WMD in Wrong Hands is "Greatest Security Risk" This Decade, Wolfowitz Says
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 16, 2003 Weapons of mass destruction in the wrong hands is the "greatest security risk of this decade," said deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz during a symposium at the third annual Conference on Counterproliferation May 13.
The United States will continue to have a requirement for a "robust WMD elimination capability" even after the discovery and the destruction of Iraq's WMD capabilities, he noted.
Wolfowitz's comment came in the wake of the May 12 terrorist bombing attacks on a residential compound in Saudi Arabia that killed 34 people, including eight Americans. It served as a harsh reminder that the United States war against terrorism is not over, he said.
The symposium was held at the National Defense University's Center for Counterproliferation Research at Fort McNair in Washington May 13-14. Wolfowitz addressed an audience of military and civilian leaders on the Pentagon's progress to end the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the war on terrorism.
In an era where chemical and biological weapons have multiplied, the deputy secretary said the United States' priority has got to be on "preventing attacks and protecting our people and our military forces."
Wolfowitz said the Sept. 11 attacks "awakened" the United States to an era of mass terror that "changed the way we have to think about national security."
They demonstrated in the "clearest terms" that the United States "can't simply wait" for a crisis to develop or for enemies to accumulate the means to harm the country before it acts. He added that another attack on the homeland is likely to happen.
"And yet as great as the impact of Sept. 11th was, it would pale in comparison to a major bio or even chemical attack," he said. "We know that it is no longer a question of whether such an attack might conceivably be attempted, but more likely a matter of when."
Wolfowitz said the Defense Department's new strategy to end the counterproliferation of WMDs will be more proactive, like U.S. counterterrorism efforts currently in place.
"Our approach calls for earlier and more aggressive efforts to prevent and neutralize threats before they materialize, recognizing that it will no longer do to simply wait until after the fact to retaliate," he said.
"Iraq is an example," he said, "But our efforts can't stop there. They have to include more aggressive efforts to interdict WMD materials earlier through targeted operations and expanded cooperation with like-minded nations."
Wolfowitz said the United States and coalition allies are presently engaged in a comprehensive effort to identify, assess and eliminate Iraq's WMDs and delivery systems. That effort, he said, is to keep weapons and related materials, documents and equipment out of terrorist hands.
He said some 600 experts from the U.S. government are involved in the discovery and exploitation of WMD sites and other targets in Iraq. The number of people there, however, will more than double in size by the end of May when the Defense Intelligence Agency's Iraq Survey Group arrives, he said.
The group's mission is to collect information on Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, along with information on those associated with the former regime.
But "this effort will take time," Wolfowitz observed. "Saddam Hussein was a master of deception." The deputy secretary emphasized that the former dictator had redesigned "his WMD programs to make them easier to hide" over the 12 years since the first Gulf War.
"He had four-and-a-half years without any international inspections to conceal his weapons and all evidence of his programs," Wolfowitz pointed out. "And he had six months of 'strategic warning' - that is to say, after the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 - to accelerate his deception and destruction efforts.
"Over the coming months, coalition forces and experts will assemble and analyze the documents and materials that they discover. And they will conduct - this is important - extensive interviews with Iraqis who may have knowledge of aspects of the program," Wolfowitz said.
"In the process, we'll acquire additional pieces of the puzzle to go with those that we already have. Those teams will eventually assemble the various puzzle pieces into a picture that will show us the full extent of the Iraqi WMD programs."
Wolfowitz said that lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom will help the United States be better prepared to counter the WMD threat.
"There's no question that history will judge harshly those who saw the coming danger but failed to act," he said.
"That is why we must take these issues so seriously in a post-Sept. 11th world. It is for this reason that we have to be willing to press controversial policies, even those that may challenge traditional norms and customs - because so much is at stake.
"We are at a turning point in history where weapons of mass destruction in the hands of outlaw states and terrorists now represent a new and very different kind of threat," Wolfowitz concluded.