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Key U.S. Security Policy Issues

Interdicting Drug Trafficking
Protecting the Homeland Against Terrorism
Preventing a Black Market in Nuclear Bomb Material
Incorporating Environmental Concearns into Military Operations
Preventing Mass Exoduses of Refugees

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Interdicting Drug Trafficking

After a seven-month review by the National Security Council, the U.S. government decided in 1993 to change the emphasis in the counter-drug effort to controlling demand through measures such as treatment programs, rather than reducing supply through measures such as interdiction. The funding for interdiction, which had increased from $350 million in FY 1981 to $2.2 billion in FY 92, has been reduced to a requested $1.2 billion in FY 1995. This reduction was based on the judgement that interdiction is not cost-effective compared to other counter-drug programs. A 1994 RAND study, Controlling Cocaine: Supply versus Demand Programs, estimated that to reduce U.S. cocaine consumption by one percent would require $366 million in interdiction expenditures, while the same result could be achieved by spending $34 million on treatment.

Striking a balance between demand reduction and supply reduction is a difficult issue. Each approach has a positive impact, and the two can be complementary, although they are often viewed as competitors for scarce funds. During the decade to 1992 when supply reduction got priority in allocation of funds, demand for illegal drugs did in fact drop--perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not. However, the prospect is that the interdiction budget will not grow, and may even shrink further, in the next two to five years. The challenge will be to target declining resources more effectively on the major traffickers.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Defense Department's counter-drug effort was overwhelmingly in the area of interdiction. In 1994, less went to interdiction than to other Defense Department counter-drug programs, such as aid to states and local communities (primarily aid to law enforcement) and drug prevention and treatment programs for DOD personnel. The Defense Department's overall counter-drug funding fell 30 percent from FY 1992 to FY 1994, and is not likely to increase in real terms.

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Protecting the Homeland Against Terrorism

The world trend is to redefine terrorism as a domestic crime, rather than an act of undeclared war. In part, this reflects the apparent decline in state sponsorship of terrorist acts. It also reflects the political acceptability of police-to-police and court-to-court cooperation, which depoliticizes cooperation between governments that may have poor relations, but can agree that those responsible for violence against the innocent should be punished. Thus, the trend is to insist on judicial proceedings to demonstrate individual culpability for terrorist acts.

The focus on individual responsibility, the time required to gather evidence that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the concern for following judicial procedures all make military retaliation a less feasible option. However, in cases where state sponsorship can be clearly demonstrated in a court of law, there is likely to be considerable pressure on the U.S. government to take military action against the state in question, as demonstrated by the attacks on Baghdad in August 1993, after a Kuwaiti court finding of Iraqi involvement in the Bush assassination attempt.

Though retaliation on the model of the 1986 bombing of Libya is less likely, the military will continue to play a key role in counter-terrorism. One important contribution will be in intelligence gathering, including satellite and signal intelligence. The civilian U.S. intelligence community has had some setbacks recently, including public interagency disputes (especially over the Ames spy case) that some worry could affect cooperation between the CIA, which has lead responsibility abroad but is not allowed to collect intelligence domestically, and the FBI, which has lead responsibility domestically and is expanding its efforts abroad. Another role may be military retaliation against ideological terrorists operating out of headquarters in troubled states whose governments have little control over such activities. In this case, military retaliation could take the form of strikes against terrorist bases and headquarters using special operation forces, rather than air strikes against key facilities of the state from which the terrorists operated.

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Preventing a Black Market in Nuclear Bomb Material

While there is a strong international consensus about the importance of preventing a black market in nuclear bomb material, there are sharp differences of opinion about how difficult this will be and how to go about the task.

Attitudes towards fissile material stocks left over from the Cold War are dramatically different in the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. position, as stated by Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, is that "plutonium we no longer need for weapons is a global security risk and an economic liability." The Russian attitude, on the other hand, is that their 1,000 tons of highly-enriched uranium and 170 tons of plutonium are highly valuable and should be used to produce electricity. Russia's powerful Minister of Atomic Energy, Viktor Mikhailov, insists that "[the] 21st century belongs to nuclear power...We have spent too much money making this material just to mix it with radioactive waste and bury it."

The Russian view is reinforced by the example of Japanese and French breeder reactors, which generate plutonium, as well as by the British program for reprocessing uranium. The Russian view--shared by many in western Europe and Japan--is that, if countries with successful nuclear electricity programs such as France and Japan decide to invest billions in plutonium, then U.S. objections are probably expressions of commercial concerns, rather than genuine counterproliferation concerns, from a country widely seen as unsuccessful at economical nuclear electricity generation.

The U.S. government and U.S. expert opinion nevertheless offer a host of technical and economic reasons why civilian plutonium production and uranium reprocessing are economically unsound and environmentally inappropriate. However, the U.S. has not decided how to dispose of its own plutonium, which complicates efforts to persuade Moscow to dispose of its stocks rather than preserving them for use in electricity generation.

One encouraging precedent for the destruction of leftover fissile material is the Tripartite Agreement among the U.S., Russia, and the Ukraine. This agreement calls for blending Ukrainian weapons-grade uranium with less enriched uranium into a mix that will be used in civilian reactors. This acknowledges Ukrainian and Russian attitudes that the material is valuable, while also addressing U.S. concerns that it be destroyed economically.

So long as stocks of fissile material exist, all sides agree that a rigorous program is needed to prevent diversions. The Russian government argues vigorously that its security program is excellent, but cooperation on this issue will remain difficult so long as the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy is concerned that cooperation with Washington will draw the fire of Russian nationalist politicians. The U.S. is likely to encounter continuing problems in implementing the parts of the Nunn-Lugar legislation aimed at safeguarding fissile material stocks and providing research funds to keep CIS nuclear industry experts productively engaged.

Western governments face a quandary in their efforts to detect and prevent fissile material smuggling. Some German prosecutors and lawyers publicly complain that undercover police operations aimed at undercovering such activities may attract copycats who would not otherwise have considered smuggling bomb material. If nothing else, the large number of would-be purchasers from news, police, and intelligence organizations could drive up prices, making such smuggling more attractive. On the other hand, it would be irresponsible for police and intelligence agencies to ignore those who claim to be offering nuclear material for sale. The problem of balancing detection efforts against inadvertent encouragement of such diversion is likely to grow.

Another approach to the problem of diverted fissile material is to reduce rogue states' temptation to purchase such material. All the states that are thought to want nuclear weapons but lack the means to produce fissile material are currently NPT signatories. An international consensus favoring vigorous action against any NPT state found to be purchasing diverted fissile material might have an impact on these states. Some also fear that diverted fissile material could be sold to a terrorist group. However, it is difficult to identify any terrorist organization that could convert such material into a nuclear weapon without the assistance of a state sponsor. The focus on rogue states as objects of concern therefore seems appropriate.

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Incorporating Environmental Concerns into Military Operations

Environmental problems are unlikely to be the proximate cause for conflicts that would involve the U.S. military in the next few years. Most pollution, resource, and population problems take decades to unfold. Their effect also depends upon the adaptive capacity of nations and societies; it would be inappropriate to jump from environmental trends to predictions about impending conflict. In most cases, environmental problems aggravate existing political disputes, rather than being the immediate cause for conflict. An exception to this rule could arise from water disputes in the Middle East, such as a conflict over the Euphrates River involving Turkey, Syria, Iraq, or Iran.

Resolving environment problems also requires decades. International agreements will be the main means of addressing global environmental concerns. Washington will continue to be actively involved in promoting international commitments in this area, such as those made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit or the September 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development.

The U.S. military's role in such international agreements will be minor. One important issue, however, will be the reorientation of existing intelligence-gathering systems to collect environmental data, as envisioned by the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program sponsored by Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga). For example, the Navy's Sound Surveillance System (Sosus) network of 1,000 underwater microphones linked by 30,000 miles of undersea cables is regarded by oceanographers as a unique resource for gathering information on currents and other ocean phenomena. At the same time, Sosus is less important to the Navy now than it was during the Cold War, when the Soviet submarine force was a major worry.

The principal impact of environmental concerns on the military will be growing restrictions on peacetime military operations. Examples include demands to curtail training in order to reduce noise from low-flying aircraft, limit damage to fields and forests from ground exercises, and reduce land devoted to firing ranges and exercise facilities.

The Defense Department spent about $5.5 billion on environmental programs in FY 1994, including $2.0 billion on compliance with environmental regulations. The most costly environmental problem facing the U.S. military is cleaning up bases. The cost of base cleanups out of the earmarked Defense Environmental Restoration Account (DEAR) and the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) accounts mushroomed from $.6 billion in FY 1990 to $2.6 billion in FY 1994. Much of the funding through FY 1993 went for preliminary studies on programs that are now ready to be implemented, at a cost that would require a substantial funding increase. Present expenditure levels are woefully insufficient to implement cleanups at the pace mandated under the agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency. Further, laws passed in recent years authorize private citizens and environmental groups to take legal action against the Defense Department if it does not honor its agreements with the EPA. It will therefore be difficult to implement plans to cap such expenditures at the current annual level.

The initial expectation was that cleanup of closed bases could be financed through revenue from selling these bases. That has turned out to be entirely unrealistic. Communities have become skilled at acquiring valuable base land for free under the public benefit conveyance provisions--for example, the use of Fort Ord for a university campus. Because of the high cleanup costs, the closure of additional bases expected to be mandated in 1995 may actually increase DOD costs during the next five years. There is reluctance in the military to see more of the declining defense budget devoted to cleaning up bases--especially those being transferred for free to other public agencies. To many in the military, this seems to be more of a public works program than a military program.

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Preventing Mass Exoduses of Refugees

While the principal responsibility for responding to humanitarian disasters, including mass refugee exoduses, will continue to fall to non-government organizations, supplemented by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees and the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the U.S. military will be called upon to assist such efforts. The military has instant access to a range of material and logistical resources in transportation, communications, and medical services that are simply not available to humanitarian organizations. In fulfilling this relief function, the U.S. military will confront several issues.

Working with Humanitarian Organizations. The military will inevitably be working with civilian agencies and charitable non-government organizations. Relations with these groups pose a challenge. Such groups' objectives and working methods differ from those of the military. Humanitarian organizations are often present in country for years before disaster strikes, and expect to stay involved long after the crisis has subsided. That in itself gives them a different set of concerns from the military, whose principal responsibility ends when disaster relief is delivered. Furthermore, in some cases, the charities' personnel are not well disposed towards the military.

The military is improving its ability to work with civilian development and relief agencies, including those of foreign governments, international organizations, and the private sector. Detailed procedures have been developed for working with such groups. Exercises with observers and participants from these agencies are being held to practice relief operations.

Balance Between Humanitarian and War Operations. The military has to be concerned with the balance between preparation for humanitarian relief operations and its other responsibilities. U.S. military procedures and equipment are not designed with relief missions in mind, which means that the military must spend more per ton to deliver aid than do charitable agencies. To reorient the military's procedures to make them more cost-effective for aid and to retrain personnel to be more effective in aid missions could erode the forces' fighting edge. However, in the past, the U.S. military regularly balanced conventional military operations with relief and quasi-police operations. Indeed, those functions were the central role of the U.S. military during peacetime before World War II. That pattern might reassert itself.

Balance Between Disaster Relief and Preventing Conflicts.

None of the options for dealing with refugee flows are attractive:

  • Forceful interception sits poorly with the U.S. self-image as a land of refuge for the oppressed. Even when interception commands widespread popular support, as in the cases of mass exoduses of Haitians and Cubans to Florida in summer 1994, such actions typically generate public and legal challenges.

  • Providing permanent resettlement is not practical, given the public's reluctance to accept large numbers of immigrants; further, the experience with Vietnamese boat refugees demonstrates that offering resettlement can encourage even more refugees.

  • Temporary asylum is not popular in industrial countries either, because of concerns that refugees will stay for the long term--as illustrated in European reactions to refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

  • Establishing refugee camps in border zones often results in a race against death, with masses of frustrated people living at close quarters in unhygienic conditions, and entirely dependent upon outside sources for food and potable water--as so tragically demonstrated in the case of Rwandan refugees in Zaire.

  • Repatriation is the only way to reverse the build-up of refugees. In 1992, 2.4 million refugees returned home, including 1.5 million to Afghanistan and 178,000 to Mozambique. However, voluntary repatriation must usually wait for a change in the domestic conditions that generated the flow of refugees in the first place. Furthermore, a continuing international military presence may be required to reassure returning refugees that they will be safe from violence and persecution. For example, consider the case of Rwandan Hutus, who have been reluctant to return to their country after the departure of their French protectors for fear of reprisals by the new Tutsi-dominated government. Forcible repatriation, as with Vietnamese boat people in the late 1980s and Haitians in 1994, is generally not favored by the market democracies, and has been on a smaller scale. Overall, increasing the return flow of refugees to their countries of origin may require providing logistical assistance for the move, setting up on-site reception centers at the resettlement locations, and furnishing help in reintegrating refugees.

  • Preventing mass refugee flows at their source usually requires maitaining a presence on the ground in troubled or disintegrating states, often in conjunction with efforts to mediate (as in Bosnia) or force (as in Haiti) the resolution of crises that impel refugees to flee their homes. Examples of steps that might be taken at the source to stanch the flow of refugees include providing assistance to victims of ethnic conflict as close to their homes as possible, creating safe havens or secure areas where displaced persons can get help in relative safety, deploying troops to protect civilians from violence or expulsions in some areas, and protecting relief workers caught in the crossfire between opposing sides.

    The problem is how to bottle up refugee flows in the short term while resolving the crisis that created refugee flight, in a manner that avoids entanglement in the deep-rooted conflicts of troubled and failed states. If too little is done, the military and relief agencies can become bogged down in protracted humanitarian operations. If too much is attempted, the U.S. and its forces might be perceived by one side as intervening in a conflict on behalf of the enemy, which can result in U.S. casualties and a loss of public support for the intervention. Of course, resolving a crisis may at times be possible through purely diplomatic means or through the actions of actors other than the U.S.--for example, coalitions assembled by regional organizations. Nevertheless, there are certain to be times when the U.S. military finds itself involved on the ground in failed states in order to prevent refugee flows.

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