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New Defense Threat Reduction Agency Takes the Lead

By Linda D. Kozaryn

American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium In the past, the Defense Department's mission was clear-cut: maintain strong forces capable of defeating any and all challengers. Today, its mission extends far beyond simply preparing for the battlefield.

Threat reduction now represents a primary defense mission, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre said, and this fall, a new agency will lead DoD's threat reduction program. This relatively new mission involves preventing potential foes from developing the means to challenge the United States. Just as preventive medicine aims to stop the spread of disease, preventive defense aims to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

The Soviet collapse started in 1989 and created a need for threat reduction, Hamre explained at the Defense Special Weapons Agency's 7th Annual International Conference on Controlling Arms in Philadelphia, in June.

Soviet military knowledge and tools suddenly became available to others in an unsettling way, he said. The prospect of rogue states and terrorists obtaining former Soviet nuclear weapons and technology concerned U.S. officials. They foresaw nations trying to level the field with stronger neighbors by turning to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Hamre said this scenario created "a scary picture for everyone, not just the United States." Proliferation would be detrimental to Russia's security, as well as to others in the region, he said.

U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar sponsored a bill that launched the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, also known as the Nunn-Lugar Program, in 1991. Congress allocated funds to help dismantle and remove nuclear warheads in Russia and three other former Soviet states. Kazakhstan became nuclear free in 1995, followed by Belarus and Ukraine in 1996. With U.S. help, Russian defense officials safely dismantled and moved more than 24,000 warheads to a central storage site. The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program also helped find nonmilitary jobs for some 15,000 former Soviet weapons scientists and engineers. The program also linked former Soviet defense companies with American partners to make commercial products.

Several Defense Department offices and agencies became involved in aspects of the program over the years. Last fall, Hamre said, as defense leaders set out to streamline the department, they realized no national security mission would be more important over the next decade than threat reduction. And, he said, they concluded the department was poorly organized to deal with it. "We were not organized in an integrated way to deal with this comprehensive problem."

Hence, he said, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency will merge the following DoD offices and agencies:

o Defense Special Weapons Agency.

o On-Site Inspection Agency.

o Defense Technical Security Administration.

o Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs.

o Office of the Deputy Director Arms Control Implementation and Compliance.

o Office of the Director, Strategic and Tactical Systems.

The agency is slated to become operational Oct. 1, Hamre said. "It's going to take a little bit of time to make the transition because we're going to consolidate into a single space, and that does entail relocation and turmoil."

The agency will have three primary missions. First, it will maintain the current nuclear deterrent capability. "That is still one of the most important challenges we face," Hamre noted. "We still have, and always will have, a large infrastructure of nuclear capability. We have to husband that, and we have to maintain the intellectual infrastructure to support it."

Whereas the best and the brightest sought to work with the Defense Special Weapons Agency in the past, Hamre said, there has been a significant loss of interest in this career field over the last eight years or so. "Nuclear weapons aren't going away, as much as we would wish it," he said. "We can't afford to lose our intellectual competence in dealing with it."

The agency's second mission is to reduce the nuclear threat. This includes monitoring arms control treaties and supporting ongoing confidence-building measures established over the last 10 years by the On-Site Inspection Agency. "It's on that root stock, as it were, we're going to graft the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, for example," Hamre said.

The third mission is to counter the threat from chemical and biological weapons. "We do not have the intellectual infrastructure for chemical and biological threats the way we have for nuclear threats," Hamre said. "We spent a long time thinking about nuclear weapons."

The department is somewhat further along dealing with chemical weapons than biological ones because of its chemical weapons protection program in the mid-1980s, Hamre noted. But "we still have a long way to go" in both areas, he said. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency will become "the central nervous system for America's counterproliferation plans and preparation," Hamre concluded. "We have to have an organization that can study the threat, what it will look like, and how you deal with it."