Fictional Scenario: Cycle of Fear[]

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This scenario explores what might happen if proliferation concerns increased to the point that large-scale intrusive security measures were taken. In such a world, proliferators—such as illegal arms merchants—might find it increasingly hard to operate, but at the same time, with the spread of WMD, more countries might want to arm themselves for their own protection. This scenario is depicted in a series of text-message exchanges between two arms dealers. One is ideologically committed to leveling the playing field and ensuring the Muslim world has its share of WMD, while the other is strictly for hire. Neither knows for sure who is at the end of his chain—a government client or terrorist front. As the scenario progresses, the cycle of fear originating with WMD-laden terrorist attacks has gotten out of hand—to the benefit of the arms dealers, who appear to be engaged in lucrative deals. However, fear begets fear. The draconian measures increasingly implemented by governments to stem proliferation and guard against terrorism also have the arms dealers beginning to run scared. In all of this, globalization may be the real victim.

The original and full scenario for Cycle of Fear can be explored at the National Intelligence Council web page.

“Lessons Learned‿

  • The fear cycle generated by an increasing spread of WMD and terrorist attacks, once under way, would be one of the hardest to break. The greater sense of insecurity might prompt more countries to acquire WMD for protection or deterrence.
  • A complication in combating the spread of WMD would be the ideological factor, as exemplified by one of the dealers in the scenario story. Some dealers would not be in it for the money but to level the playing field between the Muslim world and the West.
  • Achieving a balance so that international commerce was not obstructed by excessive security would be important since any economic meltdown could spur legitimate businesses and scientists to engage in a highly lucrative, albeit illegal activity.
  • Developing and sustaining international cooperation when the fear cycle might drive some to go it alone would be a challenge.
This page describes a scenario. The developments outlined here are possible, but unlikely and depend on a number of random factors.