16 May 2023
17:00 UK time
Professor Jessica Stern
Examination Schools, 75-81 High Street OX1 4BG
Organiser contact

Nuclear terrorism remains a low probability, high consequence threat. Lack of access and capability will likely continue to inhibit most non-state-sponsored terrorism scenarios; and nuclear forensics, and the risk that a state-sponsor’s identity would be discovered, will likely inhibit proxy attacks. But several developments appear to be changing the nature of the threat. One of these is that non-state groups likely to be motivated to try to use radiological or improvised nuclear devices are changing and growing in number.

Deterrence assumes adversaries aim to avoid retaliation. But millenarian groups, such as ISIS and accelerationist groups, actively court retaliation to spark a wider war, or because of apocalyptic beliefs. In addition, Russia has made clear that it is willing to defy international norms by attacking Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, using chemical weapons, employing proxies with a history of war crimes, and deploying operatives to poison individual enemies with radiological substances. Other troubling developments include accelerationist groups’ deliberate recruitment of military personnel as well as growing links among mercenary and terrorist groups across international borders.

More about Professor Jessica Stern

Professor Stern, a former US National Security Council staff member, is a professor at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies and is currently a National Academy of Sciences panellist in the US on nuclear terrorism. She is the well-known author of several books including Terror in the Name of God; The Ultimate Terrorists; and My War Criminal: Personal Encounters with an Architect of Genocide. Professor Stern has a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in Chemistry, a master’s degree from MIT in Technology Policy, and a doctorate from Harvard University in Public Policy. She is a 2016 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Event Schedule

  • 4.30pm-4.55pm: Registration
  • 5pm prompt: Cyril Foster Lecture 2023 will start; Opening remarks from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Irene Tracy CBE FMedSci; Introduction to Professor Jessica Stern by Professor Neta Crawford; Cyril Foster Lecture: 'Nuclear Terrorism: What is the Threat?' by Professor Jessica Stern; Q&A; Closing remarks by Head of Department of Politics and International Relations, Professor Petra Schleiter.
  • 6.30-7.30pm: Drinks Reception

About the Cyril Foster Lecture Series

This lecture series is the legacy of Cyril A Foster. We know very little about him. Mr Foster owned several small sweet shops in and around London and lived alone in Essex. On his death, he left a bequest to the University, asking us to create an annual lecture series on the ‘elimination of war and the better understanding of the nations of the world’. This wish is particularly unusual, as he had no previous connection to the University. His kind and generous gift continues to promote international cooperation.

Previous speakers include prominent figures from the world of politics and policy; Oxford has hosted prime ministers and foreign ministers to secretary-generals of the United Nations and heads of major international organisations, as well as prominent academics.
See the full list of past lectures at https://www.politics.ox.ac.uk/cyril-foster-lecture-series