Not with Impunity: Assessing US Policy for Retaliating to a Chemical or Biological Attack

By Conley, Harry W. | Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Not with Impunity: Assessing US Policy for Retaliating to a Chemical or Biological Attack


Conley, Harry W., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract: Devastation, annihilation, obliteration-these words convey how US leaders would deal with enemies who use chemical/biological weapons against either the homeland or US troops and personnel abroad. The author argues that such words provide diplomatic flexibility but insufficient structure for developing a credible strategy for retaliation should the unthinkable occur. Rather than imply that the US reaction would include nuclear weapons, Colonel Conley offers four variables (context, adversary class, number/types of casualties, and identification of perpetrators) that serve as a decision matrix to determine the type of response to what some analysts see as an inevitable chemical/biological attack on the United States.

Sen. Jesse Helms: Suppose somebody used chemical weapons or poison gas on people in the United States. . . . Would they damn well regret it?

Secretary of Defense William Perry: Yes.

Helms: I want to know what the response will be if one of these rogue nations uses poison gas or chemical weaponry against either us or our allies. . . . What is the response of this country going to be?

Perry: Our response would be devastating.

Helms: Devastating-to them?

Perry: To them, yes. . . . And I believe they would know that it would be devastating to them.

Helms: Let the message go out.

-Testimony of Secretary of Defense William Perry Senate Foreign Relations Committee 28 March 1996.

HOW SHOULD THE United States determine its response to a chemical or biological attack against American personnel or interests? The current US retaliation policy, known as calculated ambiguity, warns potential adversaries that they can expect an "overwhelming and devastating" response if they use chemical or biological weapons (CBW) against the United States or its allies.1 Implied in this policy is a threat of nuclear retaliation, but the specifics of the US response are left to the imagination. By not identifying a specific response to an attack, this intentionally vague policy is designed to maximize flexibility by giving the United States a virtually unlimited range of response options.2 Ambiguity gives flexibility to policy makers and enhances deterrence by keeping adversaries guessing. But there is a downside to flexibility and ambiguity. Because it is easier to prepare to execute a specific strategy than it is to prepare for a broad range of possibilities, military preparedness suffers-at least at the strategic level-under a policy of ambiguity. It is not surprising that the policy of calculated ambiguity, intended to place doubt in the minds of potential adversaries, has engendered uncertainty among those who would implement the policy. This uncertainty could manifest itself in strategic unpreparedness. The United States needs a clearer reprisal policy, one that strikes a better balance between flexibility and preparedness.

In general, national policy should facilitate strategy development. If a policy fails to provide enough substance for making strategy, the policy should be revised. Adjectives such as overwhelming and devastating are the only guidelines that the calculated-ambiguity policy provides to strategy makers. Because current policy aims to achieve unlimited flexibility through ambiguity, the policy simply lacks enough substance to support strategy development. Without a strategy, military means may not be able to support policy ends. In making the case that the current reprisal policy hampers strategic preparedness, this article examines existing policy and assesses its strengths and weaknesses; it then suggests a means for clarifying the policy with a view toward achieving a better balance between flexibility and preparedness. Having proposed a policy that better supports strategy development, the article then presents an analytic framework consisting of four critical variables that must be considered in formulating strategies for responding to a chemical or biological attack. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Not with Impunity: Assessing US Policy for Retaliating to a Chemical or Biological Attack
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.