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Hamre: Ancient Tactics, Modern Strategy

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 2, 1998 – The Defense Department is taking more steps to protect service members and folks at home from the growing threat of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, according to John Hamre.

These types of weapons are not new to the battlefield, the deputy defense secretary told about 200 allies and partners at the 15th NATO Workshop in Vienna in late June. Nerve agents and anthrax are the modern equivalents of the noxious fumes of pitch and sulfur the Spartans used in attacking ancient Athens.

"During the Middle Ages, cadavers were catapulted over besieged city walls to spread death and disease," Hamre said. "In this century, the searing sting of mustard gas poisoned the battlefields of Europe, and nerve gas has claimed innocent civilians in Iraq."

What's new about today's chemical and biological weapons, Hamre said, is that they now are being linked with strategic weapons. "Technology has made these weapons more powerful and much more widely available," he said. "Five pounds of anthrax, properly dispersed, would kill over 200,000 [people] in Washington, D.C."

Internet sites give instructions on how to make chemical bombs and biological agents. U.S. Army analysts at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., recently discovered traces of VX nerve agent on Iraqi missile fragments recovered by U.N. inspectors.

U.S., allied and partner military forces must be prepared to counter the real and growing threat from chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Hamre warned. At least two dozen nations already have such weapons, or are developing programs to build them, he said.

"The Tokyo subway sarin gas attack broke the taboo of first use, sparking interest in dozens of other terrorist groups and fringe organizations," Hamre said. "And the shock of nuclear tests in the deserts of India and Pakistan ... set off fears others may match their terrible decisions."

Stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and countering the threat they pose represent the security challenges of the next century, Hamre stressed. To meet them, DoD is devoting more than $5 billion to chemical and biological protection and counterproliferation over the next six years. Major emphasis is to develop remote detection systems and diagnostic techniques, he said.

The department has expanded funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons in Russia, and defense officials would like to extend the program to help eliminate chemical weapons. In a move to consolidate more than a dozen treaty and threat reduction efforts, the department created a single agency aimed at reducing chemical, biological and nuclear threats.

Pentagon leaders recently started a mandatory vaccination program to protect service members, and Hamre predicts voluntary vaccinations will eventually be offered for all Americans. Protecting private citizens is also the aim of a new homeland defense program.

Under the program, specially trained National Guard teams are being placed at strategic locations around the United States to identify, diagnose and contain suspected chemical and biological terror attacks, Hamre said. Military officials are also creating a new generation of rapid diagnostic equipment that can identify chemical and biological agents within minutes, he added.

By the end of the year, Hamre said, the Pentagon will assign responsibility for America's homeland defense to a designated commander in chief. Up until now, he explained, the United States assigned regional commanders in chief for the entire world, except the former Soviet Union and North America. The U.S. European Command, in Stuttgart, Germany, for example, is responsible for U.S. military operations in Europe and most of Africa.

(Other regional commands are U.S. Pacific Command, Honolulu, Hawaii; U.S. Atlantic Command, Norfolk, Va.; U.S. Southern Command, Miami; and U.S. Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Unified commands assigned overall responsibility for certain functions are U.S. Space Command Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base; U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.; and U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.)

Continental U.S. air defense is assigned to U.S. Space Command, but ground defense was never assigned to a commander in chief, he said. Because civilian sites also may be targeted, homeland defense is now considered a military mission.

"We don't believe we have primary responsibility, but within minutes of an event, people are going to turn to us," Hamre said. "If there is a bona fide chemical attack in the subway system in New York, it's going to quickly go beyond what local police can handle. If there is a biological attack, you can easily see regional governors calling out the National Guard to quarantine the highways. It could get crazy very fast."

Therefore, Hamre said, an assigned commander is needed to do realistic contingency planning. "The chairman of the joint chiefs has launched this effort in his review of his unified command plan. He has chartered the joint staff to begin detailed assessment of alternatives for dealing with this problem."

Hamre said he's confident the military will have formally assigned homeland defense to a commander in chief by the end of the year. "We may invent a new one -- that's an option that's on the table," he said. "I do believe we're going to see a very significant new change. Finally, defending the homeland is going to be one CinC's day-to-day responsibility."

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