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Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 1997 – The United States must develop a comprehensive policy to combat threats weapons of mass destruction pose, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said April 28.

Cohen, speaking at the Conference on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and U.S. Strategy at the University of Georgia in Athens, said a terrorist or rogue state attack using weapons of mass destruction "is not only plausible, it's really quite real."

Cohen said about 30 countries now possess mature chemical and biological weapons programs with 12 having advanced missile capabilities. A comprehensive policy -- covering diplomacy and arms control, active and passive defenses, limiting the spread of technology and improved intelligence collection -- is necessary to combat these attacks.

"We have the world's most powerful military, and our strategy is to keep our forces without any peer," Cohen said. "We don't want to engage in a fair fight, a contemporary war of attrition. We want to dominate across the full spectrum of conflict so that if we ever have to fight, we win on our terms."

But this dominance means adversaries could not challenge the United States head-to-head, he said. Instead, enemies will fight the United States using unconventional strategies. This includes "cybersoldiers," who threaten the United States with computer viruses and logic bombs, as well as terrorists or rogue states who resort to weapons of mass destruction, he said.

"There is no magic potion, no elixir, that we can use to defeat these pathologies," Cohen said. "We have to treat them like a chronic disease, constantly alert to the first signs and symptoms of these cancers that seek to destroy our lifeblood and the body politic of our nation."

Cohen praised the Senate's ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, saying the convention will help improve detection of large-scale weapons programs before they threaten U.S. service members. He called on other nations -- especially Russia -- to ratify the pact.

U.S. diplomatic efforts don't end with the Chemical Weapons Convention. The United States is intensely interested in the Russian Duma ratifying the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II and beginning negotiations on a START III pact, Cohen said. The Cooperative Threat Reduction program -- also known as the Nunn-Lugar program after its senatorial sponsors -- is an important tool in helping the states of the former Soviet Union reduce their nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals.

Cohen said the United States has the retaliatory capability to devastate any state that launches a nuclear, chemical or biological attack. "In most cases, that will deter anyone from ever attempting [to attack]," he said. "But it may not deter everyone, and so we have to aggressively pursue missile defense programs that address the most immediate kind of threat, the kind we saw during Desert Storm."

Saddam Hussein's forces launched theater attacks using Scud missiles against allied targets in Saudi Arabia and against population centers in Israel. "It was a wake-up call for all of us," Cohen said. "It signaled that there is a real threat that is spreading of weapons tipped with nuclear or chemical or biological weapons. That threat is here. The future is now. So defending our troops and allies against these missiles has a very top priority."

Cohen said DoD wants theater missile defense to protect U.S. troops, but the United States also wants to adhere to the provisions of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States and Russia have agreed to separate the two. "We are now allowed to develop all of our theater missile defense systems without violating or being challenged as violating the ABM treaty," he said.

DoD is examining the changing world and changing defense requirements in the Quadrennial Defense Review. Part of the review involves flexibility.

"We now have to prepare for any threats that might arise in the future," Cohen said. "Preparing for this uncertain future requires a robust modernization plan. It includes continuing the exploitation of what we call the revolution in military affairs that's been brought about by rapid advances in technology. It involves improving our war-fighting capability, but also by changing the fundamental way we think about fighting."

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