The Role of Aerospace Power in US Counterproliferation Strategy

Article excerpt

THE PROLIFERATION OF nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons combined with the spread of ballistic and cruise missile technology is a significant threat to US foreign policy interests. In particular, this proliferation may significantly limit the ability of the United States to project power abroad, intervene in regional conflicts, and support American allies in crises and conflicts. The potential use of NBC weapons in a future conflict raises the possibility of increased US casualties and greatly complicates American use-offorce decisions. This article examines the role of aerospace power in US counterproliferation strategy.

The US government's response to proliferation is multifaceted. The intelligence community, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of State (DOS), and the Department of Defense (DOD) all have significant nonproliferation and counterproliferation programs in place.1 DOD, in particular, has focused on counterproliferation, developing efforts to prevent and reverse proliferation through active and passive damage-limitation efforts.2

Counterproliferation is different from nonproliferation. Nonproliferation focuses on trying to prevent proliferation directly through such means as export controls, multilateral regimes and treaties, and inducements to cooperation? Counterproliferation, by contrast, seeks to prevent proliferation by neutralizing the benefits of proliferation and to reverse proliferation through active military means. As such, counterproliferation can occur both concurrently with nonproliferation and as the basis for policy once proliferation has occurred.

Although nonproliferation and counterproliferation require the cooperation of many different agencies and departments in the US government, there is a special role for aerospace power. Aerospace power, as the name suggests, is the use of instruments of statecraft that rely upon travel through the air and space.4 Among the major elements of aerospace power are surveillance satellites, aerial sensors, space- and air-based missile defense systems, and air- and space-based military power including Air Force fighters, strike and standoff aircraft, Navy carrier aviation, and sea-based cruise missiles. Aerospace power has a number of specific attributes that make it an especially potent tool for counterproliferation policy. We can examine its utility by examining six major aspects of counterproliferation. This article also considers some of the limitations on aerospace power by considering its use in three situations: pre-crisis, crisis, and intrawar.

Six Aspects of Counterproliferation

Counterproliferation involves six major distinct activities, the first occurring before weapons or technology proliferate, and the remaining five occurring after proliferation has taken place. Counterproliferation is made up of the following elements:

1. Attempting to prevent proliferation through engagement activities such as extending security guarantees, supporting confidence-building measures such as increasing transparency, and helping support multilateral nonproliferation regimes;

2. Detecting the possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by states and their intention to use them;

3. Preemptively destroying WMDs before they can be used;

4. Deterring the use of WMDs, particularly once a crisis has escalated to actual combat;

5. Protecting forces, logistical infrastructure, and civilians from WMI)s through active and passive defense measures; and

6. Restoring contaminated areas after VMD use.5

An examination of these six goals in turn will help establish the importance of aerospace power to counterproliferation policy.

Engagement Activities

Aerospace power plays a critical role in sustaining the sort of engagement activities that might help prevent proliferation. First, it is important to consider that states often seek WMI)s because of regional security concerns. …