The Bush administration today will spell out a tough new strategy designed to deter terrorists and other enemies from acquiring nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and using them against the United States and its allies.
The anti-proliferation strategy codifies a national security evolution that began with last year’s Sept. 11 attacks, and repeats the administration’s threat to use preemptive and overwhelming force -- including nuclear weapons -- against what it perceives as imminent danger of an attack.
“We will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes and terrorists to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons,” the document says. “We must accord the highest priority to the protection of the United States, our forces and our friends and allies from the existing and growing WMD [weapons of mass destruction] threat.”
The document, released just days after Iraq handed over what it calls the complete list of its weapons programs, provides greater details about the administration’s more assertive approach to national security.
The strategy underscores that President Bush is prepared to go to war to prevent future attacks -- as he has said he will against Iraq.
The strategy, prepared jointly by the National Security Council and the White House Office of Homeland Security, for the first time formally redefines the threat posed by nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as not just external, but domestic as well.
“The distinction between threats abroad and threats to the homeland no longer applies in today’s environment, in large part because of weapons of mass destruction and the desire both by rogue states, and terrorists, to gain access to these weapons,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The anti-proliferation strategy replaces a 1993 strategy drafted by the Clinton administration. It also elaborates on the administration’s new National Security Doctrine released in September.
The new strategy is already operative policy for the nation’s intelligence agencies, military and law enforcement, the administration official said.
Affected agencies have received secret directives to implement the strategy in the last several months, the administration official said.
In contrast to previous policy statements, the strategy outlines a new policy of deterrence. In a speech in June, the president described deterrence as an outmoded, Cold War-era idea that “means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend.”
That stance has since undergone some refinement.
The new strategy says that deterrence is still useful, although it must be redefined for the post-Sept. 11 world.
“These are not countries like the Soviet Union with which we have long dialogues, with which we have mutual understandings about deterrence,” the senior administration official said.
“These countries are attempting to deter us, to deter us from coming to the assistance of our friends and allies in critical regions of the world. And they don’t need to do this with thousands of weapons. They can do this with only a few weapons that hold our cities hostage.”
To deter such an enemy, the document says, the United States must have a strong, declared policy of retaliation, effective military forces and a “full range of political tools.”
These include treaties, restrictions on use and distribution of uranium and plutonium, controls of technology exports and sanctions.
“The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force -- including through resort to all of our options -- to the use of WMD against the United States, our forces abroad and our allies,” the document says.
But because deterrence may not succeed, the United States “must have the capability to defend against WMD-armed adversaries, including in appropriate cases through preemptive measures.”
The new strategy expresses support for international treaty regimes, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention, although it hints that more must be done to “ensure compliance.”
It also integrates missile defense into nonproliferation policy by describing it as an “active” defense against weapons of mass destruction. “Active defenses disrupt, disable or destroy WMD en route to their targets,” the document says.
Leonard Spector, a proliferation expert formerly with the Energy Department, said the new strategy codifies a post-Sept. 11 evolution away from emphasizing diplomacy and global treaties as a way to counter the proliferation threat and toward more aggressive prevention and response.
“It has transferred from being primarily a diplomatic strategy to seeing it as a military challenge,” said Spector, who is now deputy director of the Monterey Institute’s nonproliferation studies center. “Some of it is a little overkill. But some of it is a response to changing circumstances.”
The strategy also pledges to strengthen intelligence and support research into new technologies to detect and defeat weapons of mass destruction.
It urges tougher action against “secondary proliferation” by countries such as Pakistan and Ukraine that have been known to pass on restricted weapons technologies. And it calls for “targeted strategies” against “dedicated proliferators” -- a reference to the administration’s different approaches to weapons programs in Iraq and North Korea.
“We don’t need the one-size-fits-all strategy we had in the past,” the senior administration official said.
Diplomacy Not Enough
Robert J. Einhorn, a proliferation expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington who helped draft the Clinton policy, said it was always clear that diplomacy alone would not erase the proliferation threat.
“It was recognized all along that multilateral schemes only get you so far and that the hard cases -- Iran, Iraq and North Korea -- require targeted strategies,” Einhorn said.
Sept. 11 has intensified that move.
“There has been less emphasis on multilateral solutions and more emphasis on preventing these countries from getting these weapons in the first place,” Einhorn said. “The question is how you do it.”
Some may see the new strategy as another effort by the administration to beat the drums of war against Iraq, the Monterey Institute’s Spector said. But it could also help the cause of those who oppose war by making the threat more real and forcing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to back down.
“This document probably serves both camps,” Spector said.