Stern Delivers Cyril Foster Lecture at Oxford

On Tuesday, May 16, 2023, Jessica Stern, Research Professor at Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, presented the 2023 Cyril Foster Lecture: “Nuclear Terrorism: What is the Threat?Over the past 50 years, the Cyril Foster Lecture series has delivered engaging lectures from some of the world’s most influential policymakers and academics. It is the University’s annual distinguished lecture in the field of International Relations.

This year’s Cyril Foster Lecture focused on the threat of nuclear terrorism. Though unlikely, nuclear terrorism can have severe consequences. Currently, limited access and capabilities deter most non-state-sponsored terrorist attacks, and the risk of nuclear forensics revealing the identity of state sponsors hinders proxy attacks. However, recent developments suggest changes in the nature of this threat. Non-state groups interested in using radiological or improvised nuclear devices are increasing in number and evolving.

Unlike traditional deterrence assumptions, millenarian groups like ISIS and accelerationist organizations actively seek retaliation to provoke larger conflicts or due to their apocalyptic beliefs. Additionally, Russia has demonstrated a willingness to defy international norms through actions like targeting Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, employing chemical weapons, using proxies with a history of war crimes, and deploying operatives to poison individuals with radiological substances. Troubling developments also include accelerationist groups deliberately recruiting military personnel and the growing interconnections between mercenary and terrorist organizations across borders.

Click here to learn more about the lecture.

Professor Jessica Stern is a Research Professor at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies. She is the co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror and the author of Denial: A Memoir of Terror, Terror in the Name of GodWhy Religious Militants Kill, as well as The Ultimate Terrorists.  Learn more about Professor Stern on her faculty profile.