Nuclear terrorism and trust: understanding the significance of the categorization of WMD

Patricia Shamai (Portsmouth)




Much of the existing literature on the actions and motivations of terrorist organizations and potential proliferating states, assumes that the existence of these organizations has fundamentally changed the dynamics of the international system. In many important ways they have. However, much of what we think about these groups and the challenge they pose rests in the category of untested assumptions.

Amongst the international community, nuclear weapons are classed within the wider category of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), this term is internationally recognised as including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. These weapons are distinct from each other and the use and possession of these weapons is treated differently. Attention is primarily focused upon nuclear weapons.

This paper argues that in order to address the threat of nuclear terrorism, and to consider the role of trust- building in this area, it is necessary to understand the significance of this wider categorisation. Nuclear weapons have been stigmatized by the international community. This is the result of the utilitarian, moral and ethical aspects of these weapons. The process of stigmatization ensures that these weapons are distinct and, to some, desirable. They are perceived to be the ultimate weapon.

The term WMD symbolizes the stigma. International use of this term focuses attention onto measures to address the threat of these weapons. It is argued that understanding of this enables a greater appreciation of measures to secure nuclear material and counter the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Dr. Patricia Shamai

Patricia is a Lecturer of International Relations at the University of Portsmouth, teaching undergraduate units addressing defence and international security issues. Prior to this, she completed a PhD at The University of Southampton examining the conceptualisation of weapons categorised as WMD. Patricia’s main areas of interest are US and UK national security and foreign policy, focusing on chemical, biological and nuclear terrorism and counter proliferation, nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and energy security issues.

Patricia has attended a number of national and international conferences addressing nuclear security and US foreign policy issues, presenting research to academic, scientific, military and governmental representatives. Within the UK, to the MOD and at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), Aldermaston and within the United States, at the ISA Annual Convention (2012), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and whilst attending University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) Public Policy and Nuclear Threats Training Program (PPNT), and the subsequent IGCC, PPNT Winter Conference. Outside of academia, she has worked for over 8 years for the National Health Service