Exploratory Analysis of Cultural Factors and the Impact They May Have on Terrorist Views about CBRN Weapons




Ward, Megan

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The findings of this study suggest that factors impacted by culture, such as ideas about honor, courage, strength, military prowess, masculinity, past warfare traditions, and visual imagery may influence terrorist views about chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. According to the 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism, al-Qa`ida (AQ) and its affiliates and adherents continue to present the preeminent security threat to the United States and some of these terrorist groups have demonstrated an interest in or have pursued efforts to develop a CBRN weapon capability. Therefore, the prevention of terrorist development, acquisition, and use of CBRN weapons remains an overarching counterterrorism goal. A number of studies have examined various factors that are likely to influence terrorist use of CBRN weapons including technical capability, access to CBRN materials, strategic objectives, ideology, and risk perception. This dissertation adds to this body of literature by examining the potential influence of cultural factors on AQ affiliate and adherent views about CBRN weapons. Cultural beliefs and values have been shown to play an important role in violence and warfare, including weapon and tactic preferences and therefore, may also influence terrorist weapon preference. This study used historic warfare examples in conjunction with a review of approximately 250 terrorist statements to examine how ideas about the acceptability and visual impact of an attack, use of a weapon, or act of violence may influence terrorist proclivity or aversion to CBRN weapons. In addition to exploring how cultural factors may influence terrorist views about CBRN weapons, this study also identified areas for future study to advance insight into terrorist interest in CBRN weapons. Additionally, suggestions are presented for strategic counterterrorism communications to dissuade terrorist CBRN interest and use and to limit terrorist constituent support for groups that pursue or use CBRN weapons.



Political Science, Biology, Biodefense, CBRN, Counterterrorism, Strategic communications, Terrorism, WMD