Updated: 05-Dec-2003 Week of 25-31 March 2002

25 Mar. 2002

Social and psychological consequences
of terrorism

Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September, chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) terrorism is a threat that preoccupies governments and populations to an even greater extent. A NATO-Russia workshop was held from 25-27 March to study the Social and Psychological Consequences of such attacks. It was held at NATO HQ and organised by NATO and Russia as a follow-up activity to discussions between President Vladimir Putin and Secretary General Lord Robertson in October 2001.

Among the topics covered was the danger of rumours, myths and hoaxes in the modern high communication age and the need for governments to counter this by giving rapid and accurate information to affected populations following a terrorist attack. The experts noted how resilient people were following terrorist attacks in different countries. They also noted the differences between societies in their anticipated reactions to CBR attacks and the expectations of governments in dealing with them.

The workshop concluded that the purpose of CBR terrorism is not to take lives or destroy property. That is the mechanism, not the goal. The goal is to weaken the sense of cohesion that binds communities together, to reduce its social capital and to sow distrust, fear and insecurity. Terrorism, it was concluded, is fundamentally a method of waging social and psychological warfare. More attention should therefore be paid to understanding how these disruptions are instigated and how they can be better managed.

Co-directed by Professor Simon Wessely (UK) and Professor Valery Krasnov (Russia), the workshop was supported by the NATO Science Programme.

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