In ancient times, Greek city-states assailed enemies with the noxious fumes of smoldering pitch and sulfur. Similarly, Chinese warriors wafted arsenic-laced smoke screens against their foes. In the Middle Ages, disease was used as a weapon of war against besieged cities. In World War I, American doughboys suffered the searing stench of mustard gas. In the last decade, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran and its own people. With advanced technology and a smaller world of porous borders, the ability to unleash mass sickness, death, and destruction today has reached a far greater order of magnitude. A lone madman or nest of fanatics with a bottle of chemicals, a batch of plague-inducing bacteria, or a crude nuclear bomb can threaten or kill tens of thousands of people in a single act of malevolence.

These are not far-off or far-fetched scenarios. They are real—here and now. Weapons of mass destruction already have spread into new hands. As the new millennium approaches, the United States faces a heightened prospect that regional aggressors, third-rate armies, terrorist cells, and even religious cults will wield disproportionate power by using—or even threatening to use— nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons against our troops in the field and our people at home.

America’s military superiority cannot shield us completely from this threat. Indeed, a paradox of the new strategic environment is that American military superiority actually increases the threat of nuclear, biological, and chemical attack against us by creating incentives for adversaries to challenge us asymmetrically. These weapons may be used as tools of terrorism against the American people. In warfare, these weapons may be used to attack U.S. and coalition vulnerabilities, such as air bases and seaports. They may also be used in an attempt to counter U.S. dominance on the battlefield, neutralize vastly superior U.S. conventional forces and power projection capabilities, or deter U.S. involvement in a conflict.

These weapons pose a grave and urgent threat to international security. The May 1997 Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review concluded that U.S. defense planners must assume that use of chemical and biological weapons is a "likely condition of future warfare" and that these and nuclear weapons are likely to be used "early in the conflict to disrupt U.S. operations and logistics."

There is no single defense against this threat. Instead, it must be treated like a chronic disease. We constantly must be alert to the first signs and symptoms, and be ready and capable of employing a myriad of treatments.

Through the Department of Defense Counterproliferation Initiative, DoD contributes to government-wide efforts to prevent parties from obtaining, manufacturing, or retaining these weapons. The Initiative equips, trains, and prepares U.S. forces, in coalition with the forces of friends and allies, to prevail over an adversary who threatens or uses these weapons and their associated delivery systems.

This new edition of Proliferation: Threat and Response updates information about the nature of global proliferation and describes the policies and programs that DoD is carrying out to counter this growing threat to American citizens, armed forces, and allies.

William S. Cohen


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