‘More Bang for the Buck’: Examining the Determinants of Terrorist Adoption of New Weapons Technologies

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


As modern technologies appear and mature, those concerned with security often fear that these technologies will expand the destructiveness of asymmetric adversaries, terrorists chief among them. Yet, historically, only a small subset of terrorists has been particularly innovative with respect to weapons selection and use. This interdisciplinary study seeks to fill a gap in current research on the topic of terrorist behaviour by examining the dynamics underlying terrorist weapons adoption, with the aim of elucidating the technological and organizational mechanisms behind changes in the instruments of terror.

The study explores the topic from two different theoretical perspectives: the historical adoption of weapons by a variety of actors and terrorist (and more general) organizational innovation. The result is the identification of a complex web of factors that is distilled down to a framework representing a highly contingent interaction between the terrorist organization and the prospective weapon in a particular social, political, and security setting. In order to supplement and provide a preliminary validation of the initial model, the adoption behaviour of four different terrorist organizations is analysed, using pairwise comparison and other techniques.

The cases largely confirm the central theoretical strategic and tactical logic of weapons adoption, as well as highlight the crucial role played by a variety of contingent factors, from ideology to the terrorists’ social networks. In so doing, the study challenges notions of technological determinism with respect to terrorists and emerging technologies by identifying several key factors that can confound or facilitate a terrorist group’s successful adoption of a new weapon. The insights gained through this study can assist policymakers and practitioners by identifying the technology-organization dyads of greatest concern and introducing a new methodology for discerning between those terrorists that are likely to embrace new technologies of lethality and those that will stumble along the way.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorPeter Neumann (Supervisor) & Wyn Bowen (Supervisor)

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