Weapons of Mass Destruction: Does Globalization Mean Proliferation?

By Graham, Thomas W. | Brookings Review, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Weapons of Mass Destruction: Does Globalization Mean Proliferation?


Graham, Thomas W., Brookings Review


In testimony to Congress last June, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joined a decade-old chorus of experts who proclaim that multiple proliferation threats are growing. Citing "some important facts which are not debatable" Rumsfeld asserted that, "the number of countries that are developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction is growing. The number of ballistic missiles on the face of the Earth and the number of countries possessing them is growing as well." To prove his point, Rumsfeld presented data that illustrated dramatic growth in the biological, nuclear, and ballistic missile threats between 1972 and 2001. While Rumsfield's data were accurate, his characterization of the threat is not. Indeed, contrary to conventional wisdom, globalization has not led to an increased proliferation threat from weapons of mass destruction. Wrongly assuming that the threat is expanding could lead Congress to misallocate resources both within and between government agencies. As a result, an innovative and long overdue Bush administration strategy to move the world away from classic nuclear deterrence and arms control could increase the very proliferation it is trying to eliminate or manage.

A Changing, Not a Growing, Threat

Careful assessment of each component of the proliferation threat--nuclear, biological, chemical, ballistic missile, cruise missile, and covert-delivered nuclear, biological, and chemical-suggests that the multiple proliferation threats facing the United States in the first decade of the 21st century are finite and far smaller in scope and complexity than they were during the Cold War. Taking into account all relevant data and avoiding comparisons of static assessments from two points in time--the Rumsfeld method--makes it clear that proliferation threats are not growing, let alone expanding uncontrollably. In fact, most evidence suggests that contemporary proliferation threats are shrinking in terms of number of countries involved. It is less clear whether a very few hard-core proliferating states will continue to cooperate with each other to produce credible military capabilities and then use or threaten to use them in ways that endanger fundamental or important U.S. national security interests.

Multiple proliferation threats are changing, not growing. Because the United States is concerned not just with its existence or fundamental national security interests but with a broader set of secondary national security interests--to protect our allies, to access critical resources, to engage in global commerce the changing nature of contemporary proliferation is serious and will stress the current national security, intelligence, and foreign policy systems in the United States in conceptual, organizational, and financial ways. Neither existing multilateral arms control regimes nor unilateral defense programs, by themselves, will well serve our national security interests in the decades to come.

While it is theoretically possible that proliferation threats could expand in the future with little warning, much depends on how the United States allocates its time and its financial and alliance resources to deal with these threats. A realistic assessment of the threat environment concludes that U.S. conventional military, intelligence, diplomatic, and counter-terrorism programs, expanded in scope at moderate expense and augmented with increased development and testing of ballistic and cruise missile defenses, are capable of dealing effectively with proliferation.

There are several other keys to winning the nonproliferation battle. One is convincing our allies that they need to continue to work with us to implement effective antiproliferation policies. Another is convincing China and Russia that their active support for further proliferation is not in their national interest. The third is the ability of the United States as a society and government to better understand and then influence isolated regimes and leaders such as Saddam Hussain and Kim Jong Il. …

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Weapons of Mass Destruction: Does Globalization Mean Proliferation?
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