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Michael Moodie
Protecting against Weapons of Mass Destruction

An American Perspective

Protecting against the threat of unconventional weapons is not a glamorous task, but it is a critical one. Dealing with the threat from chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons is a matter of managing risks. The more that risks can be diminished, the less onerous the task of managing those risks will be. Providing protection against unconventional weapons successfully reduces the risk. In doing so, it creates an environment in which the application of other tools of policy – from diplomacy to counterproliferation options – can be made more effective. Although protection often entails mundane activities, the combined impact of such activities represents a critical contribution to meeting the challenge posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Preliminary Observations

Before reviewing the kinds of protective measures being pursued by the United States, some preliminary questions are important to address.

First, how should „protection" be defined? At least two alternative definitions are possible: a narrow definition that restricts the focus to physical protection against nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) attack or a broader definition that emphasizes protection as the reduction of vulnerability achieved by diminishing the impact of such an attack. It is in this latter, broader sense that the term „protection" is used in this paper. Protection is more than moon suits and gas masks. The term „protection" in this paper is also used interchangeably with the term „defense", except when otherwise noted.

Second, issues relating to protection should be addressed in the context of all of the other efforts to counter WMD threats. Protection, or defense, fills an important segment of the spectrum of responses required to deal with the complex threats posed by weapons of mass destruction, as demonstrated in this oversimplified schematic:


Successful protection will influence and be influenced by the extent to which those other efforts are also successful.

The relationship between defense and deterrence is especially important. Protection constitutes a key contribution to deterrence in that it can reduce gains that might otherwise be made through the use or threat of use of NBC weapons. By doing so, it alters the cost/benefit calculations of the proliferator, perhaps shifting the balance between perceived costs and benefits in favor of a decision not to pursue or attempt to use such capabilities.

Beyond its contribution to deterrence, however, protection is important in its own right. If deterrence fails, effective protection represents another series of hurdles a proliferator must overcome to achieve his objective in using NBC weapons. In particular, the goals of protection are to avoid or prevent the consequences of NBC use, diminish those consequences if they cannot be prevented or avoided, and ameliorate or mitigate those consequences that do occur.

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Third, chemical and biological weapons are amenable to defenses in ways that nuclear weapons are not. One can take actions that diminish their impact and mitigate the consequences of their use. It is much harder to identify such actions with respect to nuclear weapons. Indeed, nuclear strategy developed during the Cold War along the lines that it did precisely because it was not deemed possible to defend against such weapons effectively. In general, then, protection efforts should concentrate on chemical and biological weapons.

Fourth, in recent years, the challenge of providing effective protection against attack with chemical and biological weapons (and nuclear weapons as well, for that matter) has expanded beyond the requirement to provide protection for U.S. military forces in a hostile environment to include protecting civilian populations. This challenge has two dimensions. The first relates to civilian populations of U.S. friends and allies that may be supporting American military action in a regional conflict against a chemical and biological weapons (CBW) proliferator. The second involves attacks against civilians in the United States itself, either related to a conflict with an adversary overseas or generated by terrorists, foreign or domestic. To some extent there is synergy among these respective requirements, but there are also significant differences. Expectations should be modest regarding the positive spillover that might occur from one area to another.

Fifth, how good should we expect defenses to be? One approach is provided by Victor Utgoff, who concludes that if casualty levels comparable to those suffered in past conflicts are the accepted criterion, then defenses to that level of capability can be acquired for a cost comparable to other defense programs, perhaps $100 billion over 10 years. [ Utgoff estimates the costs as follows: $30 to $40 billion for defense of U.S. military intervention forces, $8 to $40 billion for defenses of regional friends and allies, $10 billion for support to poorer regional allies, and $25 to $35 billion for acquiring means to protect U.S. civilians from chemical and biological attack. Victor Utgoff, Nuclear Weapons and the Deterrence of Chemical and Biological Warfare , Occasional Paper Number 36, Henry L. Stimson Center, October 1997, pp. 18-21.] Whether they are cast in terms of accepted casualty rates or some other measure, defining effective performance criteria for protective capabilities is important because they will guide critical financial decisions.

This is especially important in light of the reality that success in developing effective defenses will be neither easy nor cheap. It will require a sustained investment of resources over a considerable period of time. This is a particularly difficult political challenge because defensive programs do not have the allure that might attach to offensive systems competing for limited defense investment dollars.

Active Defenses

The first goal of protection against weapons of mass destruction is avoiding the impact of the attack. Meeting this obligation is the objective of both active and passive defenses.

The biggest gap in current active defense capabilities is an effective theater missile defense. Acquisition of missile capabilities is a high priority in virtually all of the countries of proliferation concern. Missiles appear to be their delivery system of choice. According to assessments, 36 nations possess some form of ballistic missile, and 73 possess some form of cruise missile. [ „ Current & Near Term Missile Defences", Center for Defence and International Security Studies. Information retrieved from Internet site http://www.cdiss.org.nearl.htm, 11 February 1998.] In recognition of the increased missile threat, especially in high-threat regions

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such as the Middle East and Northeast Asia, the United States has accelerated efforts to field a layered theater missile defense (TMD) architecture and a national missile defense (NMD) program. A parallel effort on fielding defenses against cruise missile threats has also begun.

Commitment to TMD has been reinforced by recognition of the vulnerability of civilian population centers, logistical nodes, staging areas, and basing facilities, as highlighted during the Gulf War. Iraq fired 39 modified Scuds at coalition and Israeli targets. In response, coalition forces particularly emphasized identifying, locating, and destroying Iraq’s mobile-Scud capabilities. This effort was largely unsuccessful - but not for lack of coalition effort. Concern over Iraqi ballistic missile capability was further evidenced after the Gulf War. One set of items for which the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) could not account was 25 ballistic missile warheads thought to be filled with biological agents. [ UNSCOM has had greater success in accounting for and destroying Iraq’s ballistic missile capabilities. To date, UNSCOM has either destroyed or confirmed Iraqi claims of disposition for 817 out of the 819 ballistic missiles Iraq claimed to have acquired from the Soviet Union prior to the Gulf War. UNSCOM has supervised the destruction of 48 Scud-type missiles, 10 mobile launchers, 30 chemical and 18 conventional warheads, and related equipment. However, UNSCOM has only verified Iraq’s unilateral destruction of 83 Scud-type missiles and nine mobile launchers.]

Ballistic missiles offer many advantages over other types of delivery systems for unconventional weapons, including speed, the difficulty of locating and destroying mobile launchers (as evidenced by the lack of success in destroying Iraq’s mobile Scud launchers during the Gulf War), and reasonably large payloads. The use of ballistic missiles to deliver unconventional weapons, however, also poses some distinct disadvantages. The ballistic missile arsenals of many Third World nations consist of Scud missiles and their variants that incorporate older technology and lack high-quality guidance and barometric fusing technologies. The technical challenge is particularly stark with respect to biological weapons because few nations possess the capabilities to harness all of the technologies needed to produce an effective biological warhead for a ballistic missile. [ It has been estimated, for example, that the casings on these BW missile submunitions could destroy up to 99% of a BW payload because of the pressure needed to break open the munition at detonation point. Precision fusing and guidance controls are also critical for the accurate dissemination of biological agents with ballistic missiles. Fusing technology controls the aerosolization of the agent, which must happen before the missile hits the ground so that the agent is dispersed efficiently and effectively. Some experts calculate that a missile warhead’s munition chamber must detonate about 50 feet above the ground to sufficiently spread an agent’s particles. Typical construction materials for these technologies in ballistic missiles may include lightweight alloys and composite compounds to allow for an increased amount of agent in the payload, an additional specialized aerosolization device, and mechanical devices to divert heat away from the agent. Few nations possess all of these or the capability to integrate them.]

In light of evolving missile capabilities, fielding effective theater missile defenses is a critical priority, not only to diminish the threat but also to assist in coalition building by assuaging concerns of potential allies about their vulnerability to regional missile threats.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) has the lead in developing a layered U.S. defense against missile threats. BMDO is currently evaluating several TMD programs, including:

  • boost phase intercept;
  • lower-tier concepts such as Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), Navy area TMD, and Corps Surface-to-Air Missile/Medium Extended Air Defense System (SAM/MEADS);
  • upper-tier concepts such as Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Navy wide-area TMD;

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  • advanced sensor technology and innovative science and technology research, development, test, and engineering (RDT&E) programs for post-2000 defense systems;
  • threat and countermeasures projects that define adversary military systems to ensure a robust defense system; and
  • assessment, modeling, and experimental activities involving collateral effects release associated with attacking cruise and ballistic missiles armed with WMD.

If these programs were to emerge as planned, the PAC-3 and Aegis/Standard systems would prove more effective than current systems in defending urban areas and large military targets and Scud-type TBM attacks. Lower-tier systems (Patriot, Aegis/Standard, and Hawk) could also provide a basis for an effective defense against cruise missile and evolving cruise missile threats. The THAAD system should provide effective, high-altitude defenses of countrywide areas against attacks by advanced TBMs. It must be noted, however, that THAAD is the only system that can provide a standoff ballistic missile defense capability within the next five to seven years.

Several problems, however, plague these U.S. programs. Severe technical difficulties have been encountered, and there has been a time lapse in fielding such systems. Given the problems of delayed availability and uncertain effectiveness, as one analyst argued, „theater missile defense will play only a restricted role as an NBC countermeasure for U.S. military forces in the near-term." [ Jerome H. Kahan, „Deterrence and Warfighting in an NBC Environment", in The Niche Threat: Deterring the Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons , ed. Stuart E. Johnson (Washington: National Defense University Press, 1997), p. 55.]

For the United States and some of its friends and allies, an effective TMD capability is not necessary against the BW threat as it exists today. But the threat will mature in both its munitions and missile dimensions. Moreover, some friends and allies in regions of proliferation concern do not have the luxury of the long distances from the threats that the United States enjoys. For this reason, TMD capability must be brought up to speed as quickly as possible. There is a long way to go, and the recent failures have been disappointing. TMD efforts must get substantially better.

Passive Defenses

The Gulf War highlighted many shortcomings in U.S. defenses against unconventional weapons, particularly chemical and biological weapons, including:

  • the lack of point biological detection systems other than the Fox vehicle;
  • the lack of any standoff detection and warning suites;
  • the lack of adequate stores of vaccines and antibiotics to protect all U.S. forces, even against the identified threat agents of anthrax and botulinum toxin;
  • protective gear that was hot and cumbersome, making mission performance more difficult;
  • inadequate integration of protection and cooling systems into combat vehicles;
  • insufficient procurement of stand-alone transportable collective protective shelters; and
  • the need to replace reliance on the water-based decontamination system.

Since the Gulf War, the Defense Department has assigned a higher priority to alleviating these shortcomings, and considerable investment has been made in enhancing these capabilities.

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With respect to nonmedical dimensions of the U.S. program, emphasis has been placed on contamination avoidance, individual and collective protection, and decontamination.

Providing timely and accurate detection, identification, and warning of an NBC attack should be the highest priority because such warning is critical to the success of other protective measures. It is key to avoiding contamination, for example, by providing time for maneuvering around a toxic cloud, as naval forces might do, or triggering other protective measures such as donning protective gear. For fixed sites where contamination cannot be avoided and for missions requiring operations in a contaminated environment, detection, identification, and warning are equally important to ensure that forces can assume the optimal protective posture and continue to perform as well as to rapidly detect and decontaminate affected areas, equipment, and personnel. The current U.S. goal, therefore, is to provide systems that can detect, identify in real time, map, and track all chemical and biological contamination in a theater of operations.

The Department of Defense has identified the problem of biological collection, detection, and identification as the most serious technical challenge to meeting this goal. More specifically, problem areas include remote/early warning sensing, improved agent discrimination and quantification, and sample processing. The two most critical needs are to a) reduce the currently high level of logistical support stemming from dependence on current systems and the size, weight, and power of existing systems; and b) overcome the lack of discrimination in biological standoff detection. [ Department of Defense, Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) Defense: Annual Report to Congress (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, March 1999), p. 2-4.]

Both point and wide-area sensors are needed. The United States has a wide range of efforts under way to meet this requirement. In the last several years, the United States has consolidated almost 50 separate programs into 9 major joint projects, including:

  • Automatic Chemical Agent Detection Alarm (ACADA);
  • Joint Chemical Agent Detector (JCAD);
  • Joint Services Lightweight Standoff Chemical Agent Detector (JSLCAD);
  • Joint Service Warning and Identification LIDAR Detector (JSWILD);
  • Joint Biological Point Detection System (JBPDS);
  • Joint Biological Remote/Early Warning System (JBREWS);
  • Joint Service Light NBC Reconnaissance Systems (JSLNBCRS);
  • Joint Warning and Reporting Network (JWARN); and
  • Joint Chemical Biological Agent Water Monitor (JCBAWM).

NBC hazards cannot always be avoided. Physical protection, therefore, both individual and collective, is necessary. Ideally, protection must be effective against all known threat agents with minimal degradation to the performance of personnel, weapons, and equipment. In reality, providing protection necessitates tradeoffs between performance requirements and limitations of materials and designs. Obviously, operational capability for soldiers wearing protective gear is seriously degraded.


      [The table below highlights the problems associated with donning protective gear in various climates.
      Likely percentages of maximum capability while wearing MOPP 4

      <50 F

      50-84 F

      >84 F

      Air Port of Debarkation (APOD)




      Sea Port of Debarkation (SPOD)




      Source: Dynamic Technical Systems, Inc. Mitigating the Effects of Biological and Chemical Warfare Agents on Sea and Aerial Debarkation, 15 June 1995.]

    (end of footnote)

Studies have shown, for example, that the ability of

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soldiers to operate in environments marked by high heat (temperatures between 30 and 40 C) and humidity (50%) with full CBW protective gear is limited to periods of 35 to 60 minutes. Attempts to work in such climatic conditions without tolerance times are likely to cause heat illnesses in some individuals.

In the area of individual protection, in the short term, emphasis should be placed on what can be done simply and quickly. For example, the use of masks provides excellent protection against biological weapon (BW) aerosol attacks; some studies indicate that masks can be 99% effective against such attacks. [ For example, studies have shown that the M17/40 series of gas masks can remove particles in the 0.3 to 15-micron range with an efficiency of 98 to 100%. Stanley Wiener, „Strategies for the Prevention of a Successful Biological Warfare Attack", Military Medicine 161, no. 5 (May 1996): 251.] A more systematic examination of the implications of relying on such simple devices should be pursued. [ See Victor Utgoff, Karl Lowe, and Graham Pearson, „Potential Values of a Simple BW Protective Mask", IDA Paper P-3077, Institute for Defense Analyses, September 1997 (Unclassified).]

For the longer term, protective masks that reduce respiratory stress on the user while improving compatibility with weapon sighting systems and reduce weight and cost are being developed. Protective clothing is also being developed that will present less weight and heat stress burden than present equipment. At the same time, although the United States has made important strides in developing improved individual protective equipment, procuring sufficient numbers of items such as protective suits still represents a potential shortfall. According to the RAND Corporation, for example, the U.S. Air Force is short 46,000 protective suits. [ Brian G. Chow, Gregory S. Jones, Irving Lachow, Hohn Stillion, Dean Wilkening, Howell Yee, „Air Force Operations in a Chemical and Biological Environment", Documented Briefing, RAND Corporation, 1998, p. 78.]

Collective protection also remains a challenge. Collective protection equipment includes shelters for command posts, medical facilities, rest and relief shelters, aircraft shelters, vehicular collective protection, and safe zones aboard ships. Lightweight shelters with integrated environmental control and power generation are being developed, but more can and should be done, particularly in the areas of reducing the weight, size, and power requirements of collective protection systems and improving their deployability.

Rendering facilities inoperable through contamination is one of the possible goals of chemical and biological attacks. Rapid and effective decontamination, therefore, is a further area for priority attention. The aim of decontamination is to remove agent or render it sufficiently harmless on both personnel and equipment to maintain operations. A number of programs for biological decontamination are currently under way. These efforts must be sustained particularly to overcome three major technical challenges. The first is the need to develop

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decontaminants that are reactive, nonaqueous, noncorrosive, safe to use on sensitive equipment, and environmentally safe, and that can decontaminate a broad spectrum of chemical and biological agents. The second is development of decontaminants that reduce the manpower and logistics burden. A final hurdle is the need for new concepts or technologies for decontamination of fixed sites. [ DoD, NBC Defense: Annual Report , p. 2-20.]

Beyond meeting these technical problems, part of the current decontamination challenge is conceptual. The decontamination requirements for chemical and biological agents are not as much alike as some people suppose. In some ways, biological weapons pose an easier problem. Exposure to sunlight, for example, will kill some agents, a consideration not applicable in a CW context. The differences between CW and BW decontamination requirements must be appreciated or efforts in one area or the other could head down some unproductive paths.

The Medical Dimension

A further important element of protection or defense against NBC use is medical prophylaxis, pretreatment, and therapy necessary to protect personnel from the toxic or lethal effects of exposure to validated threat agents. Providing timely medical countermeasures is the province of the medical chemical, biological, and radiological defense research program (MCBRDRP). The program has three goals:

  • Providing individual level protection and prevention;
  • Maintaining technological capabilities to meet present requirements and counter future threats; and
  • Providing medical management of chemical, biological, or radiological casualties to enhance survivability, and expedite and maximize return to duty. [ Ibid., p. 3-1.]

Currently, most of the attention and discussion about medical countermeasures relates to the biological realm. The Department of Defense (DoD) is implementing a plan to vaccinate all U.S. service personnel against anthrax. This decision makes sense because, historically, anthrax has been the favorite agent of most weapons programs, and it remains the mainstay of most BW programs today. But anthrax is only one of a potentially long list of BW agents for which there are no current vaccines, or for which capabilities are only limited. A vaccine for botulinum toxin, for example, is available, but it only covers some of the identified strains of the toxin. Moreover, it is still considered an investigational new drug (IND) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

DoD is seeking to develop other vaccines, but their availability is years away. Moreover, the DoD vaccine program may be based on overly ambitious assumptions. Industry brings a new drug to market on average in 12 to15 years at a cost of $500 million to $600 million. In contrast, DoD has indicated it wants to have a dozen new vaccines available within 10 years. The Pentagon has allotted about $300 million for the program. The goals of the DoD program are understandable: national security imperatives are different from those driving commercial decisions. But more focus should be given to whether such goals are achievable given available resources.

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Complicating a vaccination strategy is the potential for BW proliferators to develop and weaponize agents for which there is no current or anticipated vaccine or antidote. In this regard, the Iraqi program is instructive. Iraq not only produced and weaponized „classic" BW agents like anthrax and botulinum toxin, it also conducted research and development on aflatoxin (a long-term carcinogen), hemorraghic conjunctivitis, clostridium perfringens, and camel pox. Prior to Iraq’s admissions, these agents were not given much consideration as biological weapon candidates. Indeed, they may not be good BW agents. The Iraqi example should provide a warning, however, that proliferators will not necessarily think as we do, and, indeed, they may consciously attempt to develop „workaround" methods that diminish countermeasures that have been developed at great cost.

Production and availability of antibiotics are yet other issues. While a range of commercially available antibiotics can be used to treat various diseases, issues regarding the acquisition, production, and storage of mass quantities of appropriate antibiotics are problematic. There is no single broad-spectrum antibiotic that will effectively treat even a limited list of threat agents. Diseases caused by some biological agents are currently untreatable and others are not priorities for research and therapeutic development in the private sector. Major advances in this area, however, particularly when coupled with improved sensors and diagnostics, would enhance both public health and national security.

Another question in terms of medical defense relates to civilian populations. Civilians working in areas of military significance - ports, logistics centers, and airfields, for example - could be attractive targets for attack, shutting down those facilities or disrupting their operations. Attacks against civilians could also have a psychological impact on friends or allies, influencing their calculations of the costs and benefits for providing such support. The vulnerability of local populations in a conflict intervention scenario suggests that the United States must work with the governments of friends and allies in regions of proliferation concern. Ongoing interaction at the political level about the unconventional weapons challenge must complement whatever cooperation on defense might be occurring at the military-to-military level.

Doctrine and Operational Concepts

The brief review above suggests that the U.S. approach to protection emphasizes equipment and technology. Without a coherent concept of operations or doctrine that guides the use of that equipment and technology, however, serious problems could emerge for forces in the field. The lack of an operational link between detection and warning and medical responses, for example, could prompt ineffective or inappropriate efforts in a crisis. In some situations, changes in concepts of operations could substitute for equipment. In the event of contamination of an airfield, for example, air operations may be redeployed, or new concepts might be developed to avoid dependence on forward bases in a high CBW threat environment. The U.S. Navy currently emphasizes an approach that generally prohibits introducing major capital ships, such as aircraft carriers, into such an environment.

How concepts of operation, doctrine, and equipment and technology come together is an area that has gotten considerably less attention than research and development of useful technology throughout most of the U.S. defense establishment. Such inattention represents a potentially dangerous gap. A similar comment could be made about training for NBC contingencies, of which relatively little is done.

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Commanders in chief of U.S. military commands in regions where proliferation concerns are most severe (e.g., CINCPAC and CINCCENT) have begun to include chemical and biological scenarios in some of their exercises. Further efforts in this regard should be encouraged. But the appreciation of the NBC threat must be expanded within the services, particularly to the senior levels in Washington. As long as the leadership of the services keeps NBC threats lower down on the list of priorities, doctrine and planning will come up short. Equipment and technology may be introduced into the forces, but questions will remain as to whether they are making a difference.

Domestic Preparedness

Research and development of effective defense and protection measures for U.S military forces could also improve capabilities for protecting civilian populations against terrorist attack. Efforts to develop rapid and accurate detection, identification, and warning devices, for example, might result in emplacement of similar or modified systems at locations considered high-value targets of non-state-actor attack. Decontamination is another area in which synergies might be found. But the military defense model does not go very far in shaping defense and protection requirements in the event of a domestic terrorist attack.

One option that has been suggested for protecting the U.S. population is the initiation of a major civil defense program. [ See Richard K. Betts, „The New Threat of Mass Destruction", Foreign Affairs 77, no. 7 (January/February 1998): 36-40.] Such an approach is likely to prove very expensive and seems unwarranted in light of what we currently know about the threat. Effective defense for civilian populations rests more with robust crisis and consequence management capabilities, including capable public health monitoring and a capacity for action at all levels of government than with preemptive protective efforts.

The Department of Justice emerged as a lead entity in the fight against terrorism with unconventional weapons, and it has taken a number of important steps to bolster its capabilities. These include creation of the Domestic Preparedness Training Center, enhancement of the capabilities of the FBI laboratory and other scientific and technical assets, and strengthening of its analytical elements focused on non-state actors that could pursue weapons of mass destruction.

A good epidemiological surveillance and reporting system has been identified as a critical feature in civilian protection efforts. Another is well-trained emergency medical personnel, including in the Public Health Service. Both of these requirements have become priorities of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. government’s program to train first responders at the local level is also useful, although such efforts have been shaped more by CW than BW contingencies. There are important differences between them. BW events, for example, are likely to unfold more slowly, providing no immediate incident to which the first responders must react. Nevertheless, a start had to be made somewhere.

Part of the ongoing challenge is conceptual. People have responded too much to the problem as it has been portrayed by thriller writers rather than in professional public discourse. The result has all the characteristics of a frenzied, short-lived desire to throw money at the problem, only to risk those efforts being cut off when worst-case scenarios do not materialize or another disaster scenario captures the national imagination. There is a critical need,

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therefore, for a realistic, measured, and balanced threat assessment. [ One such initial assessment that has been provided on this issue from the non-governmental sector is Brad Roberts, ed., Terrorism with Chemical and Biological Weapons: Calibrating Risks and Responses (Alexandria: Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute, 1995). A second study building on this initial assessment will be Brad Roberts, ed., The New Terrorism: Does It Exist? (Alexandria: Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute, forthcoming).] Such an assessment can be the basis for defining national requirements that can then be translated into specific programs. Through this process, criteria can be established by which to judge the value of specific programs and scale the resources necessary to implement them.

As with the priority of protecting U.S. forces, sustaining resource investments in domestic preparedness is a continuing challenge. Doing everything that might be a good idea for enhancing domestic preparedness against terrorism with unconventional weapons would break the federal budget. Priorities, therefore, must be set and resources devoted to them, not just in the short term but over time. Unconventional terrorism is an example of a policymaker’s worst nightmare: one contingency is low probability but has potentially catastrophic consequences; a second possibility - a limited biological attack, for example - is more likely with less horrific, but still severe results; yet another possibility is that nothing will happen at all. Given this range of contingencies and possible outcomes, what is a prudent investment of time, money, effort, and political capital? This question brings one back to threat assessment, because it is only with a proper understanding of the threat that one can provide a convincing answer to the question of how much is enough. Prudence also dictates, however, that planning efforts must also anticipate the possibility of surprise.

The administration has argued that with respect to domestic preparedness, it will stress improvements in capabilities that not only can serve to enhance the fight against such terrorism, but can make other contributions to the national welfare. Improving disease surveillance and reporting across the nation is one example and is an important place to start.

Finally, terrorism today is an international problem, and it requires an international response. Considerable international cooperation in developing effective responses to terrorism with unconventional weapons is under way, but more can be done. [ These brief comments are based on Brad Roberts and Michael Moodie, Combatting NBC Terrorism: An Agenda for Enhancing International Cooperation (Alexandria: Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute, 1998).] Measures that might be usefully pursued include better cooperative planning for genuinely international terrorist events, enhanced cooperation among consequence managers, and bolstered joint chemical and biological defense efforts, including but not limited to research and development.

A number of barriers to enhanced international cooperation on terrorism with unconventional weapons exist. One of these barriers derives from different threat perceptions that exist among countries. Another is the institutional and bureaucratic difficulty in grasping the extent to which the problem of terrorism has changed. Yet another is the lack of agreement on how to deal with states that sponsor terrorism and the absence of an international legal mechanism to deal with this threat. As is often the case between the United States and its allies, questions of burden sharing also exist.

These are not insuperable barriers, but overcoming them will require a self-conscious willingness to work toward a common view of the threat and a shared understanding of what can and should be done. Protection will be a key element of the agenda since no amount of international cooperation will succeed in totally preventing NBC terrorism. As with national

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efforts, working together to avoid or mitigate the impact of an attack should both bolster deterrence and provide effective means to deal with the consequences should deterrence fail.


The challenge from weapons of mass destruction is a multifaceted one, and it demands a multidimensional response. Protection is one of those critical dimensions. But as with other policy responses, it is not a panacea. Its effectiveness will be determined in part by how well we do other things. The reverse is also true. How well we can protect forces and civilian populations from the threat of weapons of mass destruction will determine to a considerable extent the burden we ask other tools of policy to carry.

The challenges to providing effective protection are not just technical. They are also conceptual and operational. Our focus, therefore, must not be just on research and development or acquisition of equipment and technology. Thinking through how the means of providing protection fit together and what we want them, as a whole, to achieve is equally important. To the extent that we can do that thinking together, the better off we all will be.

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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Februar 2000

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