America's Achilles' Heel: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack

By Pritchard, Kenneth H. | Military Review, November/December 1999 | Go to article overview

America's Achilles' Heel: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack


Pritchard, Kenneth H., Military Review


AMERICA'S ACHILLES' HEEL: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack by Richard A. Falkenrath, Robert D. Newman and Bradley A. Thayer. 354 Pages. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 1998. $22.50.

In the post-Cold War era, the fundamental question for those who determine US national security is what are the main threats to the United States and its vital national interests? With the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has no peer competitor. Even in the worst-case scenario, experts believe it would take at least 25 years for China to become a near-peer competitor. However, the United States will not be free from significant risk in the first quarter of the 21st century. There is consensus that proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology already bodes ill for three conflict-prone regions of critical US interest-the Far East, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East.

Unchecked proliferation may eventually pose a serious threat to US homeland defense. In addition, some strategists believe the United States should prepare now for asynchronous warfare (economic, political and military). They believe we are wide open to asymmetric attacks and attempts by states and non-state groups, individually or in concert, to circumvent or undermine US strengths and exploit US weaknesses.

The authors of America's Achilles' Heel make 13 recommendations for reducing our vulnerability and increasing our ability to contain, withstand and respond to the most devastating forms of this threat.

They acknowledge that simple, widely available conventional explosives and rifles can be extremely effective and will likely be the weapons of choice in asymmetric attacks against the United States at home and abroad for the foreseeable future. But they also build a clear, if not completely convincing, case of an increasing threat of attack by extremely lethal nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons, especially covert use of relatively easy to build and deploy chemical and biological weapons. …

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