Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Aftermath of September 11: How Technological and Armament Capabilities Can Help Respond to the New Requirements

Admiral Giampaolo di Paola
Secretary General of Defense and National Armaments Director,
Italian Ministry of Defense

September 11, 2001, was a highly dramatic moment. It clearly emphasized the web of problems that must be considered in order to control the tension that often underlies relationships among countries, ethnic and religious groups, and organizations with different if not conflicting values and interests. 

These tensions and signs of crisis, however, were not born on September 11. They are rooted in history, and have been there for some time. But they began to emerge more clearly after the end of the East-West confrontation, which removed the prevailing risk of a potentially devastating conflict between two camps and brought to the forefront phenomena that were once in the background. 

The risks stemming from terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and, last but not least, the increasing power of transnational organized crime are not exclusive or "unexpected" children of September 11. Instead they are pre-existing realities that slowly grew, consolidated, and eventually emerged, with all their destabilizing force. Most likely we paid too little attention to these problems in the past, and did too little to prevent them. The responsibility for this lack of action, as well as for its consequences, lies with all of us. Though the Near and Middle East have probably bred-as well as suffered from-terrorism more than other regions, the phenomenon, as recent events have demonstrated, has taken on global proportions. No country and no continent is safe from it now, and because of it no citizen can feel at ease. 

The threat of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of terrorism go hand in hand, especially the risks caused by chemical and biological weapons; because they are easy to produce, acquire, transport, and employ, and because they are potentially lethal, they represent the greatest risk for the international community. They have become a tremendously negative "power multiplier" for any organization interested in spreading terror, instability, and destruction. 

Confronted with this lethal threat, the international community has begun to react, both nationally and internationally. The United States declared a global war against terrorism, especially with its "Enduring Freedom" and "Iraqi Freedom" operations. However, several fairly recent episodes remind us that the danger remains, and that there is great difficulty in preventing, controlling, and defeating it. These episodes include the underground nerve gas attack in Tokyo in March 1995, the letters carrying anthrax that were mailed in the U.S. just after September 11, the potential for smuggling radioactive materials and illegal possession of nuclear devices, the proliferation of long-range missile technology, as well as the waves of terrorist violence that have caused blood to be shed in the Middle East, Chechnya, Russia, Indonesia, and many other countries. 

Although the picture just painted gives evidence of continuing threats and their evolution, there is another picture to be drawn: one that shows the opportunities and capabilities that are becoming available to fight and minimize terrorist threats because of technological progress and the growing urgency in the international community to cope with them. 

However, technology and advanced technology-based weaponry cannot defeat or even minimize the threat of terrorism on their own, or the several forms of attack in which terrorism manifests itself. Undoubtedly, technology and military capabilities can play a role, even an important one, but by themselves they are not the solution. 


In addition to technology and military capabilities, we must activate and mobilize assets as well as leverage our important values. These include everything from intelligence to international solidarity to the strengthening of mutual trust to increasingly broader cooperation in political, military, economic, technological, and social fields. However, technologies are important, and, like other realities, can be used for good or bad: technology can be used by those who wish to intimidate and spread violence and terror, or simply to blackmail; or, fortunately, it can help us to prevent, avoid, or limit those dangers. 

Globalization, together with the new climate that dominates today's international relationships-particularly the cooperative partnership between the two once-opposed superpowers-has brought new understanding. How technologies can address the new global security requirements can now be discussed openly because there is widespread awareness that it will take collective determination and sharing, as well as technology and military capabilities, to confront the new global threats. 

Many areas in particular can support and strengthen a joint effort to counter terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and transnational organized crime. I would like to indicate some possible directions for research, development, and employment. 


As I see it, the fight against the new threats can be approached through four domains. The first is know ing the threat we have to face; the second is prevention; if prevention fails, then we have to defend ourselves from the effects of the threat; and we have to neutralize or destroy it in order to prevent it from coming back. Different technologies and different systems can be used to address each of these four domains. 

Knowledge of the Threat

The main tool for gaining knowledge of a threat is improved intelligence, to be exploited in all its aspects: HUMINT, electronic surveillance, communications, space, air, and so on. The technologies and innovative systems that come into play here involve communications and their security, information technology, data processing, information management and distribution, space and air platforms (including the "unmanned" sector), and related sensors (thermal, optical, and radar). These technologies and systems can often be classified as "dual-use" (just think of computing systems, remote sensing, and radio-communications satellites), and are open to contributions from the civilian sector. They are, therefore, a useful area of cooperation between different countries and organizations to gather knowledge, employ workers, and fight against global threats. 


Once a threat is known, as well as its nature and level of risk, prevention comes into play. Approaches to prevention are extremely varied, since it is often difficult to determine exactly which means is the most effective. Options range from preventive strikes to solving the problem at its root to persuasion (trying to put pressure on a country or to offer a reward when, for instance, the country refrains from developing or acquiring weapons of mass destruction). When preventive strikes are called for, offensive weapons (cruise missiles, precision-guided munitions) and their delivery systems (ships, aircraft, navigation and targeting systems, guidance sensors, and, most of all, C41 systems) play a significant role, calling into question the entire range of modern military capabilities. In the field of persuasion, instruments that are completely different from military ones are called to hand. Although technology can still play a role in this area (to control or as a means of exchange when looking for a compromise), it is mostly outside the scope of my subject. 

Defending from the Effects of the Threat

Defending ourselves from the effects of a threat also involves a wide array of assets, both military and technological. The kind, quality, number, and deployment method are dictated by the particular threat: its nature, level of danger, diffusion, and geographic source. 

In the area of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), in light of the most recent events and developments, we can say that the most pressing and imminent threats are those related to chemical and biological agents and to the proliferation of ballistic missiles technology (especially theater missiles now, but intercontinental missiles in the future). There are numerous technologies and defense systems that provide better and earlier detection capabilities, particularly stand-off and area-wide capabilities (sampling and chemical, biological, and radiological analyses), and decontamination and personal protection (including substances and devices for NBC decontamination, masks, and protective clothing). We are about to make a jump both in the quality of these technologies and their costs. 

To develop BMD systems, the most advanced and sophisticated available technologies are needed, from radar and thermal sensors to laser and computers, from information technology to communications to missile technology. C41 systems as well as networking capabilities, air and naval platforms, interceptors, and, in the future, direct energy systems will also be needed. Fortunately, initiatives launched in this field offer an opportunity for international cooperation. Such cooperation will help not only with the huge investments required to develop such systems, but can also lead to greater awareness of the usefulness of jointly addressing global security threats and to sharing the resulting technological spinoffs. 


Finally, we come to the need for neutralization. Neutralization requires at least two capabilities: the ability to destroy when necessary the source of a threat, and the ability to implement a monitoring system that ensures that, once the root cause of the threat has been destroyed, it cannot be reproduced or fall into the hands of other potential users. The technologies and operational assets that come into play for prevention also come into play for neutralization. The monitoring, securing, and surveillance of plants, infrastructures, laboratories, and warehouses where substances or weapons of mass destruction are being developed, used, or stored require technologies related to data and images collection and recording, remote surveillance, secret surveillance, and warning. Most of these technologies (including communications, information, biometric recognition, spectrometric detection of chemicals, and optoelectronics) are dual-use, and characterized by the likelihood of being spun off into the commercial and civil sectors, thus facilitating their sharing across countries. 


Besides state-of-the-art technologies and systems, it is also worth mentioning some experimental technologies that offer real possibilities for use against one of the new threats. These include: 

  • Nanotechnologies, which have shattered the frontiers of microelectronics and micromechanics and promise to lead to increased miniaturization of many systems; 
  • Robotics, which, thanks to UAV, UUV, and ULU, will make it possible to automate an increasing number of functions and missions, even in adverse conditions on land, in the air, and under the sea; 
  • Direct energy weapons, which will allow ranges, precision, and destruction unthinkable today; 
  • Materials technology, which will provide lighter and more efficient protective structures and systems; 
  • Information technology and computing systems, whose power, speed, and interconnectivity are increasing at a pace equal only to our imaginations; 
  • So-called non-lethal weapons, which will make it possible to tackle an increasing number of problems without permanent damage to people and assets. 

Only the future will tell us the extent to which we can develop and apply the technologies and systems that are presently under development in our laboratories, research agencies, and test centers, but I believe that the reality will match or even exceed the expectations. Many of these systems, like several current ones, will be shared openly within the international community. However, given the place technology must and can have in coping with the new threats, we must realize that the "final answer" resides not in the technologies but in the way these new tools are applied. 


In the fight against terrorism and against the threat of weapons of mass destruction, technologies and weapons alone, no matter how powerful and proved, are not sufficient and will not be in the future. Technologies and weapons must be supported by a comprehensive political strategy that fosters dialogue among nations and international organizations. This strategy must operate through the workings of cooperation and by establishing and consolidating a culture of common understanding and shared values and behavior. In short, we must find and use a political strategy that makes technological tools credible and effective. 

We also must strive to create a more stable and reliable security framework and environment in which reason and political means eclipse conflict and violence. We need a long-term political initiative led by the most developed and responsible countries, an initiative that will prevent and solve the problems at the basis of terrorism. Since these problems are mostly rooted in economic and political underdevelopment, in lack of education and injustice and poverty, we must solve them through a comprehensive political, economic, social, and cultural strategy supported, during emergencies, by technological and military capabilities. 


Top of page | Home | ©2003 Center for Strategic Decision Research