Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Broader Concerns of Weapons of Mass Destruction and
Working Together to Prevent Their Use and Mitigate Their Effectiveness

The Honorable Dale Klein
Assistant to the United States Secretary of Defense
for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs

In my capacity as U.S. Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, I am responsible to the armed forces of the United States to mitigate the threat posed by the use of a weapon of mass destruction, be it nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological. Therefore I would like to focus today on which threats face us and what we can do as a nation and a global community to counter them. 

Last year at this workshop I spoke about several specifics regarding the threat associated with a clandestine nuclear attack. This type of attack is still real, still serious, and still present; the dynamics for such an attack have not changed, although some significant progress has been made in addressing them. I will talk again today about this type of attack. But additionally I will also speak on the evolving threat of chemical and biological agents. 

Although the underlying science behind nuclear, chemical, and biological threats is completely different, I believe the key to combating all of them is the same. That key is integrating our collective capabilities and renewing our focus on how best to meet and respond to the threats as well as new emerging threats. The post–September 11 environment finds us combating an adversary who hides within our midst, who attacks without warning, and who has no regard for the sanctity of human life. In the name of religious fanaticism or another similar justification, this adversary seeks out any means to destroy us. Because of this, and now more than ever, the global community must exert its considerable capabilities, through private industrial, academic, and governmental means, to develop the methods and techniques necessary to defeat this enemy.


Let me first talk about the nuclear threat and point out some of the noteworthy accomplishments we have achieved since the end of World War II. First of all, it is my opinion that the NATO nuclear umbrella agreement has prevented more countries from developing nuclear weapons than all the treaties we have developed. Many, if not all, of the original NATO countries had the technical and financial ability to design and build a nuclear weapon. However, by participating in the NATO agreement, the need and the financial burden to do so, both perceived and real, was reduced. 

Lack of Nuclear Agreements 

There are no similar agreements in the Middle East and other regions. Therefore, in the daily papers, we have seen clear illustrations of the desire of several countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, India, and North Korea, to develop nuclear weapons. In fact, since the end of the Cold War the number of countries that possess the knowledge, materials, and technical capability to produce nuclear weapons has nearly doubled. 

Increased Supply and Demand 

There are two elements necessary for the development of a nuclear capability: demand and supply. Let me first focus on demand. The director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency recently commented that, “The desire for nuclear weapons is on the upsurge. Additional countries may decide to seek nuclear weapons as it becomes clear that their neighbors and regional rivals are already doing so. The domino theory of the twenty-first century may well be nuclear.” (George Tenet, Feb. 11, 2004)  In addition, rogue states and substate groups seem to be motivated by both the destructive potential as well as the psychological impact of these devices. 

Based on what we have learned in the recent past, it seems that the demand for nuclear weapons is not going to decline in the coming years. Posturing by North Korea regarding their public statements on their nuclear capabilities as well as their refusal to participate in diplomatic discourse to ease the problems are a prime example of the increasing demand. Add to that the developments in Iran, where that nation’s leadership has repeatedly taken a position contrary to what the rest of the world would like to see regarding the development of an enrichment capability, and you are confronted with a continuing upward spiral of nations looking to develop a nuclear capability that could easily be converted from peaceful to destructive use. 

From a supply perspective, the knowledge, technology, and materials required to implement a successful nuclear program are spreading at an accelerated rate to both state and non-state actors. The most difficult obstacle now facing a terrorist is acquiring fissile material to use in a weapon or an improvised nuclear device. While states have traditionally sought to produce plutonium or highly enriched uranium themselves, there remains the dangerous potential for procuring this material on the black market as well as stealing it from poorly secured areas. Because the Cold War ended, surplus nuclear assets, including people, technology, facilities, and materials, exist. 

Unsecured Weapons and Weapon Materials 

The transition of the former Soviet Union from a secret military infrastructure to an open commercial enterprise raises issues today related to safety, security, and the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction material. Several countries are currently providing financial and technical assistance to Russia to help secure its nuclear weapons and its usable weapon material. But previous methods for controlling proliferation, designed to limit trade where necessary and prevent the diversion of civilian material, will not work, either in Russia or in Iran, because of the co-mingling of defense and civilian infrastructures and materials. The global community must instead find better ways to identify and prevent diversion, ensure transparency, and assure the irreversibility of this dual-use process. 

Similar issues have also arisen concerning other nations that are part of the burgeoning nuclear suppliers network. Over the last 20 years, several of these countries, both developed and underdeveloped, have slowly weaned themselves from any need for foreign support, goods, and services; they have emerged as a nascent suppliers group able to provide competitive cradle-to-grave nuclear energy services throughout the world for the next 10 to 20 years. These are the suppliers that will provide nuclear goods and services to support third-world industrialization and the global energy demand. As this emergent suppliers club expands its membership, so too will the number of targets increase for ambitious nuclear proliferators. 

In 1996, 15 countries had developed complete and indigenous nuclear-fuel-cycle capabilities. Some of these countries, including Japan, China, South Korea, Argentina, India, and Brazil, now stand poised to become very competitive nuclear suppliers to the next growth area. Some have already established an independent multilateral cooperative network. 

In addition to this, it is not necessary to have weapons-grade material to produce a radiological dispersal device, which disperses radioactive material and thereby causes destruction, contamination, and injury—a “dirty bomb.” Acquiring such material through theft or illegal commerce is less difficult than obtaining material for a nuclear weapon or an improvised nuclear device. 

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, has already demonstrated a large and potentially enormous appetite for nuclear materials, technologies, and expertise. Because of his public role, he was also well positioned to succeed in his other, more covert role: As a prominent black marketer of nuclear materials and knowledge to state regimes and, perhaps more directly, to substate terrorist groups determined to acquire a nuclear capability to further their horrific schemes. 

But in addition to Khan’s work selling instruments of terror and destruction, he also helped to create menacing networks that persist despite the reduction of his role as an arms dealer. Khan became quite wealthy selling Pakistan’s nuclear technology, but his significant and frightening success resulted from a simple economic formula: Demand creates supply. 

Secondary Suppliers 

It is going to take great effort to reduce the demand as well as eliminate, or at least reduce, the supply, as it will to address the additional threat of the construction of radiological dispersal devices or “dirty bombs.” But there is yet another concern, that of the issue of secondary supply, which has emerged as a growing concern in recent years. 

As their domestic nuclear capabilities have improved, nations that traditionally have been recipients of nuclear-related technology and materials are themselves becoming suppliers of those same technologies and materials. Pakistan is a prime example of this phenomenon, although Iran and North Korea are also cause for concern. In fact, North Korea has resumed its production of plutonium, and information provided by Abdul Quadeer Khan confirms the country’s efforts to develop highly enriched uranium. Coupled with its withdrawal from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and its nuclear weapons capabilities, there is justified concern that North Korea could sell or otherwise provide plutonium or other nuclear weapons–related material and technology to other substate groups. 


Containing this threat is something that we, the global community, must do. Within the United States we have begun to bring together various players that will have a near- and long- term impact on the development of technologies. Specifically, the U.S. government, through the Department of Homeland Security, is creating the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. This office’s mandate will be to develop and employ technologies and methods of nuclear detection that will greatly enhance the overall security of the United States and its allies. 

To facilitate this ability, we are bringing together parts of the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies to build a research-and-development center that incorporates an extensive testing capability. This office will allow us to focus our efforts on those threats that are most likely to impact our nation. By bringing together the brain trust of our various departments we will finally be able to use our resources to combat problems related to detecting shielded special nuclear material and threatening radioisotopes. This will act as a needed first step in meeting the challenges we face in the future. From this beginning, we must look to forming a more global alliance that will incorporate other nations’ capabilities and resources in this fight to protect our nations. 


The threat from biological weapons, unlike nuclear-based weapons of mass destruction, is much more diverse and constantly changing. Traditional biological warfare agents include bacteria, viruses, and toxins, including some pathogens that before September 11 were relatively unknown to the average person. Now anthrax, plague, smallpox, botulism, tularemia, Ebola, various types of encephalitis, hemorrhagic fevers, and other diseases are making headlines on a daily basis. Even natural changes in bacteria and viruses are creating new or emerging infectious diseases that may also be used intentionally. Over the past few years, SARS, the West Nile virus, antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, and highly pathogenic avian influenza have emerged as significant threats to human health. 

Even more potentially devastating is the capability to create new diseases through genetic engineering techniques, including making changes to existing pathogens so that they are resistant to medical treatments or can avoid detection or defeat other protective measures. The potential now exists to create entirely new species of pathogens. 


Our strategy should emphasize a capabilities-based approach rather than the previous approach of prioritizing threat agents and targeting budgetary resources based on validated intelligence. Capabilities-based planning focuses more on how adversaries may challenge us than on whom those adversaries might be or where we might face them. This strategy enables a more cost-effective employment of a broader range of defensive measures. It also reduces the dependence on specific intelligence data and recognizes the impossibility of predicting complex events with precision. This strategy drives a top-down, competitive process that enables us to balance risk across the range of complex threats, to balance risk between current and future challenges and within fiscal constraints. 

Implementing this approach depends on the international biological, medical, and chemical communities. Just as the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention were built upon the inputs from academia, industry, government, and the private sector, to correctly identify a constantly changing capability we will need multiple and varied viewpoints. This includes the viewpoints of those with knowledge of the previous work and those who are on the cutting edge of biological and chemical technology research. Again, no one nation holds a monopoly on biological and chemical technology, thus we will have to work together to first quickly identify threats and then implement balanced and risk-based mitigation plans. Doing so will be difficult, but we must balance the good that biochemical and biomedical technology can bring to society with the adverse consequence of putting it in the hands of terrorists. 


The threat of weapons of mass destruction continues to loom over our nations. It is a cloud that we cannot currently remove. It is also a cloud that, if handled without visionary leadership, could easily create massive budgetary problems for all nations as we scatter about trying to develop solutions in an isolated environment. Therefore it is imperative that we recognize the broad reach of this threat and, more importantly, the will and intent of the enemy:  to destroy us and our way of life at any cost. 

Once we understand this intent we cannot treat this problem as we did threats during the Cold War. New visions and paths are required to meet this devastating capability. The threat of nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological attack increases with each day that we fail to act to prevent it. Now is the time for our governments to move forward on a new path, a path that will allow us to collectively chart a way and a means to defeat the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and, more importantly, defeat this enemy that would even consider their use. By creating new capabilities that will allow us to prevent their use, we remove a potent weapon from the terrorists’ bag of tricks and, in doing so, provide the time to effect more permanent change in our adversary. 

Our goals must be lofty and far reaching. We are in a period of prosperity never before seen, yet at the same time we are more vulnerable than ever before. The threats I have just described, if realized, would create such panic and havoc in nations that a recovery would be at best difficult. Together we can find the elusive path that will lead our world into a safer, more secure, and peaceful time. We must choose that path. 




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