Launch War on Terrorism

By Rossolimo, Alexander N. | Insight on the News, August 19, 1996 | Go to article overview

Launch War on Terrorism


Rossolimo, Alexander N., Insight on the News


With terrorism being the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing of the crash of TWA Flight 800, when will the United States muster the political will to institute a comprehensive plan of action against weapons of mass destruction and terrorism?

Defense Secretary William Perry's Force Protection Initiative was announced on July 17 to protect US. troops against terrorists armed with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as massive conventional bombs. It is a necessary component of an effective preventive defense strategy. But much more is needed.

A glaring vulnerability is that the United States has not been willing to defend itself from a single ballistic missile launched by an aggressor. This makes the United States susceptible to nuclear blackmail, with its inhibiting effects on foreign policy.

The United States was graphically reminded of big-power nuclear threats earlier this year when a Chinese of ficial said America would not dare defend Taiwan "because they'd rain nuclear bombs on Los Angeles." Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that China has intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads to the United States and that its nuclear capability is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decade along with its economic might.

It is ironic that the likelihood of the use of weapons of mass destruction--nuclear, chemical and biological--against the United States is higher now than during the Cold War, and growing. While the probability of a nuclear conflict between superpowers has diminished greatly, the threat instead has become multipolar as the number of nations developing such weapons has increased.

Nuclear materials and technology are more readily available than ever before, and it is not just rogue nations such as Iraq, Iran and Libya, as well as other aspiring nuclear powers, that are in the market for them. Terrorist organizations are shopping the international nuclear bazaar that ballooned with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Following several well-documented cases of attempted smuggling of significant amounts of fissile materials suitable for making nuclear bombs, it has become clear that nuclear smuggling is occurring at an accelerating pace. With increasingly desperate, unemployed defense workers in the former Soviet Union, an exodus of weapons and nuclear experts to dangerous countries also is a distinct possibility.

Chemical and biological weapons are an even more immediate concern than nuclear ones, according to CIA Director John Deutch. Their extreme toxicity provides the potential for mass destruction from small quantities; their manufacture has low barriers to entry and requires relatively few investments.

Certain biological agents approximate the lethality of nuclear weapons by their potential number of casualties. For example, it is estimated that 8 ounces of botulinal toxin could kill every living creature on Earth. Such deadly chemical and biological weapons can be manufactured by terrorist groups or obtained from state sponsors of terrorism, and key ingredients can be purchased from legitimate suppliers.

Using only conventional explosives, the terrorists responsible for the World Trade Center bombing were aiming to topple the twin towers and cause 30,000 casualties. …

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