Reference: Private Military Corporations–A Non-State Actor-Nuclear Terror Nexus?

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Private Military Corporations: A Non-State Actor-Nuclear Terror Nexus?

Robert L. Brown
Temple University

August 16, 2010


The risk of nuclear terrorism is hyped by some as possible and high consequence (Allison 2006) while others dismiss the strategy as too difficult and too risky for terrorist organizations (Jenkins 2008). However, analysts have no data from which to directly analyze the probability of terrorist acquisition and use. One methodological solution is to extend the range analysis to include analogous cases: private military corporations (PMCs) are one class of non-state actors (NSAs) who may possess the capacity and autonomy to pose a risk of nuclear terrorism for their state masters. I find that the while the technical and military capabilities of PMCs may be greater than those of terrorist organizations with respect to nuclear weapon construction or delivery, they are still be insufficient (and PMCs must also somehow acquire fissile materials). Also, PMCs benefit from agency slack, as demonstrated by Blackwater’s performance in Iraq, but this autonomy does not appear sufficient to carry out an illicit nuclear plot. Therefore, PMCs may be more capable than most terrorist organizations if they sought to acquire nuclear weapons but they are still unlikely to succeed.

Keywords: Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Private Military Corporations, Blackwater, Xe

Working Paper Series
Brown, Robert L., Private Military Corporations: A Non-State Actor-Nuclear Terror Nexus? (August 16, 2010). Available at SSRN:

See Also:

David Isenberg, Jack Bauer Beats Blackwater, Huffington Post 20 december 2010

Journal: Near-Term Demise of Private Military Contractors

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