful contribution. Showing that a sheer black or white position might turn out counterproductive, the text calls for a nuanced debate.  

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates

United Nations

Since the end of World War II, the UN has become one of the most active and important player when it comes to international disarmament. In her online learning unit on the UN Disarmament Machinery, which is accessible free of charge and without registration, Dall’Arche offers a comprehensive overview of the history of the UN’s efforts, as well as an insight into the UN Disarmament Machinery’s architecture — including the Conference on Disarmament, the UN Secretary General’s Agenda for Disarmament or the Security Council. Dall’Arche also describes the UN bodies supporting the machinery in detail, e.g. UNIDIR, UNODA or the Regional Centers for Peace and Disarmament. Finally, the unit describes major accomplishments within the framework of the machinery as well as shortcomings and improvements. Without any theoretical bias, the unit is an excellent introduction to the UN Disarmament Machinery for everyone who needs a quick yet comprehensive introduction. 

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Postgraduates without prior knowledge

WMD Terrorism

  • Danzig, R. et al. (2012) Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons. Center for a New American Security. Available at: (Accessed: 11 March 2022).

This extensive case study explores the biological and chemical weapons programs by Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese apocalyptic cult which killed 13 people in the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack. Based on interviews with former Aum members, the authors describe the genesis of the cult as well as its WMD program. From these insights, they derive lessons for understanding attempts by other terrorist groups to acquire chemical and biological weapons. Among other things, it is thought that chemical weapons are more accessible than biological weapons, and that dissemination of the agents is likely to burden terrorist groups. Nevertheless, the authors argue that non-state actors may eventually achieve their goals despite many operational failures in the process.

Suitable for: Undergraduates / Graduates

  • McIntosh, C. and Storey, I. (2018) ‘Between Acquisition and Use: Assessing the Likelihood of Nuclear Terrorism’, International Studies Quarterly, 62(2), pp. 289–300. doi:10.1093/isq/sqx087.

In this article, Christopher McIntosh and Ian Storey challenge the conventional wisdom and claim that terrorist groups would be unlikely to detonate a nuclear weapon in an attack even if they could acquire one. The authors provide three main reasons for their realist argument. Firstly, a nuclear attack would involve significant opportunity costs because it may preclude other effective strategies such as the use of chemical weapons or conventional explosives. Secondly, terrorist groups are risk-averse and would likely face the risk of complete elimination if they were to use a nuclear weapon. Thirdly, victory for a terrorist group may not necessarily translate into the end of hostilities with a state actor.

Suitable for: Postgraduates