Reality Check: NATO's Ambitious Response to the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Roberts, Guy B. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Reality Check: NATO's Ambitious Response to the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction


Roberts, Guy B., Air & Space Power Journal


The policy of prevention through denial won't be enough to cope with the potential of tomorrow's proliferators.

-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin

ALTHOUGH WE MAY rejoice at the end of the cold war, a host of scattered and dangerous challenges remain. We must recognize the bedeviling troubles to the United States that loom ahead: economic stagnation; overpopulation; environmental degradation; international crime and drug trafficking; ethnic, religious, racial, and nationalistic conflict; terrorism; and the spread of infectious diseases. Of all the perils facing us today, the newest and most serious is the global spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons-commonly called weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-and their means of delivery.

This threat poses serious challenges to US national security interests in this post-coldwar environment. To meet this challenge successfully, we must seek a common approach with like-minded allies. A key component in addressing the evolving proliferation risks will be a collective US/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) political and military response.

As detailed here, a number of would-be proliferators are actively involved in the acquisition of materials and the technology to develop these weapons. Recent events in the former Soviet Union make the illicit diversion or theft of weapons and materials ever more likely. Consequently, after much prodding, NATO has embarked on a program to develop and field capabilities to counter the growing proliferation threat.

This article argues, however, that the recently approved program adopted by NATO is not affordable in full and that a number of NATO partners are not interested in actively participating. The reasons include philosophical differences over the defensive nature of the Alliance, counterproliferation efforts being subsumed in larger defense-cooperation efforts, and strong resistance from the public sector to match NATO's political rhetoric with the necessary funding-which must come from diminishing military budgets. The article further suggests that NATO, because of these realities, should scale back its current program and extend the time lines for implementation.

There are, however, more modest but no less effective functional approaches to the proliferation problem. Three initiatives proposed here focus on intelligence requirements, a program of cooperation, and doctrine/training-all essential to a successful collective response to this threat. Perhaps these proposals will stimulate thought about realistic, unified approaches to counter this threat and will encourage useful dialogue on how both the United States and NATO can successfully meet the proliferation challenge within current fiscal and political realities.

The threat of WMD proliferation continues to grow despite long-standing, concerted measures to stem the tide.1 Proliferators of these weapons include some of the largest and smallest, richest and poorest countries, led by some of the most reactionary and unstable regimes. Although unclassified estimates vary, at least 20 countries2-nearly half of them in the Middle East and South Asia-already have or may be developing these weapons.3

The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's annual arms control compliance report gives a gloomy assessment of the continuing efforts of would-be proliferators to acquire these weapons and delivery systems.4 For example, Syria and Iran continue to develop biological warfare (BW) capabilities,5 and Libya has demonstrated a wellpublicized capability of developing chemical weapons in addition to its attempt to establish a biological warfare capability.6 New disclosures arise almost daily about Iraq's NBC programs.7 That would-be proliferators continue to see a use for these types of weapons despite nonproliferation efforts is illustrated by the recent report that evidently Bosnia is now also producing and stockpiling chemical weapons. …

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Reality Check: NATO's Ambitious Response to the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
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