Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction

Testimony Defense

Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction

March 17, 2004 12 min read
Larry Wortzel
Larry Wortzel
Adjunct Research Professor at the U.S. Army War College

Dr. Larry M. Wortzel no longer works for the Heritage Foundation.

Delivered to the Armed Services Committee of the United States House of Representatives

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to address the threats posed by the proliferation of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons and the means to deliver them.

The dangers posed to the American people and our allies by such weapons have multiplied significantly in the past few years. Military measures such as deterrence and political means like arms control, which proved reasonably effective during the Cold War, are more difficult in a world with multiple actors that have, seek, and may use such weapons. The existence of non-state actors that function on a global scale, such as al-Qaeda, that may gain access to weapons of mass destruction significantly changes the habitual calculus of deterrence and arms control, particularly because for the terrorists neither regime survival nor the survival of a state is involved in their decision calculus. Indeed, even personal survival is often not a consideration.

In today's threat environment a successful policy for combating weapons of mass destruction addresses the most serious danger to the peace of the world and the security of the United States. As President Bush pointed out in a White House fact sheet on February 11, 2004, chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists or rogue regimes could bring catastrophic harm to America and to the international community.

Diplomatic measures and nonproliferation regimes alone will never be sufficient to curb these dangerous threats; they lack the threat of force. The approach taken by the President in the Proliferation Security Initiative adds another tool to the toolbox as a means between holding meetings and declaring war. A successful policy for combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction, however, depends on using the following four tools in a balanced and concerted way: deterrence, defense, offensive operations, and arms control (including export controls).

Proliferation Security Initiative
The Proliferation Security Initiative, despite the fact that it was launched less than a year ago, has been quite successful in encouraging international cooperation on interdicting illicit trafficking of weapons. It is a creative approach that works to develop cooperation among like-minded states in a manner that allows each to enforce its customs and security programs within its own sovereign territory. Moreover, the PSI has the attraction of being a new international regime into which nations opt of their own volition, without some attempt to create a new external bureaucracy that limits national sovereignty or subordinates it to a supra-national organization. As the Bush Administration works to maintain momentum, the PSI should be driven by the following four principles:

  • The PSI should seek a healthy competition with the treaty-based (NPT, BWC, CWC) non-proliferation regimes.
  • It should avoid creating an international bureaucracy.
  • It should seek to harness the power of sovereign states, not create an internationally based alternative power center.
  • It should avoid quid pro quo deals in which non-proliferation obligations are obtained at the expense of accepting technology and trade obligations that undermine the non-proliferation goal.

As attractive as this new approach may be, it has limitations. Ships or aircraft that attempt to transport weapons of mass destruction, delivery means, or the technologies to manufacture such deadly weapons must pass through or stop at the customs territories of the cooperating nations. Any nation of terrorist group that attempts to move such things could simply operate through the territory of a non-cooperating state. Still, other means of arms control are necessary to complement this important initiative.

Deterrence through conventional military strength and a strong nuclear force has been the principal means of dissuading a potential adversary from attacking the United States. The strategy of mutually assured destruction, as frightening as it might be, was an effective way to deter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and it continues to be a necessary tool to deter potential adversaries. China too, with its "minimum deterrent strategy" understands that a nuclear strike against U.S. forces and bases in East Asia, American allies, or the United States will invite swift, decisive retaliation. China's minimum deterrent strategy was designed to have the ability to inflict damage on an aggressor able to wage a nuclear war. Beijing is shifting its strategy to one of limited deterrence based on what Alistair I. Johnston, of Harvard University, has identified as a new war-fighting doctrine that includes both counterforce target and countervalue targets (missiles and the general population) in an adversary's homeland.

Deterrence works in cases in which leaders value the survival of their nation, its population, and its institutions, if not their own survival. Officials who accompanied then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright to North Korea report that even Kim Chong‑il-who may not value his people very much but certainly values his own survival and that of his regime-understands that a nuclear attack on the United States would invite certain destruction. Indeed, North Korea has been effectively deterred since the Korean Armistice was signed in 1953, which is why President Bush is able to address the threat from Pyongyang in a patient manner with the cooperation of the other four nations with an interest in peace and security in Northeast Asia.

It is imperative that the United States develop effective ballistic missile defenses and deploy them as quickly as possible. Defenses minimize the effects of the potential use of weapons of mass destruction and make the threat of their delivery by missile by rogue states or enemies with minimal delivery means less credible. Such defenses would be more effective if combined with a broad architecture involving allies and friends. Thus, cooperation with Israel and NATO nations on ballistic missile defense programs is important, as are Britain's intent to upgrade the Fylingdales radar and the declarations by Australia and Canada of their willingness to cooperate. The December 17, 2003, decision by the Diet of Japan to move forward to develop ballistic missile defenses with the United States is also a welcome policy.

Effective missile defenses may even help dissuade potential adversaries from developing a long-range ballistic missile capability to begin with. The fact is that the United States adhered to a policy of purposeful vulnerability toward ballistic missiles until recently. This provided an attractive incentive for nations to develop a missile capability to exploit this obvious hole in the nation's defense. A 10,000 kilometer missile will be far less valuable to North Korea or Iran if the United States can effectively defend against it. This should translate into those nations being far less concerned about investing their scarce resources into those capabilities.

Of course, weapons of mass destruction can be delivered by many other means than just ballistic missile. Effective means of cruise missile defense are already available, and the Coast Guard and Navy are putting into place a maritime surveillance and security program to lessen the likelihood of such an attack. The other measures that the Department of Homeland Security is putting in place to protect the American people are equally important means of defense. Border protection, ensuring that we know what foreign persons are in our country and why, and the Container Security Initiative to prevent use of a shipping container to transport a weapon of mass destruction, are all defensive measures that make America safer.

Consequence management and the ability to minimize the effects of any weapons of mass destruction that may be used against the American people or our forces abroad are also important defensive measures. The old emphasis on civil defense in case of nuclear attack during the Cold War has shifted to a broad system of consequence management as part of a homeland security system. Thoughtful study has taught us that local responders are the most likely to have to handle any use of nuclear, radiological, biological, or chemical weapons against the American people. A systematic way of ensuring that local first responders are prepared for such an eventuality is one of the most serious responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security.

Preemption has always been an option for addressing a circumstance where the risk of attack is growing. As early as April 2002, The Heritage Foundation suggested in its publication Issues 2002 that the Bush Administration adopt a policy of preempting imminent attacks by terrorists or states when there is certain knowledge that weapons of mass destruction may be used or that an attack is imminent. The right to do so is not a new principle in international law. It has been an inherent right for centuries that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully defend themselves against imminent danger of attack. Making this an explicit strategy and policy highlights this option because of the unique threats posed by rogue states or terrorists who may be armed with weapons of mass destruction. A policy of preemption requires "certain knowledge." Imagine if you will that it is December 6, 1941, and United States ships and aircraft observe the assembled Japanese fleet launching armed aircraft off the shores of Hawaii. No rational person would argue that attacking those Japanese aircraft and ships before they reached American shores would have violated international law.

The failure of the American intelligence community to accurately portray the scope, nature and location of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program is a serious matter that Congress is investigating. Because a policy of preemption is so dependent on accurate intelligence, the international community will question the legitimacy of any future preemptive action by the United States (or any other nation), but the explicit statement of such a policy serves as a notice to terrorists and rogue states that they cannot prepare an attack against America with impunity. Given the potential scope of such an attack, preemption becomes a more important tool.

The President is justified in applying preemptive military force to fight the war on terrorism. Failure to do so in spite of a threat of imminent attack would be to ignore the lessons learned from September 11 regarding the nature of the threats against America in the 21st century.

  • Deterrence alone is not sufficient to suppress aggression. Both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban could have predicted that the United States would respond to their attacks; yet, they acted anyway.
  • Attacks can occur with little or no warning. The emergence of global communications, advances in technology, and the globalization of terrorism have significantly decreased the time it takes not only for a potential threat to be identified, but also for that threat to emerge as an act of aggression.
  • The use of a weapon of mass destruction is reasonably likely. On September 11, Americans were killed on a massive scale. Hostile entities increasingly view weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as political assets.
  • A deadly synergy is created when hostile state and non-state agents conspire. While hostile states continue to threaten America and its interests, the threat of non-state actors, such as al-Qaeda, is growing. The danger increases when states and non-state actors work together. States have resources-including territory, finances, an international diplomatic presence, and trade-that non-state actors do not have. On the other hand, non-state actors are able to operate globally and can act largely undetected.
  • The future envisioned by America's enemies is incompatible with U.S. security. Prior to September 11, "soft diplomacy"-including multilateral arms control, aid incentives, and appeals to reason-was the preferred approach in dealing with hostile regimes. On September 11, however, the idea that such hostile regimes and the United States could simultaneously pursue their respective interests lost all credibility. It was clear that America's enemies were willing to use unprovoked violence to achieve their objectives.

Other offensive measures include the development of new warheads that will penetrate hardened facilities and special warheads that may be effective in wiping out stocks of biological agents. Although it would be ideal to develop such new weapons without nuclear testing, most experts do not believe it is possible to build a totally new nuclear weapon otherwise. If testing is required at some future time to ensure the security of the American people, then the President should not hesitate to do so.

Arms Control
Arms control is only one of the four essential non-proliferation (counter-proliferation) tools, but it has been a principal tool for years. Its strength is that it shrinks the universe of threats, allowing the U.S. to concentrate its efforts with its military tools. International arms control treaties obtain their legitimacy (or should) from a proven track record of contributing to the realization of non-proliferation or disarmament goals.

The United States has responsibilities that are established in a number of arms control treaties dealing with WMD, as well as other treaties and agreements, some examples of which are: Nuclear Suppliers Group; Australia Group, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Chemical Weapons Convention, Threshold Test Ban Treaty, Plutonium Production Reactor Agreement, Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, and Vienna Document 1999 of the Negotiations on Confidence and Security Building Measures. Arms control is an important pillar in the control of WMD, but its success depends on the cooperation of all parties to agreements and treaties.

The weakness of depending too heavily on arms control alone is that an unbalanced policy will weaken the other tools for combating the spread of weapons. Still, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been helpful in the case of Iran, as has diplomacy from the European Union that patiently withheld economic assistance and expanded trade from Iran without cooperation with the IAEA. The G-8 agreement to commit up to $20 billion in a global partnership against proliferation is also an important step in arms control.

Export controls for technologies with application for weapons of mass destruction and delivery means are also important arms control measures. The United States should pursue such controls with friends and allies.

Cooperative Threat Reduction is also an important component of arms control. The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program is a congressionally mandated program to assist the former Soviet republics in securing and eliminating their WMD stockpiles. It also works to strengthen security at Russian nuclear weapons transportation and storage facilities; controls or eliminates strategic bombers, submarines, and missiles; and provides employment for Russian WMD scientists; including those from former biological weapons research facilities. It is a reasonably successful set of measures that are effective in eliminating threats at a reasonable cost to the American people. In the end, however, arms control measures must be verifiable. And verifiability cannot be part of a guessing game where the United States, or the United Nations, try to pick a spot where a WMD program is located while the nation maintaining that program plays "hide and seek."

The success of the programs with the former Soviet states is built on the foundation of years of arms control cooperation and mutual security building. Even in an era of mistrust, such as the Cold War, there were programs to build confidence and security, and these helped cooperation later.

The lessons of this cooperation should not be lost on North Korea. Pyongyang faces some serious choices. It can continue to be a failed state with a criminal economy working on weapons of mass destruction, or it can integrate itself into the international system economically and politically. The multilateral approach to North Korea taken by President Bush, coupled with patient diplomacy and the withholding of fuel and financial aid until North Korea agrees to a complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear programs is the correct approach. Some are skeptical of the word "irreversible" in this formula, arguing that so long as technology is available and scientists retain the knowledge to restart a program, it cannot be irreversible. But the verifiability of the program makes it far more difficult to reverse. I believe that the United States is prepared to respond to a serious decision by North Korea to end its nuclear program and that Congress would fund certain forms of economic and technical assistance as a means to help North Korea, but the blackmail payments of previous attempts at threat reduction with Pyongyang and the games of "hide and seek" cannot start again. Verifiability must be the standard against which arms control is measured.

Dictatorial Regimes and Regime Change
The United States seeks to promote democracy, economic freedom, and human rights around the world and advance these ideals through a variety of programs. Seeking regime change in dictatorships or in state sponsors of terrorism is no fault. Regime change may come about in a wide variety of ways and through the application of a wide variety of tools including popular action by the citizens of a state, sanctions, covert actions, public diplomacy, and moral suasion. This does not mean that regime change must be imminent or immediate, or that it is a hostile policy. Nor does it have to be a policy effected through military means. But the mere threat of regime change may lead to positive outcomes in the non-proliferation area. Libya is now divesting itself of its weapons of mass destruction, which is likely the result of that regime's fear of being removed from power.

The U.S. cannot depend solely on arms control negotiations to "solve" the problem because the regimes most likely to seek WMD are the ones least likely to abide by legal commitments. Iraq, Iran, and North Korea immediately come to mind as such nations. Inspectors cannot inspect what they cannot find, and unless a nation is willing to turn its programs over to outside inspectors to investigate, as Libya apparently has, the threat of regime change is still useful leverage.

Conclusion Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for holding this hearing. The threat of weapons of mass destruction and their proliferation is a complicated matter that cannot be addressed with one simple approach, whether that approach is arms control or deterrence. The United States has a number of tools available in the form of verifiable cooperative threat reduction, multilateral export controls, arms control treaties and regimes, deterrence, offensive action when attack is imminent, active and passive defenses, working to change hostile regimes, and ballistic missile defenses. Other arrangements might look at financial activity in the banking systems of cooperating nations to address another aspect of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is important that the defensive programs and incident mitigation programs of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense continue. Your attention to the subject, support for such approaches, and active oversight of these matters makes America a safer place.

Larry M. Wortzel is Vice President and Director of The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


Larry Wortzel
Larry Wortzel

Adjunct Research Professor at the U.S. Army War College