Each generation has its national security challenges. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 ostensibly over the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) made clear that monitoring and limiting clandestine efforts to proliferate weapons of mass destruction are central to the national security of the United States in the twenty-first century. Endeavors to monitor and limit weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are representative of what policymakers will be facing in the future. However, dealing with the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons entails manifold challenges, from striving to understand the political/prestige and security motivations of countries for acquiring such weapons to monitoring the clandestine programs that are launched to provide such weapons. The stakes can be quite high in any attempts to limit or eliminate such programs, as we have witnessed in the case of Iraq.
As difficult as proliferation efforts by countries are to detect, understand, and stop, in almost all cases the scale of activities permits discovery and counteraction before programs, especially nuclear programs, are advanced enough to pose a real security threat to the United States. For example, the fact that India, Pakistan, Israel, and South Africa signaled from the outset that they were opposed to signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gave the international community fair warning that they had proliferation in mind. By contrast, the quest for WMD by terrorists compounds the urgency, and difficulties, of discovery because terrorists may make or obtain small quantities of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon material from sources believed to be under control, such as in Russia, Pakistan, or North Korea. Moreover, the activities associated with small-scale clandestine efforts by non-state actors, such as terrorists, are even more difficult to detect and monitor than the proliferation efforts by nation-states. The consequences of missing such proliferation efforts, however, could be quite devastating: even if there is only a low probability that a nuclear