Use of radiological agents is also a more feasible WMD threat. Instead of using a nuclear warhead as such, a nuclear terrorist is far more likely to disperse radiological material in an attempt to contaminate a large population or a wide geographical area. Radio Dispersal Devices (RDDs) or ‘dirty bombs’ are used to disperse radiological material. Alternatively, the radiological material could be used to contaminate food and water sources, though a very huge quantity of radiological material would be required for such a purpose.
A RDD or dirty bomb may not be capable of inflicting the extent of damage that is desired by WMD terrorists, but any such successful attacks would nevertheless have a profound psychological attack and would serve to isolate the contaminated region affecting trade and commerce and normal life adversely. In such an eventuality the terrorist group would be successful in instilling fear – the key ingredient of terrorism – in the hearts of people. Using Biological Agents
To use a biological WMD a terrorist group would have to acquire a biological agent either from the 1,500 germ banks of the world; steal it from a research laboratory, hospital, etc. ; develop it from natural sources or obtain it from a rogue state. But the main obstacle in developing a biological WMD is not in acquiring the biological agent itself but in acquiring or processing a strain of the biological agent lethal enough to cause extensive damage. The facilities that would be required to bring such a strain to a state of readiness for deployment is far more greater and would simply be beyond the capabilities of most terrorist groups.
Chemical WMDs The case with chemical terrorism is however different. Chemical agents fall into four broad categories. Choking agents such as phosgene and chlorine would be required in too large a quantity to cause any significant casualties; blood agents such as hydrogen cyanide and cyanogens chloride would have to reach the bloodstream directly to take effect; blister agents would cause injuries, but would not kill; and VX and other V-series nerve agents are too complicated to weaponize.
It is chemical agents such as sarin that are relatively easy to develop to a weapons-ready state and utilize in WMD attacks. Common industrial and agricultural chemicals can be as effective as bonafide chemical weapons in causing mass casualties. This was amply demonstrated in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in India in which the release of methyl isocyanate by sabotage resulted in the death of almost 1,500 persons and the maiming of 11,000. WMD threats and the future Chemical and Radiological WMDs therefore pose the most likely and serious threats from the perspective of terrorist WMD attacks.
However, with technological advances in the next decades, a vast number of new technologies could be weaponized to WMD standards. These would probably include robotics, hypersonics and stealth, laser technology etc. A warning is sounded in the findings of the Joint Symposium on Future Weapons of Mass Destruction organized by the Satnley Foundation and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies on December 11, 2006: “As an example, new scientific breakthroughs in the understanding of the human body are one likely basis for new WMD.
WMD could utilize the new discoveries in the mechanisms of the neuro-spectrum, including the functions of stress, trauma, attention, sleep, peer pressure, decision making, learning, trust, and religious feeling, whether to extend and enhance the quality of life or to create more warfighting capabilities. ” The future will depend on the extent to which terrorist groups are able to gain access to these new technology WMDs and the extent to which peace-loving nations of the world are able to utilize the same technologies to deter and prevent serious WMD threats.
1. Bowman, S. , 2005, Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Terrorist Threat. CRS Report for Congress. The Library of Congress. pp. 4 2. The Stanley Foundation, 2006, Future Weapons of Mass Destruction, Findings of a A Joint Symposium by The Stanley Foundation and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, December 11, 2006, pp. 2 Jenkins, B. , 1988, Terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead, Interview for Quest for Peace, [Online] Available. http://www.lib.uci.edu/quest/index.php?page=jenkins