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Officials Describe Successes, Challenges Against WMDs

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2014 – Given the increasing interconnectedness of global communities, a creative, collaborative approach to the challenges posed by weapons of mass destruction must be the rule, not the exception, senior Pentagon officials told Congress yesterday.

Andrew C. Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, and Rebecca Hersman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction, outlined the DOD’s approach to squelching the constant evolution of weapons materials, tactics, and technologies within adversaries’ reach at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee.

“Countering such threats requires flexible and agile responses, capable partners, as well as whole-of-department, whole-of-government, and even whole-of-international-community solutions,” Hersman said.

Hersman credited international partners and support from Congress for Syria's dwindling chemical weapons program.

“The centerpiece of the U.S. contribution, the motor vessel ship Cape Ray, is outfitted with DOD's recently developed field deployable hydrolysis systems and manned by the finest experts from our operational and technical communities,” she said. “It's now ready to neutralize the most dangerous chemicals in the Syrian arsenal in a safe, secure, and environmentally sound fashion.”

Overall, Hersman said, the Defense Department will look to cooperation as a force multiplier, enabling swift, comprehensive action to respond to existing and emerging WMD threats.

Similarly on the biological front, advancing technology, unsecured pathogen stores, and weak national controls create dangerous opportunities for hostile state and non-state actors to acquire, proliferate, or use biological agents with potentially catastrophic consequences, Hersman said.

“To protect our forces, reduce risks to our citizens, and respond effectively to crises, DOD must build holistic solutions across its bio-prevention and biodefense efforts,” she reported. “We will continue to prioritize efforts to secure pathogens worldwide, foster a strong bio-security culture, enhance detection and strategic warning, and integrate more effectively with partners.”

And nuclear threats also remain a prominent concern, Hersman said. “Unless arrested and reversed,” she told the panel, “the nuclear ambitions of countries like North Korea and Iran can imperil the interests of the United States and our allies and partners around the world, creating instability and increasing the likelihood that other nations may seek to become nuclear-armed states.”

Weber said U.S. investments in countering chemical, biological and nuclear threats have paid dividends in destroying serious chemical weapons materials the Assad regime used to kill civilians in Syria last summer and that posed a looming threat to Israel, Jordan and the region. He noted the recent arrival of U.S. Army civilians to Rota, Spain, where they began their mission to neutralize some of Syria's most dangerous chemicals.

DOD scientists and engineers developed these systems aboard the specially fitted ship Cape Ray within just six months based on safe, proven chemical weapons destruction technology, Weber said, calling the feat “a true testament to what the Department of Defense can contribute to U.S. and international security.”

Their work, he noted, follows on the heels of U.S. forces’ success in assisting the Libyans in destroying the last of Moammar Gadhafi's weapons of mass destruction.

“Through DOD's Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, we provided security upgrades, technical expertise, and support to the transitional council and elected government of Libya,” Weber said.

The success stories of U.S. innovation in developing international partnerships to mitigate the risk of states, terrorist organizations, or rogue individuals accessing and using chemical, biological, and nuclear materials highlight ongoing efforts to counter the current and future weapons of mass destruction threats, Weber said.

“Our work ranges from pathogen consolidation and medical biodefense and countermeasure work, biodefense preparedness with the Republic of Korea, to nuclear counterterrorism and threat reduction cooperation with two of our closes allies: the United Kingdom and France,” he said.

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleAFPS)


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Andrew C. Weber
Rebecca Hersman

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