National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction

Arms Control Today, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction


Amid escalating tensions with Iraq and North Korea over their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, President George W. Bush released on December 11 his administration's plans for protecting against and responding to the proliferation of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. "We will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes and terrorists to threaten our Nation and our friends and allies with the world's most destructive weapons," Bush declared.

The six-page National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction is based on the classified National Security Presidential Directive 17, which the president signed in September 2002. That directive is official U.S. policy.

According to the strategy, the Bush administration's approach to dealing with weapons of mass destruction rests upon "three pillars": counterproliferation, nonproliferation, and WMD consequence management.

Devoted to denying, preventing, and responding to the use of weapons of mass destruction by other countries or terrorists, the administration's strategy is predicated in part on the continued possession and possible use of nuclear weapons by the United States.

The strategy suggests that the United States might retaliate with a nuclear strike in response to a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack on the United States, U.S. troops, or friends and allies. "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force-including through resort to all our options-to the use of WMD," the strategy warns. Previous administrations have made similar statements at various times despite a long-standing policy not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states unless they attack the United States in alliance with a nuclearweapon state.

The strategy also forewarns countries seeking weapons of mass destruction that the United States could attack first. The strategy vows that the United States will seek capabilities enabling it to "detect and destroy an adversary's WMD assets before these weapons are used." In November 2002, Congress approved a Bush administration initiative to study modifying existing U.S. nuclear weapons to destroy underground bunkers that might be used to store WMD stockpiles.

Neither the threat to act pre-emptively nor to possibly react to a chemical or biological attack with nuclear weapons are novel, but the Bush administration has more openly and frequently discussed these options than its predecessors and has now set them out as official policy.

Following is the text of the document:

National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction December 2002

"The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination.

The United States will not allow these efforts to succeed. ...History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action."

President Bush

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America September 17, 2002

INTRODUCTION

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-nuclear, biological, and chemical-in the possession of hostile states and terrorists represent one of the greatest security challenges facing the United States. We must pursue a comprehensive strategy to counter this threat in all of its dimensions.

An effective strategy for countering WMD, including their use and further proliferation, is an integral component of the National Security Strategy of the United States of America. As with the war on terrorism, our strategy for homeland security, and our new concept of deterrence, the U.S. approach to combat WMD represents a fundamental change from the past. …

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