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Title: Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism
Author: James Campbell
Publisher: Interpact Press
Copyright: 1997
ISBN: 0-962-8700-3-X
Pages: 166
Price: $29.95
Rating: 82%
Genies just won’t stay in their bottles. Like the powerful wishes granted by the inhabitants of those attractive decanters, weapons of mass destruction offer terrorist groups the ability to reach their goals. Unfortunately, for the latest strain of ultraviolent groups those goals can include apocalyptic devastation.

In Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, United States Navy Commander James K. Campbell offers a predictive model to determine the likelihood of a particular group turning to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The technology and resources to produce nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons have become much more common, but the will to use them is a recent development. Campbell cites a 1977 admonition from Rand’s Brian Jenkins that “terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead” to illustrate how terroristic violence has changed from an agenda-forcing tool of the politically weak to what some groups see as a precursor for cataclysmic change or a metaphysical transformation.

Psychological Underpinnings

Campbell starts out by profiling the psychological make-up of a typical terrorist organization, with particular emphasis on how leaders control their followers, before moving on to the meat of the book: a model for establishing the likelihood a particular terrorist organization will turn to weapons of mass destruction. Campbell actually offers two models for consideration, the first being the Structural Realist Model of Effective Demand. This model calculates effective demand, or the attractiveness of using WMD terrorism, through a simplistic balance of power calculus. In essence, under this model if a group wants to offset the state’s power (and every group covered does) and has the resources to develop a WMD capability, it will unless the group’s target audience would backlash and cause the group to lose its legitimacy.

Unfortunately, the Structural Realist model doesn’t adequately distinguish between typical terrorist organizations and those with no external constituency or fear of reprisal. The author offers the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army (PIRA) as an example of a group the Structural Realist model would identify as a likely candidate to develop and use a WMD capability. That the PIRA has investigated but decided against such tactics indicates a more sophisticated approach is required.

A Better Approach

Campbell has developed what he terms the Synthetic Theory of Structural Realism and Organizational Process as an alternative to the Structural Realist model. Rather than focus exclusively on a group’s desire to balance the power of the state, this model accounts for the psychological make-up of the organization’s leader, whether the group’s world view would support extreme violence, and what concern (if any) the group would have over public or governmental backlash.

The key independent variable in the Synthetic Theory is whether a group’s ideology supports extreme violence. Three such world views include:


  • Apocalyptic millennialism.
  • Redemptive religious imperative (“a martyr for God”).
  • Racist/ethnic hate.

With the exception of the PIRA, Campbell’s case studies focus on three groups, each espousing one of these ideologies. Those groups are:


  • Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo cult (sarin gas attack at the Shinjuku train station in 1995).
  • The Jihad Organization (World Trade Center bombing).
  • Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (various incidents, plus links to the Oklahoma City bombing).

Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism examines each of these groups (and the PIRA) under both the Structural Realist and Synthetic theories. Each group is assigned a score from zero to one in several categories (though only zero or one in the Structural Realist theory); the values are then multiplied, totaled, and the total modified by “external influences” assigned by investigators.


While Campbell’s individual and group psychological profiles are extremely valuable, the Structural Realist model is a straw man at best Plus, the existence of the “intervening processes” variable in the Synthetic theory (which isn’t distinguished in the book from the “external influences” variable used in the Structural Realist model), removes quite a bit of the mathematical rigor of Campbell’s approach. To be fair, the necessity of including a “fudge factor” in both models points up the difficulty of the undertaking.

On the bright side, Campbell’s thorough analysis of each group’s leadership, ideology, and resources does offer the reader a heuristic model for examining terrorist organizations’ general capabilities and willingness to develop and use weapons of mass destruction. While the Synthetic Theory of Structural Realism and Organizational Process could be refined (such as changing it from a strictly multiplicative probability chain to a mixed additive/multiplicative one), the analytical processes Campbell used to develop his model make Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism a book that should be read by policy makers, analysts, and students dealing with the threat of global terrorism.

Curtis D. Frye (  is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He worked for four years as a defense industry analyst at The MITRE Corporation in McLean, VA, and is the author of Privacy-Enhanced Business, from Quorum Books.