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Our choice: containment or Armageddon

Illustration by Cody Angell
By Erik Flesch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday March 13, 2003

Revelation 16:16 describes the world's last great battle, in which the powers of good destroy the forces of evil. That battle is called Armageddon. Today, facing a deadly alliance between states that sponsor terror and decentralized terrorist networks, civilization must choose whether it will take offensive measures to contain and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or be drawn into that war of biblical proportions.

The upsurge in terrorist attacks in the aftermath of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union ranging in character from the release of sarin gas by Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo in 1995, to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack by al-Qaeda, to the subsequent anthrax attacks through the U.S. postal system demonstrates the urgency with which we must stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and the world.

The nature of our opponents requires a new, aggressive defense. During the generations of the Cold War, America faced a generally status quo, risk-averse adversary. Deterrence based only upon the threat of retaliation was an effective defense.

But while old-school deterrence was likely to work on an old-school enemy that waged war to expand its empire through the acquisition of land and wealth, it is less likely to be effective against leaders of today's rogue states: They are often motivated by ideological rage or ethnic hatred and are more willing to gamble with the lives of their people and the wealth of their nations. Such a strategy is also hopeless against a terrorist enemy whose explicit tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocent people; whose so-called soldiers seek martyrdom in death; and whose most powerful protection is statelessness.
Erik Flesch

States less developed and less disciplined than the Soviet Union and well-financed

international terrorist groups have increasingly easy access to conventional explosives, to biological, chemical and, to a lesser extent, nuclear weapons, along with the missile systems to deliver them. Not only are they more likely to use these weapons than the Soviets, but more willing to distribute them.

Exactly who has already bought or solicited weapons of mass destruction? Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria and Sudan. Who are the known key dealers? The Russian Federation and China, while North Korea is both a buyer and a supplier, according to an unclassified report to Congress on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Iran is expecting its first shipment of enriched uranium from Russia in May.

In addition, radiological and nuclear material is routinely smuggled out of Russia and Eurasian states of the former Soviet Union, where hundreds of tons of the material lie sloppily guarded, for use in dirty bombs and the development of nuclear weapons.

Lax enforcement and insufficient penalties for nonproliferation violations in supplier states render existing arms control mechanisms practically useless. They rely on mostly voluntary agreements, which aren't legally binding including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, among others.

If we are to keep weapons of mass destruction from terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, there needs to be stricter enforcement. Proliferators need to know they face isolation and consequences if their efforts continue.

Our response to supplier states must take full advantage of international alliances, the establishment of new partnerships with former adversaries, innovation in the use of military forces, modern technologies, including the development of an effective missile defense system, and increased emphasis on intelligence collection and analysis.

We must offer incentives to nations that cooperate and share the financial burden of nonproliferation work, and sanction companies that sell to proliferators. Where controls fail, we must consider interdiction interception of critical technologies en route to dangerous end users by military operations.

For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an actual attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often set the condition of the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies and air forces preparing to attack.

Now we must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not intend to attack us using conventional means; they know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction weapons that can be easily hidden, delivered covertly and used without warning.

We must use every means at our disposal to impede regimes that attempt to procure weapons of mass destruction. But when controls fail, we must be willing to disarm those regimes before they or their terrorist clients are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against civilization itself starting with Iraqi dictator and known proliferator Saddam Hussein.

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