International Terrorism in the Contemporary World

By Marius H. Livingston; Lee Bruce Kress et al. | Go to book overview

R.WILLIAM MENGEL

The Impact of Nuclear Terrorism on the Military's Role in Society

Introduction

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, having receiving its name as far back as the late 1700s during the French Revolution. One might argue that terroristic acts have been part of the entire history of our civilization. In each era, whether it was that of anti-tsarist terrorists of the late nineteenth century, the Irish Republican Army in the first quarter of the twentieth century, or any of the numerous others, terrorists have had the capacity for acquiring and employing the technology of the day. Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up the English Parliament in 1604 with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder is illustrative of employment of state-of-the-art technology for terroristic motives.

Since the early twentieth century, technological advancement within industrialized nations, and to a lesser degree developing states, has occurred at a rate greater than in all previous history combined. Most significantly for this discussion, technologies with mass destruction and mass casualty potential have been widely developed and deployed by the major militaries of the world. Beyond a purely military application, a few of these potent technologies have been adapted to civilian use, including nuclear energy.

One result of this proliferation of technology is that for the first time in history terrorists now have available a broad spectrum of means that carry catastrophic consequences. To date, however, terrorists have foregone the use of those technological leaps which would significantly increase their potential to publicize goals and achieve concessions from government and society in general. Instead, they have elected to apply incremental improvements in existing conventional technologies. The reasons for this choice, if it in fact has been a matter of choice, are too complex to discuss in detail here. Rather, central to this discussion are the propositions that, despite the lack of interest up to now, nuclear technology is reasonably available to terrorists and the employment of this technology represents such a danger to society that the ultimate force of the state—the military—must be used to counter the threat.

The purpose of the following is to present an overview of nuclear terrorism and the potential role of the military in democratic society as an instrument for coping with it. Since the military is not functionally integrated into the day-to-day domestic life of the nation and does not interact with the

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