John Robb argues that “rampant globalization (infrastructure/connectivity in travel to economics to communications)” has “radically improved the ability of small groups to conduct warfare. We see the results of this in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and other garden spots around the world.”
He sees bioterrorism, rather than the acquisition of a dirty nuclear device by terrorists, as the most likely catastrophic threat because “the critical materials necessary for the development of nuclear bombs still reside primarily within state control due to the difficulty of their manufacturing. So while globalization may make these materials more accessible — in that it is easier to acquire, manipulate, and deliver nuclear materials than ever before — it is still difficult and likely not something that could be repeated with any frequency.”
By contrast, “biotechnology is improving at rates equal or better than Moore’s law.” As a result, “very soon, in less than a decade, the technologies necessary for individuals to build catastrophic pathogens will be cheap and widely available.” He cites Robert Carlson’s “The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies” and its warning that “work that used to require a PhD a couple of years ago is now accomplished by lightly trained technicians.”
Not exactly cheery stuff but likely correct. The only good news is that biological agents remain very difficult to employ successfully, making it more likely that would-be terrorists will kill themselves than large numbers of innocents. Still, it seems likely that a successful biological attack will happen sooner rather than later.