DOD Proliferation Report Updates Threat from Nuclear, Bio, Chemical Weapon

By Susan Ellis
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - At least 24 countries, including Iraq and North Korea,
either possess weapons of mass destruction or are in the process of
acquiring them, Defense Secretary Cohen told a National Press Club
audience January 10.

Cohen emphasized the threat from the spread of nuclear, biological and
chemical (NBC) weapons as he announced the release of a Defense
Department report entitled "Proliferation: Threat and Response," a
report that updates the nature of the security challenge posed by the
proliferation of these weapons and the Defense Department's response
to the challenge.

The secretary spoke of "the kind of grave new world that we're going
to face - indirect, but highly lethal, attacks on our forces and our
citizens, not only from nations but from individuals and from
independent groups."

He cautioned the audience against believing that this was "some kind
of scare tactic" generated by the Pentagon to secure more resources.
"This is reality. This is what's taking place. This is what our
intelligence tells us is going on," he said.

The terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center, Cohen said, "were
gathering the ingredients for a chemical weapons blast. It did not
take place, but had it taken place with chemical weapons, thousands of
people would have been killed."

He said North Korea, Iran and Iraq "train to use these weapons on the
battlefield," and "the followers of Usama bin Ladin have already
trained with the use of toxic chemicals."

Addressing the issue of DOD support to U.S. civil authorities in
managing the consequences of an NBC attack in the United States,
raised in the report, Cohen warned that "an attack on American
citizens here at home involving these horror weapons is not a question
of if but of when it's going to happen.

"So the next administration is going to have to continue these
important efforts to reduce the flow of terror weapons going into the
global arms bazaar," the secretary said. "It's going to have to
improve the readiness of our forces to protect themselves and survive
and fight on one of these contaminated battlefields. It's going to
have to direct additional billions of dollars to these efforts;
continue with the new joint task force (and) special teams of National
Guardsmen. They're both designed to assist communities in the event of
an attack on U.S. soil."

People in this first line of defense must be trained to identify toxic
agents and know whether they are contagious. In the case of a
biological agent that's been released, if it's contagious, the people
first on the site must be protected in treating the victims because
moving them to a hospital would infect the whole facility, Cohen said.

The report describes DOD's efforts since the end of the Gulf War to
ensure that U.S. forces are equipped and trained to fight and win in
NBC-contaminated environments, including the department's increased
investments and reorganization in this area since the last Quadrennial
Defense Review (QDR). It discusses DOD's contributions to
international arms control and nonproliferation efforts and to
enhancing the NBC defense preparedness of our allies and coalition

Cohen observed that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
were the first to be inoculated with an anthrax vaccine he had
mandated troops in high-risk areas to receive. He said he wanted to
send the signal to all the men and women in uniform that the vaccine
was "reliable, was potent and we need it, because you're likely to
come into contact with this (anthrax) if a war breaks out in the areas
where we think it's most probable."

The report also addresses, for the first time, threats to livestock
and agriculture. The last previous report was released in November,
1997. The full report may be viewed on the web at

(The Washington File is distributed by the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.