Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction

Instruments: Nonproliferation (Prevention)
Nuclear Deterrence
Counterforce Capabilities
Active Defense
Passive Defense


The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has, in the mid-1990s, posed a dramatically increasing threat to the United States. This threat is multidimensional, for WMD include nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons. Moreover, the threat has been compounded by the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, which make longer-range delivery systems available to nations possessing WMD. (For a fuller treatment, see Strategic Assessment 1995.) The United States is responding to this threat by pursuing policies and initiatives designed both to prevent proliferation or limit it, and to minimize the strategic and tactical consequences should prevention fail.

Nuclear weapons. In the mid-1990s, the number of countries that have nuclear weapons, have the capability to produce nuclear weapons, or are seeking the capacity to produce and deliver nuclear weapons is approaching two dozen. In addition to the five declared nuclear powers, some states are judged to have either fully developed nuclear weapons (e.g., Israel) or the ability to assemble and deliver such weapons rapidly (e.g., India and Pakistan). A number of states are attempting to obtain, or have the facilities to produce, weapons-grade fissile material (e.g., Iraq, Iran, and North Korea). A growing number of states possess the requisite scientific and industrial infrastructure to initiate a weapons program, while others appear to be in the early stages of acquiring the expertise and infrastructure needed for a nuclear-weapons program, often through the acquisition of nuclear reactors for ostensibly peaceful purposes (e.g., Algeria and Syria). Lastly, there is growing concern that terrorist groups and organized-crime syndicates could come into the possession of nuclear weapons--including crude radiological devices. These fears are fueled in part by concerns about a possible loss of control over stocks of weapons-grade nuclear material in the former Soviet Union.

Chemical and Biological Weapons. The number of countries with chemical and biological weapons is rising, and experience has shown that once states have made the decision to acquire a WMD capability, biological weapons (BW) and chemical weapons (CW) are generally pursued simultaneously.

Many experts believe that Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Cuba, China, and North Korea, among others, have active biological-weapons programs. In the early 1990s, Russia admitted it had a BW program in the past, and concerns linger that this program still exists in some form and that Russia may be maintaining illegal capability to produce biological warfare agents. Other countries that may be pursuing BW include Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and Laos. Thus, the problem, though global, is concentrated in regions of instability--some of which, such as the Middle East and Northeast Asia, are of key importance to the West.

The cost of acquiring a stockpile of chemical or biological weapons is small when compared with the cost of achieving nuclear capability. Biological and chemical weapons are relatively easy to acquire because almost all the technologies associated with them are widely available and used for legitimate commercial activities. In addition, defensive biological and chemical programs can provide cover for covert offensive BW and CW programs. For all these reasons, the production of BW and CW weapons is difficult to detect, and offenders can often plausibly deny that they are producing such weapons.

Alarmingly, states are acquiring BW capability and CW not just for deterrence but because they are perceived as operationally useful. Iraq used CW effectively against Iran throughout their nearly decade-long war, and Iraq also used chemical weapons against its own people. In addition, CW and/or BW are believed to have been used in conflicts in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. And the 1995 sarin gas attacks in Tokyo's subway demonstrated the feasibility of terrorist attacks using CW.

North Korea Theater Missile Threats

Source: BMDO

Missiles. Many NBC proliferators see missiles, and especially ballistic missiles, as the delivery system of choice. As of 1995, more than a dozen countries have operational ballistic missiles, and many more have missile-development programs or agreements to obtain ballistic-missile technology from others. Although most systems available to states seeking WMD capability (sometimes referred to as "proliferant states") are limited to a range of about 600 km, these ranges are increasing steadily. North Korea has flight-tested the 1,000-plus km-range No-Dong 1 and has under development a missile with a range of 3,500-plus km, the Taepo-Dong 2 (TD-2). A number of states are pursuing space-launch capabilities, which can also provide long-range military capability. Cruise missiles are also of growing importance to emerging powers. They are inexpensive compared with ballistic missiles and have increasing capabilities in terms of range, accuracy, and payload.


Nonproliferation (Prevention)

The global proliferation of NBC weapons, their concentration in unstable regions vital to U.S. interests, the perception of their increasing military and political utility, and the greater likelihood of their use--in war, as a tool for political blackmail, or by terrorists--all serve to increase the threat to U.S. and allied forces. Instruments that aim at preventing or limiting the spread of such weapons are known as instruments of nonproliferation.

A Distinction in Terms: WMD and NBC

The term "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) refers to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons employed for the purpose of inflicting massive damage, including the killing of large numbers of civilians. The term consolidates nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons into one category because, despite differences in their effects and use, they share enormous lethality and symbolism. Thus, the concept of WMD is significant in a political rather than a military sense. By using the term "WMD," policymakers convey the message that the proliferation of these types of weapons is unacceptable and that their use would be considered an extremely grave matter.

However, for military operational purposes, a distinction must be made when considering the threats posed by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The acronym NBC recognizes these differences. Also, "WMD" is an open-ended concept, potentially allowing for the development of other technologies of mass destruction. "NBC" is necessarily confined to the three named technologies. Nuclear weapons are the most lethal and the least easily defended against of these weapons of mass destruction. The use of biological weapons carries with it a potential for loss of life that approaches that of nuclear weapons; however, biological arsenals can be combatted to some degree with vaccines, masks, and proper warning. Chemical weapons are the least lethal of the weapons of mass destruction but can still have a profound effect on the battlefield or on civilian populations if used in sufficient quantities. Troops can defend themselves against chemical weapons with chemical detectors and protective clothing, but such equipment undermines operational effectiveness.

The proliferation process begins when a state first considers acquiring WMD and seeks to develop or obtain the technical and manufacturing expertise to do so. Prevention measures are most effective at these early stages and fall within a number of categories.

* Dissuasion: convincing non-WMD states that their security interests are best served by not acquiring WMD.

* Denial: attempting to limit a state's ability to obtain WMD technologies or devices.

* Arms control: seeking to set limits on or eliminate WMD through bilateral or multilateral agreements and the creation of international norms against proliferation, as discussed in the chapter on arms control.

* International pressure: punishing states who pursue acquisition of WMD with trade or economic sanctions, publicizing companies and countries that assist in the acquisition of WMD, and sharing intelligence.

While prevention efforts often are largely diplomatic in nature, defense-related agencies play an important supporting role. Their involvement may include providing inspection, verification, and enforcement support for nonproliferation treaties and control regimes; helping to identify states that might acquire, or are acquiring, NBC capabilities; and conducting interdiction missions.

The central tool of prevention traditionally has been arms control, which continues to be the focus of the world community's efforts to create norms against proliferation and to limit the spread of WMD. The primary international mechanism for controlling nuclear proliferation is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and its associated monitoring arm, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) , not yet in force as of late 1995, bans the production, use, possession, and transportation of chemical weapons. The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which has been in force since 1972, bans the development, production, stockpiling, or acquisition of biological or toxin agents and weapons. In addition to formal treaties, a number of multilateral regimes exist to prevent potential proliferators from gaining access to critical technologies and materials. For more information on these treaties and regimes, see the chapter on arms control.

Arms control and other prevention tools have had some important successes. In 1989-1990, South Africa reversed its policy on nuclear weapons, and Argentina abandoned the Condor missile program. But despite arms-control efforts, the diffusion of WMD technologies has proven exceptionally difficult to control. In this regard, the Iraqi experience is revealing. While export controls did succeed in delaying and increasing the cost of Iraq's nuclear program, post-Gulf War discoveries revealed it to be much more advanced than most analysts had suspected. Thus, while arms-control and export-control regimes can be helpful in retarding and raising the cost of obtaining NBC weapons, states that are sufficiently motivated and possess adequate resources will probably succeed if they persist.

If increasing numbers of states do acquire WMD, other tools to enhance security must be employed, in particular, tools that afford some protection against these weapons. The remaining four instruments examined here are military instruments used to counter the threat of NBC weapons after an enemy has acquired them. Such instruments are generally known as instruments of counterproliferation. Deterrence remains the first line of defense, and counterproliferation instruments can strengthen deterrence. Should deterrence fail, however, the instruments of counterproliferation provide a measure of protection.

Middle East Proliferation Profile

Source: INSS from various sources, including Congressional Research Service Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Non-Proliferation Project; International Institute for Strategic Studies; Anthony Cordesman, After the Storm

Nuclear Deterrence

During the Cold War, when strategic nuclear war was the central threat to U.S. national security, nuclear deterrence was the chief instrument of response. However, the last years of the Cold War saw a dramatic drawdown--partly negotiated, partly by unilateral choice--in the size and variety of the United States's theater nuclear arsenal. And the Cold War's end has brought a change in the entire nuclear environment, as well as questions about the utility of both strategic and theater nuclear weapons. Two issues stand out: (1) what role nuclear weapons have in the post-Cold War age; and (2) how effective nuclear deterrence will prove in regional conflicts where an adversary has NBC weapons.

In its 1994 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and subsequent affirmations, the Clinton administration reaffirmed the United States's need for a nuclear deterrent. Concretely, the administration identified a requirement to, among other things: maintain 3,500 strategic warheads; keep ICBMs and modernize the Minuteman III; complete the D-5 Trident missile purchase and maintain fourteen Trident boats armed with D-5s; adopt a stockpile stewardship program to assure a reliable, safe, and secure stockpile without nuclear testing; and commit the resources needed to verify START compliance and monitor Russia's strategic offensive modernization program. Strategically, the document seeks to hedge against the possibility of a reversal of democratization in Russia; to allow for the possibility of armed confrontation with a regional power that has acquired WMD; to continue to extend the U.S. nuclear deterrent to major allies; and to discourage or even reverse nuclear proliferation.

A key element in the rejection of nuclear disarmament is the realization that nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented; that is, the knowledge of how to make them is widespread and the most demanding part of the process (acquiring fissile material) is extraordinarily difficult to prevent. Even if the world's political processes sustain arms-control efforts and achieve related measures, such as a comprehensive nuclear test ban and cessation of the production of plutonium for weapons purposes, the problem of so-called virtual nuclear arsenals--the technical and industrial capability to create a nuclear arsenal quickly--remains.

Moreover, despite whatever arms pacts may be signed, reliable and effective verification measures do not yet exist. Thus, without the ability to verify universal nuclear disarmament, the United States would run a tremendous risk in eliminating its own nuclear deterrent. Many wary policymakers emphasize that, though diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow have thawed considerably since 1989, Russia has continued to produce nuclear weapons while the United States has ceased its production. Other great powers, too, may someday construct large nuclear arsenals. Furthermore, many policymakers argue that the elimination of the U.S. arsenal would inspire other nuclear states to build up their arsenals in order to challenge U.S. power and deter U.S. conventional military forces. Further, some observers have pointed out that if the United States were to do away with its nuclear capability, many non-nuclear states that rely upon U.S. security assurances for their protection would have an incentive to seek their own nuclear deterrent capabilities. Thus, the supposition one must take into account when developing a long-term vision of nuclear forces is that future challenges may again require a response of significant proportions. Whether the laws, rules, and institutions of the international system will be adequate to contain those challenges without the backing of proportionate force is doubtful. Whether nuclear weapons might be needed to provide such force is at least an open question.

Chemical Weapons in the Gulf War: Did Nuclear Deterrence Work?

Prior to the Gulf War, military assessments credited Iraq with a formidable arsenal of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, tabun, and sarin. Over the course of Iraq's nearly decade-long war with Iran, the Iraqi military gained extensive combat experience with chemical weapons, and CW use was by the end of the war an integral part of Iraqi warfighting doctrine. However, in spite of threats to turn the Gulf War into "the mother of all wars" and to "burn half of Israel to the ground," Iraq did not use chemical weapons when it faced the United States and its coalition. This came as a surprise to allied commanders, who anticipated that Iraq would attack with WMD early in the fighting in an effort to undermine U.S. public support for the war.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, many factors were cited to explain why Iraq restrained itself from employing CW. Some analysts asserted that the Iraqi leadership feared the use of CW would cause the coalition to change the military objectives of Desert Storm to include the elimination of Saddam Hussein's regime. Others posited that Baghdad believed the use of CW would not have a significant impact on coalition forces due to their use of protective suits and chemical detectors. Still others claimed that atmospheric conditions unfavorable to effective CW use persisted throughout the ground campaign.

Perhaps the most prevalent argument attributed the decision to Iraqi fears of a U.S. or Israeli response with nuclear weapons. After the onset of hostilities in the Gulf War, it became apparent that the United States held an overwhelming conventional-force advantage over Iraq. However, in the months leading up to the Gulf War, U.S. political and military leaders, unsure whether the conventional superiority of their forces would deter WMD use by Iraq, indicated privately and publicly that the United States might retaliate with nuclear weapons if Iraq were to use chemical weapons. According to an Iraqi transcript of a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq `Aziz, Baker told `Aziz, "God forbid...chemical weapons are used against our forces--the American people would demand revenge, and we have the means to implement this."

In late 1995 the Iraqi leadership told U.N. officials that they had interpreted Baker's warning to mean that the United States would use nuclear weapons against Iraq if Iraq used NBC against coalition forces. The Iraqis claim they took this warning seriously, and that while they had armed nearly two hundred SCUD warheads and bombs with chemical and biological agents for use against coalition forces and Israeli and Saudi cities, they did not use them because they feared U.S. nuclear retaliation.

Strategic Nuclear Launchers

Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Military Balance 1995/96 and Secretary of Defnese, Annual Report to the President and Congress 1995.

Below the level of great-power challenges lies the question of nuclear deterrence against a regional power possessing NBC weapons. The concern is that U.S. conventional capabilities may not serve as an effective deterrent against BW and CW use in limited or regional military engagements. Should Washington relinquish the option of retaliating in kind to CW (as it already has done with BW), nuclear weapons will then provide the only nonconventional military deterrent to the use of WMD against U.S. or allied forces.

In late 1995, Iraqi officials gave U.N. envoys the first authoritative, if perhaps incomplete, account of why they did not use biological and chemical arms against coalition forces. Even though Iraq had embarked on a much accelerated nuclear-weapons program after the invasion of Kuwait, and had reportedly loaded roughly two hundred bombs and missile warheads with biological agents, Iraqi officials claim that they did not use them because they interpreted a strong warning delivered by Secretary of State James Baker as implying that the United States would use nuclear weapons if Iraq used CW or BW against the coalition.

Such revelations bolster the need for continued credible nuclear capabilities as well as the need to resist attempts to delegitimize U.S. possession of nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, while apparently successful in deterring NBC use against U.S. and allied forces in the Gulf, the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence cannot be relied on exclusively. A number of factors might lessen the credibility of a U.S. nuclear response in certain situations that are not difficult to imagine. First, asymmetrical interests are present in many, if not all, regional conflicts. A regional regime might be convinced that its survival is at stake, while the U.S. interest in the conflict might well fall far short of that. A regime making such an assumption might gamble that Washington's stakes in the conflict would not be high enough to warrant a U.S. nuclear response to the regime's NBC use (especially if limited), with all the inevitable international political repercussions. Secondly, a desperate regime might reason that a limited U.S. nuclear response would cause no more damage to its military capabilities than a continued, unrelenting conventional attack. Thirdly, an enemy's use of NBC--perhaps even at the outset of hostilities, and not as an act of desperation--might be carefully measured to cause enough casualties to make the U.S. leadership reconsider the price of its intervention, yet not be of sufficient magnitude that it would be likely to provoke a nuclear response. Scenarios such as these--and others can easily be envisioned--suggest that while the United States must maintain a credible nuclear deterrent against NBC use, the efficacy of that deterrent cannot be relied on absolutely.

That said, deterring NBC armed regional aggressors will remain the United States's preferred and first line of defense. An essential element of such deterrence will be maintaining a credible capability across the spectrum of forces, from conventional superiority--including the ability to operate in an NBC environment supported by active and passive defenses and adequate counterforce capabilities--to a reliable and effective nuclear deterrent. However, it is also necessary to go beyond capabilities and reexamine how to think about and plan for deterrence in a regional conflict. For example, some of the assumptions on which U.S.-Soviet deterrence was founded (such as a basic and shared rationality) may not hold in regional conflicts. Articulating a regional deterrence and defense strategy (or strategies) will be a difficult but important challenge. Understanding deterrence and defense in a regional context will require a better appreciation of the military/cultural/political dynamics, as will a better understanding of possible employment doctrines of regional states with NBC weapons.

Another issue is the continued role for so-called tactical nuclear weapons, that is, weapons to be used on or near the battlefield against enemy military forces as contrasted with weapons that hold at risk deeper, "strategic" targets. By the end of the Cold War, the technical distinctions between tactical and strategic systems had become blurred. Continuing the trend in the last years of the Cold War of reducing dramatically the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal, the Nuclear Posture Review endorsed a nonstrategic nuclear force structure consisting solely of Air Force dual-capable aircraft and Navy Tomahawk missiles, which could in an emergency be deployed on submarines.

Patriot Missle system.

Counterforce Capabilities

Counterforce--the ability to strike an enemy's forces before they can be used--has always been a central objective of military operations. In a WMD scenario, counterforce capabilities include the ability to target, deny, interdict, or destroy hostile NBC forces and supporting infrastructure. Counterforce principles operate at all levels of military conflict and engagement. At the tactical level, for example, destruction of an enemy's artillery and supply capabilities is a prime method of suppressing that enemy's ability to deliver chemical or nuclear weapons in the field.

Even under the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, the ability to destroy an enemy's residual nuclear forces after an initial strike was seen as the most effective way of limiting damage should deterrence fail. In the post-Cold War world, strong counterforce capabilities serve not only to mitigate or eliminate existing NBC threats but to deter their creation in the first place.

The acquisition of offensive counterforce capabilities was partly a consequence of improved technological capabilities. Nonetheless, despite the push from technology, the progress of strategic counterforce capabilities was moderated during the Cold War, largely because counterforce capabilities sufficient to achieve a first-strike capability were considered destabilizing.

Comparing Effects of Nuclear Biological Release

Casualties from Nuclear Releases

(Either a small (10 kiloton) bomb or destruction of a nuclear reator)

Casualties frm Biological Weapons Release

(10kg viable ANTHRAX)

Source: Robert M. Cox, NDU and Richard FRY, DGI

In a regional setting there would be a number of special political and operational aspects associated with attempting to destroy NBC-associated weapons and facilities. Such missions would impose unique considerations on all involved in the planning, decision, and execution, from the National Command authorities to the local commander. The character and symbolism of weapons of mass destruction would make striking NBC-related targets as much a political act as a military one. Political authorities would undoubtedly scrutinize closely any recommendation to destroy NBC-related targets. The requirements for success would also tend to be more stringent than for non-NBC counterforce strikes. Because collateral damage from the destroyed weapons can be so great, the effects of such damage would have to be known in advance and held to a minimum. These requirements would have to be taken into account during planning and might require unique technical capabilities. Taken together, these considerations would impose special burdens on the intelligence units and military forces if they were to undertake counterforce missions against NBC targets.

One lesson that potential adversaries learned from the Gulf War is that in order to survive in the face of U.S. conventional superiority, an enemy must go underground. In 1994, a Senate Armed Services Committee report acknowledged, "While Operation Desert Storm revealed the accuracy of U.S. precision guided missiles, it also revealed serious shortcomings in their lethality against buried, deep underground, or otherwise hardened facilities." Increasingly, regional powers are taking this lesson to heart, hiding their WMD facilities and stockpiles in underground bunkers in an effort to reduce the possibility of detection and the effectiveness of conventional weapons directed against them if they are detected. Such action places greater demands on both intelligence and counterforce resources, as capabilities must be improved to identify underground NBC targets and develop technologies to destroy them.

Active Defense

Active defenses--the ability to prevent weapons from reaching their intended targets--can enhance deterrence by denying an enemy the ability effectively to employ NBC-armed missiles and aircraft. Such defenses may become essential to ensure that the United States or its allies are not deterred by an NBC threat, or do not have to suffer massive casualties unnecessarily.

The pursuit of active defenses against the greatest Cold War WMD threat--nuclear-armed Soviet ballistic missiles--was carefully circumscribed and formally limited by the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In 1972, at a time when the number of offensive missiles and nuclear warheads numbered in the tens of thousands, the ABM Treaty was adopted on the assumption that in light of these great numbers, active defenses were simply not capable of defending against the full magnitude of the threat; mutual assured destruction was believed to be the most stable policy. Further, policymakers hoped that a limit on active defenses would encourage greater restraint in the production of offensive weapons and, conversely, feared that the pursuit of active defenses would spur even greater offensive efforts. They also hoped that the ABM Treaty might provide a political basis for reductions in the offensive nuclear stockpiles of the United States and Soviet Union.

Chemical protection mask.

If the end of the Cold War was accompanied by a diminished perception of the Russian threat, it also resulted in an increased perception of the threat posed by regional powers. Indeed, as ballistic and cruise missiles become more available to emerging powers, the need for active defenses to protect U.S. forces in regions where NBC proliferation is taking place becomes clearer. Additionally, the evolution of missiles that are both longer range and mobile decreases the likelihood that counterforce options will be totally successful. The difficulties in locating and destroying mobile missiles were vividly demonstrated during the Gulf War. While not designed primarily to intercept SCUD-type missiles, the Patriot missile deployed to the Gulf did provide important psychological and political benefits in the prosecution of the war. From that experience, it became more apparent that effective active defenses against nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons would be an important consideration in future regional conflicts, for both military and political reasons.

Longer-range active-defense missiles, such as the Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), will enable warheads to be intercepted at ever greater ranges. This is particularly important for defense against NBC warheads, because destroying them close to the intended target may not significantly reduce exposure to the agents they carry. The farther from the target that active missile defense systems can intercept an incoming warhead, the less the chance that the agent will affect friendly troops or territory. A near-miss with an NBC warhead might still do considerable damage to U.S. or coalition forces, or to civilian populations.

As proliferant states acquire longer-range missiles and NBC weapons, they could also acquire the ability to threaten U.S. territory. If the United States is seen to lack the means to defend its territory against proliferant states, it could undermine Washington's freedom to act in future crises. A debate continues in the United States about how much and what kind of active defenses to pursue. The Gulf War experience convinced the U.S. defense community of the military and political utility of having an effective theater ballistic-missile defense (TMD); a consensus to develop TMD clearly exists. However, no such consensus exists with regard to the merits of a national missile defense (NMD) system to protect the United States itself.

The NMD debate centers on two key points: first, the character and timing of the threat (that is, how long it will be before any NBC-armed adversary has the ability to launch such weapons by ballistic missile against the United States); and, secondly, the effect an NMD would have on the ABM Treaty and, in turn, U.S. relations with Russia. As of late 1995, the Clinton administration continued to affirm U.S. support for the ABM Treaty and maintain that technological development programs provided a sufficient hedge against future long-range missile threats to U.S. territory. However, Republican congressional leaders were increasingly questioning the ABM Treaty's continued relevance in a post-Cold War environment of widespread proliferation, and many urged the development for deployment of a national missile defense.

Passive Defense

Passive defense seeks to provide protection for U.S. and allied forces against an NBC attack. It can take many forms, from protective uniforms and masks to equipment incorporated into larger systems (such as entire naval vessels or air-base command centers) that enable them to operate in chemical, biological, and, in limited aspects, some nuclear environments. Passive defense includes detection and identification of NBC agents, medical response to NBC effects, and decontamination of equipment and facilities. Many analysts believe that a strong passive-defense capability serves as a deterrent, discouraging use of WMD by an adversary who knows that U.S. forces are able to operate in chemical and biological environments.

Missile Defense Systems

PAC 3 (Patriot Advanced Capability): Point or limited-area defense system. PAC 3 improvements include upgrades to radar and an improved hit-to-kill missile known as ERINT. Operational prototype in late 1990s.

THAAD (Theater High-Altitude Area Defense): Ground-based theater missile defense (TMD) system that will provide a wide-area defense capability by intercepting longer-range theater-ballistic missiles at higher altitudes and at greater distances. Provides upper-tier defense to complement point defense, such as Patriot. Operational in early 2000s.

Navy Lower Tier (AEGIS/SM-2 Block IVA): Could provide tactical ballistic-missile defense capability similar to PAC 3 from the sea. Operational in late 1990s.

Navy Upper Tier: Could provide extensive theater-wide protection, intercepting theater ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere as well as in the ascent and descent phases. If selected, available in 2002.

Corps SAM/MEADS (Medium Extended Air Defense System): Mobile lower-tier missile-defense system designed to protect moving combat forces against theater ballistic and cruise missiles. To be developed in cooperation with France, Germany, and Italy. Available in 2005.

During the Cold War, passive-defense measures against chemical attack were taken seriously, especially by NATO forces in Europe. The massive Soviet threat to Europe included a threat of biological and chemical attack, and NATO forces were required to train to operate in such an environment. NATO's strategy included the option of a response in kind--that is, the use of chemical weapons against an attacker who had already employed them. A credible response in kind was contingent upon the ability of NATO's own forces to operate in a chemical environment. As with many Cold War situations, preparing for a massive Soviet attack against Europe provided the necessary training and equipment to fight in lesser contingencies where passive defense against chemical attack might be required. However, the U.S. Army prefers to avoid undertaking prolonged operations in protective chemical gear, owing to the severe limits such equipment places on effectiveness.

Following the Cold War, a number of circumstances have arisen that underscore the need for effective passive-defense equipment, including protective masks and suits. First, the spread of biological and chemical capabilities means that U.S. forces must be prepared to operate in a WMD environment worldwide. Secondly, since the threat is no longer localized in the relatively benign operating climate of Europe, the possibility of having to operate in chemical gear under harsher climatological conditions has increased. Thirdly, the CWC's requirement that all chemical stockpiles be destroyed within ten years of the treaty's ratification will, if ratified by the United States, preclude any possibility of Washington's threatening an in-kind response to the use of chemical weapons against U.S. forces. In the face of a proliferator armed with chemical or biological weapons, this inability to threaten response in kind may weaken deterrence and, in so doing, increase the chances that an adversary will use chemical weapons.

Robust passive-defense capabilities are key to operating without a significant loss in effectiveness in a BW or CW environment. Actions by the Department of Defense to improve chemical- and biological-defense capabilities include the integration of separate service programs into a consolidated DOD Chemical/Biological Defense Program. The goal of this program is to enhance the ability of U.S. forces to defend against BW and CW agents by developing and procuring the capabilities to avoid contamination (through adequate detection and warning/reconnaissance), protect forces (through individual and collective protective gear and adequate medical support), and improve decontamination measures.

In the future, U.S. forces must be prepared to operate in the presence of chemical and biological agents in an ever widening variety of contingencies. The ease with which chemical and biological agents can be manufactured and delivered means that these threats may be present even in peacekeeping operations. Despite advances, operating in chemical gear continues to place great physical and psychological stress on individual soldiers and units. The possibility that U.S. forces will be called upon to operate in the presence of an NBC threat means that continued improvements in individual protection equipment are necessary.

Threat Ranges from Middle East Missiles

Note: Illustrating where libya or Iran to acquire the No-Dong 1 (1,000 km), TD-1 (2,000 km) or TD-2 (3,000 km) missiles.

The likelihood that U.S. forces will often operate as part of a coalition raises questions about the possible political and military impact of NBC weapons on coalition cohesion. In the event of an NBC threat, it will not be sufficient for U.S. forces alone to have adequate protective equipment. An adversary might exploit gaps in the passive-defense capabilities of coalition partners, thereby undermining coalition cohesion and posing acute problems for political leaders and military commanders alike. Furthermore, in some situations, the issue of protection for civilians could become important--not just politically but also operationally. In many instances, for example, a largely civilian work force will be needed to maintain capabilities at ports and airfields. The absence of adequate personal protection for civilian workers will result in a degradation of operational capabilities, and may lead to deterioration in the political climate.


An ideal tool for national-security strategy combines two attributes. First, it should contribute to the deterrence of war. Deterrence remains the first line of defense against the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Secondly, should deterrence fail, a useful military instrument must contribute to the successful prosecution of war by denying the enemy the ability to achieve its objectives--even if that enemy does resort to the use of NBC weapons.

The counterproliferation tools described above hold the promise of fulfilling these two requirements. To the extent that an enemy realizes the United States maintains the abilities to neutralize (or at least minimize the damage inflicted by) NBC weapons and to respond effectively to their use, counterproliferation tools may deter an enemy from aggression. This is termed "deterrence by denial." If an adversary knows that possession or even use of NBC weapons will not intimidate or defeat U.S. forces, the chances of that adversary's employing NBC weapons--or, indeed, engaging U.S. forces in the first place--will be reduced. However, if deterrence fails, the ability of U.S. forces to operate in an NBC environment and respond decisively to NBC use will be crucial to success. Thus, maintaining adequate capabilities across the full range of counterproliferation tools--passive defense, counterforce capabilities, active defense, and nuclear deterrence--is simultaneously the best deterrent and the best way to minimize damage should deterrence fail.

A THAAD test launch.

Prevention tools are necessary but limited in what they can achieve. Despite some important successes, prevention tools have limited power to dissuade or deny those intent on achieving WMD capability. Chemical and biological weapons are relatively cheap and easy to acquire. A state determined to acquire them--or even nuclear weapons--can do so, given sufficient resources, time, and effort. Barriers to NBC possession and use are eroding. A number of nations seem intent on acquiring NBC weapons, despite efforts to codify international norms against possession of such weapons. The reasons are complex, but a growing number of states evidently see concrete warfighting utility in such weapons. For example, even though chemical weapons were used in the Iran-Iraq War, international condemnation was subdued.

The United States must strive to make deterrence as credible as possible. Achieving credible deterrence of NBC use in regional conflicts is a complex and uncertain task; nuclear weapons are necessary but not sufficient. Establishing and maintaining a credible deterrent against NBC use in regional conflicts will also require the ability to operate and prevail with conventional forces in an NBC environment. Achieving deterrence by denial will require continued attention to gaps in operational capabilities. The armed services will increasingly need to pay close attention to the consequences of WMD use against U.S. and coalition forces in regional conflicts, and to the imperatives of operating in an NBC environment. The use, or threat of use, of such weapons will have far-reaching consequences on both the tactical and strategic character of the conflict.

Coalition warfare may be particularly affected by the use or threatened use of NBC weapons. A coalition will not be politically sustainable if some members are significantly more vulnerable to NBC attack than others. In addition, a coalition might not be sustainable if it cannot protect the citizens of a coalition country from NBC attack.

Proliferation will place additional strains on intelligence requirements. The potentially severe effects of NBC use against U.S. forces will require that increased intelligence resources be devoted to identifying and analyzing the NBC capabilities of potential adversaries on a real-time basis. The consequences of failing to completely identify NBC targets could impose a heavy penalty on U.S. forces operating in the region. The demand for timely and accurate intelligence on enemy NBC capabilities and readiness will only increase in the years ahead.

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