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How Violent Non-State Actors Learned to Stop Worrying and Simply Buy the Bomb

Adam Schmitz

Executive Summary

Violent non-state actors (VNSA) continue to weaponize Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear materials (CBRN). Rising to infamy with al-Qaeda, the development of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) is a significant objective for VNSA. Al-Qaeda looked to achieve this capability through state sponsorship, due to inability to advance unassisted. Similarly, the Aum Shinrikyo group was able to develop CBRN capabilities with assistance. WMD once again emerged as a primary concern during the Syrian Civil War. According to available information, VNSA have been unable to produce a deliverable CBRN weapon on their own. Currently, neither UN nor White House’s policies address developing gaps in WMD acquisition prevention. This paper will address growing concerns about the United States’ ability to counter the acquisition of WMD by VNSA while offering several options for policy makers. In accordance with current policy, deterrence techniques targeting state to state sales of WMD are vague and no concrete options are given for state to VNSA transactions. It is the recommendation of this paper to adopt a three-fold approach to policy which would destroy available WMD, increase the capacity to secure WMD, and reestablish deterrence using military and diplomatic action. Introducing Foreign Internal Defense (FID) to at-risk nations would increase institutional security capacity. In the event of a failure to secure WMD, diplomatic sanctions, as well as kinetic action, would be available options acting upon states which export WMD equipment. The acquisition of CBRN WMD by VNSA is a significant concern to national security and should be addressed by future policies.


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