21.8 Terrorism and International Security

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union built huge arsenals of nuclear weapons. When the Cold War ended, the question remained about what would happen to these deadly weapons. As the threat of global terrorism increased, keeping nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons out of the hands of dangerous groups has become an important issue.

Photo of soldiers behind a bus in a street where a building is emitting smoke and fire.

A soldier takes cover during a 2008 bombing in Mumbai, India. A group of Pakistani terrorists stormed various sites in the city, killing more than 160 people.


  • Explain how nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons threaten international security.
  • Analyze the growth of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
  • Explain how the United States and other nations have responded to terrorism from September 11, 2001, to the present.

Key Terms

  • proliferate
  • terrorism
  • al Qaeda
  • Afghanistan
  • Taliban

The Threat of New Weapons

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

In 1968, the United States, the Soviet Union, and 60 other nations signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The purpose of the treaty was to ensure that nuclear weapons did not proliferate, or rapidly spread. The treaty was designed to limit nuclear weapons to the five countries that already had them—the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France, and Britain. Since then, the treaty has been renewed, with 190 nations agreeing not to develop or possess nuclear weapons.

Three nations did not sign the NPT: India, Israel, and Pakistan. All three have secretly developed nuclear weapons. North Korea withdrew from the treaty and later tested nuclear weapons.

Western powers accuse Iran of developing nuclear weapons. Iran claims its nuclear program is to produce nuclear power as an energy source only. The UN imposed economic sanctions on Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program, a step toward building nuclear weapons. The sanctions severely hurt the Iranian economy and led Iran to begin talks about its nuclear program. Both sides, however, viewed each other with mistrust.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments