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Posted: September 26th, 2023

Are Non-State Actors Willing and Able to Use WMDs?

HLSS Assignment Rubric 500-600 Level. Weapons of Mass Destruction

For each of the following and based on our readings this term, offer your perspective which is supported by a variety of academic material to give your opinion more validity. Each essay should be 2-3 pages to address each of the 4 questions. This will be a total of 8-12 pages, plus your title page and your references page. This will be submitted in one document with one title page and one references list. Be sure to make a clear thesis statement and argument and use examples to support your analysis.

Hypothesize whether or not non-state actors are willing and/or able to use WMD.

Select one CBRN WMD agent and analyze the effect of that weapon on a projected target population.

Describe the potential impact of a strategic nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon. Hypothesize how the U.S. would be able to defend against and recover from this type of WMD.

Prepare a threat assessment for one CBRN WMD agent that you assess as being the most likely to occur.

Technical Requirements

Your paper must be at a minimum of 8-12 pages, or 2-3 pages for each question (the Title and Reference pages do not count towards the minimum limit).

Scholarly and credible references should be used. A minimum of 8-10 sources are required.

Type in Times New Roman, 12 point and double space.

Students will follow the current APA Style as the sole citation and reference style used in written work submitted as part of coursework.

Points will be deducted for the use of Wikipedia or encyclopedic type sources. It is highly advised to utilize books, peer-reviewed journals, articles, archived documents, etc.

All submissions will be graded using the assignment rubric.

Are Non-State Actors Willing and Able to Use WMDs?
Non-state actors’ willingness and ability to use weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is a complex issue with reasonable arguments on both sides. On one hand, some terrorist groups have explicitly stated their desire to acquire WMD capabilities to inflict mass casualties and spread terror (Jenkins, 2018). However, others argue that most non-state actors lack the technical expertise, resources, and infrastructure to successfully develop and deploy sophisticated WMDs (Bunn & Wier, 2006).
Ideologically motivated terrorist groups like al-Qaeda have repeatedly expressed their willingness to use WMDs if given the opportunity (Jenkins, 2018). Osama bin Laden himself declared that acquiring WMDs was a “religious duty” (Bunn & Wier, 2006, p. 2). However, willingness alone does not necessarily translate to capability. Other terrorist organizations may be less inclined toward mass casualty attacks that could undermine public support for their cause (Bunn & Wier, 2006). Additionally, using WMDs could provoke a devastating military response that some groups wish to avoid (Bunn & Wier, 2006). So willingness varies among non-state actors.
Developing biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear weapons requires substantial scientific and technical expertise that most terrorist groups lack (Bunn & Wier, 2006). For example, al-Qaeda explored acquiring anthrax in the late 1990s but struggled to weaponize it effectively (Jenkins, 2018). While some groups have the financial resources, obtaining the necessary human capital and equipment presents significant challenges (Bunn & Wier, 2006). Covert proliferation networks may provide limited assistance, but fully indigenously developing sophisticated WMDs is likely beyond most non-state actors’ current capabilities (Bunn & Wier, 2006).
A potential exception is chemical weapons, as the required knowledge and precursor materials are more accessible than for biological or nuclear arms. However, even crude chemical attacks have proven technically demanding to execute successfully (Bunn & Wier, 2006). And obtaining militarily useful quantities of agents remains difficult without state sponsorship (Bunn & Wier, 2006). Overall, while some non-state actors may be willing, most currently lack the ability to develop or deploy complex WMD systems on any meaningful scale.
Effect of a Biological Weapon on a Target Population
Let us analyze the potential effects of an anthrax attack on a metropolitan area. Anthrax is a bacterium that can be used as a biological weapon due to its ability to survive in spore form and cause lethal inhalational anthrax if inhaled into the lungs (Inglesby et al., 1999). A 10-kilogram weaponized anthrax attack dispersed via an aerosol over a city of 5 million has been modeled to cause between 130,000-3,000,000 casualties depending on spore size, weather conditions and other factors (Henderson, 1999).
Initial symptoms may resemble a common cold or flu but can rapidly progress to severe breathing issues and septic shock (CDC, 2018). Without prompt diagnosis and treatment with appropriate antibiotics, inhalational anthrax is fatal to 90% of those infected (CDC, 2018). Hospitals would quickly become overwhelmed due to the large caseload. Additional fatalities could occur due to lack of hospital beds, medical supplies and personnel to provide intensive care (Henderson, 1999).
The psychological impact would also be immense. Fear and panic are likely to spread even faster than the disease. Public trust in government agencies’ ability to respond effectively may erode. The economic costs of lost productivity, healthcare expenditures and decontamination would be staggering as well. Overall, an anthrax attack could cause mass casualties, public health crisis, economic damage and long-term psychological trauma to the targeted population (Henderson, 1999; Inglesby et al., 1999). Prompt detection and response would be critical to mitigating loss of life.
Potential Impact of an EMP Weapon
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon is a type of strategic nuclear weapon designed to disable technology infrastructure over a wide area through generated pulses of electromagnetic radiation (Foster et al., 2004). A high-altitude EMP attack could disrupt electronics across an entire nation or region.
In the U.S., critical national infrastructures rely heavily on electronic systems for functions like power distribution, transportation, banking/finance, food/water delivery, emergency response and more (Foster et al., 2004). An EMP strike could cause nationwide power outages lasting months or years by damaging transformers and other grid components (Petersen, 2018). Communication networks, data systems and underpowered backup generators may also fail (Foster et al., 2004).
Without electricity, other modern services like fuel/water delivery, wastewater treatment, food/medicine storage and transportation would quickly breakdown (Petersen, 2018). Hospitals could lose life-saving medical equipment. Gas stations couldn’t pump fuel. Grocery stores’ refrigeration would fail. Millions may lack access to necessities and shelter in harsh conditions (Petersen, 2018). Public order could deteriorate as shortages of resources spark unrest (Foster et al., 2004).
The death toll from lack of power, water/sanitation, healthcare or civil unrest during such a prolonged societal collapse could conceivably reach the millions in the most severe scenarios (Petersen, 2018). A strategic EMP attack aimed at disabling U.S. infrastructure could cause catastrophic damage far exceeding the direct effects of any nuclear detonation. Hardening critical systems and increasing grid redundancy would be crucial to improving EMP resilience (Foster et al., 2004).
Threat Assessment of Chemical Weapons
Among CBRN weapons, I assess chemical weapons as posing the most imminent threat of use by non-state actors due to their accessibility. Chemical agents like sarin, VX nerve agent, and sulfur mustard blister agent have been used in past terrorist attacks and active insurgent conflicts (Danzig et al., 2012). Their production requires only limited specialized equipment and knowledge compared to biological or radiological arms.
Notably, the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult used sarin in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack, killing 13 and injuring over 1,000 with only 10 kilograms of agent (Danzig et al., 2012). More recently, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) employed sulfur mustard in Syria and Iraq from 2013-2017 (ACLU, 2018). Their chemical program demonstrated a willingness and growing ability to weaponize toxic industrial chemicals amidst an active civil war (ACLU, 2018).
Syria’s unresolved civil war and loose security also allow for proliferation risks. ISIS and other militant groups may retain access to Syrian chemical stockpiles as long as conflict persists (ACLU, 2018). Even small-scale attacks using improvised chemical devices could inflict mass casualties in populated areas like Damascus or Aleppo. Rogue groups obtaining agents from unstable regional stockpiles also raises concern (Danzig et al., 2012).
In summary, given their relative accessibility, ongoing conflicts and state programs providing precedent, crude chemical weapons appear one of the most plausible near-term CBRN threats from non-state actors. Interdicting proliferation networks and securing unguarded stockpiles should remain high priorities.
In conclusion, this assignment analyzed complex issues surrounding non-state actors, weapons of mass destruction and related security challenges. While capability gaps remain significant for most groups, the threats posed by chemical weapons and potentially other CBRN agents deserve continued attention from researchers, policymakers and security professionals. Updating assessments over time will also be important as technologies advance and geopolitical landscapes shift.
ACLU. (2018). ISIS used chemical weapons at least 52 times in Syria and Iraq, report finds. https://www.aclu.org/news/national-security/isis-used-chemical-weapons-at-least-52-times-in-syria-and-iraq-report-finds
Bunn, M., & Wier, A. S. (2006). Terrorist nuclear weapon construction: How difficult? Anthropic. https://www.anthropic.com/terrorist-nuclear-weapon-construction-how-difficult
CDC. (2018). Anthrax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/anthrax/index.html
Danzig, R., Berkowitz, B., Chalk, P., Goodman, S., Lundquist, L., Moy, K., … Zakheim, D. (2012). Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons (Second Edition). RAND Corporation. https://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG114.html
Foster, J. S., Mosher, D. A., Parrish, S. A., & Radasky, W. A. (2004). The electromagnetic pulse threat: Critical national infrastructures. The electromagnetic pulse commission. https://www.empcommission.org/docs/A2473-EMP_Commission-7MB.pdf
Henderson, D. A. (1999). The looming threat of bioterrorism. Science, 283(5406), 1279–1282. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.283.5406.1279

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