The WMD Challenge

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“The ongoing efforts of nation-states to develop and/or acquire dangerous weapons and delivery systems in the Middle East and elsewhere constitute another major threat to the safety of our nation, our deployed troops, and our allies. We are most concerned about the threat and destabilizing effect of nuclear proliferation. The threat from the proliferation of materials and technologies that could contribute to both existing and prospective biological and chemical weapons programs also is real. Most of the international community shares these concerns.”

– Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, 2009 Annual Threat Assessment

Today, a globalized economy produces more than expanded trade and investment; it also drives the globalization of technology and expertise. Nuclear weapons-related technologies -- essentially mid-20th century technologies -- are old and discoverable. As demands for greenhouse gas emission-free power grow and the price of fossil fuels rise, an increasing number of states will seek to use nuclear power technology to generate electricity, suggesting there will be more states with the capability to develop nuclear weapons programs.

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The threat, though, does not come only from nuclear weapons. Universities and industries of the developed world are leading the way in biological technology, spreading knowledge and dual-use equipment and materials that could be used in a WMD effort. Similar advances are taking place in chemistry laboratories around the world.

The confluence of WMD proliferation and terrorism is of particular concern. The globalization of technology, particularly nuclear and biotechnology, is lowering the barrier to and increasing the potential for terrorist acquisition of WMD expertise and material, with potentially devastating consequences for the U.S. Terrorist groups need to acquire WMD-relevant expertise and material from either a state WMD program, like Pakistan’s, or from an academic or commercial entity involved in nuclear, biological or chemical research or production. The IC has a number of activities underway that are focused on the nexus between terrorists’ interests in WMD capabilities and the traditional sources of WMD-related expertise and material, but significant work remains to prevent terrorist acquisition and use of WMD.

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Success at countering these threats will require all elements of the U.S. Government to address WMD proliferation as more than a technical issue. The traditional focus on understanding and trying to control technologies is insufficient in a world of globalized technological capabilities relevant to WMD. Countering WMD proliferation requires political, economic, politico-military and other insights relevant to changing peoples’ intentions and behavior; in some cases, this involves countries whose WMD aspirations are currently over the horizon.

Counterproliferation needs to be an active partnership between the Intelligence Community and policy agencies. Intelligence is essential to provide the decision advantage needed to deal with these challenges, but must be married to policymaker-led integrated strategies for the U.S. to be successful in countering WMD proliferation.