Nunn School Undergraduate Presents Research on WMD Terrorism at West Point
Third year International Affairs and Modern Languages major, Lucia Bird, presented research results that challenge accepted wisdom on WMD terrorism in the Middle East at the United States Military Academy (USMA) Combating Terrorism Center (CTC).
Bird was selected to present at West Point’s second annual Cadet/Student Conference on Terrorism, Insurgency, and Asymmetric Conflicts held on March 27th. The conference is a high level forum for undergraduate and graduate students to present research focusing on the characteristics, causes, and implications of terrorism and insurgency and to discuss the larger issues associated with asymmetric conflicts. Those in the reviewing panel included West Point faculty and experts in the field.
Advised by Margaret E. Kosal, assistant professor in The Sam Nunn School for International Affairs, Bird explored acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by non-state actors in the Middle East. The work challenges traditional thoughts on the relationship between WMD terrorism and state support, and improved understanding of terrorist organizations’ WMD motivations and capabilities.
Bird empirically chronicled the acquisition, attempts, and use of WMD by Hamas and Hezbollah from available literature and media sources. Bird and Kosal further studied existing evidence on the suspected relationships between these two organizations and potential state supporters (Iran and Syria). Comparing the different success rates of the two organizations and taking into account the different levels of state support, the research probes the extent to which state support of terrorist groups seriously impacts WMD acquisition, development, and use.
Conventional theories suggest that non-state actors do benefit from state assistance in the pursuit of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agents. Bird and Kosal, however, found that an unanticipated trend appears: Hamas, which lacks significant state support, seems freer to pursue WMD activity; while there are limited attempts to attain or employ WMD by Hezbollah, which may be restricted because of its relationship with Iran and Syria.
The broader impact of the research relates to the strategy and policies of the U.S. to deter pursuit of and prevent acquisition or use of WMD by non-state actors.