Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Russian Military Doctrine Recognizes Threat of Nuclear Terrorism

Mar. 13, 2015

The snow is melting in Boston and it is hard not to feel the optimism this brings.  But if you are someone who worries about nuclear issues and need more good news, you can find it in an unlikely place – the new Russian Military Doctrine published this past December.  Sandwiched in between statements about the need to improve Russia’s military to thwart the dangers posed by NATO expansion is a new danger which was not recognized in any previous military doctrine – the danger from terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.  Finding such a statement would only bring a smile to that crazy subset of people who think about this problem, but there it is.  Among the “fundamental external military dangers” is:

“The growing threat of global extremism (terrorism) and its new manifestations in an environment of insufficiently effective international anti-terrorist cooperation, the real threat of terrorist acts using radioactive and toxic chemical materials, the increase in the level of transnational organized crime, first and foremost the unlawful trafficking in weapons and narcotics.” [parentheses as in original]

The Russian military doctrine is an important security policy document that not only gives notice to foreign adversaries, but also sets priorities for bureaucracies throughout the Russian government.  It is drafted by the military, coordinated with other power ministries, and approved and signed by President Putin.  In language that seems slightly stilted in translation, the 2014 doctrine updates the previous 2010 doctrine which identified the threat only as: "The proliferation of international terrorism.”

The much more detailed 2014 definition attempts to clarify that extremism is the danger and terrorism is merely the strategy.  But in that strategy, the Russian security establishment sees terrorism with radioactive and chemical materials as especially dangerous.  This is a welcome advance in Russian security thinking about terrorism with WMD, and oddly it comes at a time when that threat seems to be fading from the consciousness of US intelligence agencies. 

The Central Intelligence Agency’s 2015 World Threat Assessment (WTA) does not mention the risk of terrorists conducting major attacks on the United States or the risk of terrorists seeking chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons (CBRN). This is significant because attention to the CBRN threat in WTAs has been diminishing in recent years.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Russian Military Doctrine Recognizes Threat of Nuclear Terrorism.” Nuclear Security Matters, March 13, 2015,