There is not yet an equivalent of "Bert the Turtle," a cartoon
made by the US government in the 1950s to teach elementary school
students about surviving a Soviet nuclear attack.
But the United States is now engaged in the most intensive self-
protection drive since the civil-defense programs of those early
years of the atomic age.
Instead of nationwide fallout-shelter construction and urban-
evacuation plans, dozens of federal, state, and local agencies are
pursuing a welter of programs - from developing a 50-state defense
against limited missile strikes to shielding power grids from
The military is training police, fire, and medical personnel in
cities to cope with biological and chemical terrorism, and there are
proposals to inoculate these "first responders" against anthrax. A
national stockpile of antidotes and antibiotics is being built. The
military is mulling over creating a commander for national defense,
and some officials see a not-too-distant day when all Americans may
be offered shots against biological-warfare agents.
Since 1995, President Clinton and the Republican-led Congress have
boosted spending on these programs by billions of dollars. In the
last two weeks, Mr. Clinton has announced he will add billions more
for counterterrorism and national missile defense (NMD) in the
2000 budget he sends next month to Congress. Lawmakers are expected
to embrace his plans, and perhaps inject more money than he seeks.
These efforts have come to be known as "homeland defense." It is,
asserts Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre, "the defense mission of
the next century."
Yet at a time when the US is enjoying global military supremacy
and its longest stretch of peacetime economic growth, the
preoccupation with self-defense is raising a host of concerns.
Advocates say it is precisely because of its status as the world's
sole superpower that the US is facing new "asymmetric" threats.
Unable to match conventional US military capabilities, rival nations
and terrorists are looking to harness the massive killing potential
of chemical and biological weapons, the recipes and components of
which are widely available, they say.
Potential foes are also bent on disrupting communications and
computer systems critical to US defenses, financial systems, and
utility sectors. And "rogue" states like North Korea and Iran are
developing missiles that might reach the US mainland, advocates of
homeland defense warn.
Clinton faces a delicate balancing act in selling these arguments
to a complacent public. "I have tried as hard as I can to create the
right frame of mind in America for dealing with this," he said Jan.
22 when unveiling plans for dealing with terrorism and