Author Biography

John J. Klein is a Senior Analyst at ANSER in Arlington, Virginia. He holds a Ph.D. in politics, with a strategic studies focus, from the University of Reading and a master’s in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College, where he was a Mahan Scholar. He previously served as a Federal Executive Fellow at the Brookings Institution in its Foreign Policy Studies program. Dr. Klein has served as a Countering WMD Planner for the last four years, and writes frequently on national policy, military strategy, and the implications of the Law of Armed Conflict. The author may be reached at: john.klein@anser.org.



Subject Area Keywords

Al-Qaida, Asymmetric warfare, Counterterrorism, Cybersecurity, International law, National security, Nonstate actors, Security studies, Terrorism / counterterrorism, Violent extremism


While nuclear deterrence theory may be well-suited to dealing with nuclear-armed states, its suitability for deterring nuclear terrorism has frequently been questioned since 9/11. While terrorist organizations do not necessarily act uniformly or according to the same underlying beliefs, many of the most aggressive organizations are motivated by an ideology that embraces martyrdom and an apocalyptic vision.1 This ideology may be based on religion or a desire to overthrow a government. Consequently, terrorists motivated by ideology who intend to use a stolen or improvised nuclear device against the United States or its interests may not care about the resulting military repercussions following a nuclear attack. In such a scenario, some strategists think a terrorist organization's leadership may prove "undeterrable" by traditional military means. Nevertheless, deterrence is still a critical element in U.S. national strategy to prevent a nuclear attack. Furthermore, deterrence combined with dissuasion works to reduce the likelihood of nuclear terrorism being used against the United States, while also mitigating the consequences should such an act actually occur.