Thursday, August 2, 2007

Options, Part II: Other Approaches

One possible approach would be to blunt the power of C/BW, such that their proliferation would pose little threat to the US. This is the line of thinking behind the concept of missile defense – that proliferating ballistic missiles becomes almost meaningless if US missile defenses can shoot them down. However, missile defense can do little to stop biological and chemical weapons that can be carried in small quantities in a briefcase and delivered by the public transportation infrastructure or the postal system. Are there other defense options? Mass vaccination is theoretically an option which could render biological weapons useless; however, the cost of vaccinating the entire US population would be tremendous, especially if such vaccinations were to cover every one of the more than fifty diseases the Russians have manufactured for military purposes. Furthermore, vaccinations are useless against chemical weapons.

If the US cannot stop the proliferation of C/BW from Russia and cannot defend against their use, the only possibility left open is to try to manage the consequences of their deployment, ensuring that first responders are well-trained and -equipped, so that casualties can be kept to a minimum. While consequence management and damage control cannot be neglected, it would an abdication of the government’s duty to protect its citizens if consequence management were its only response to the C/BW threat coming out of Russia. Thus, some sort of effort to prevent the proliferation of these dangerous weapons is demanded by the Constitution imperative to “provide for the common defense.”

In 2002 the US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection launched the Container Security Initiative, whereby cargo containers being shipped to the US are scanned using large-scale X-ray and gamma ray machines and radiation detection devices. While no Russian ports currently participate in CSI, both the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the G8 – both of which Russia is a member – have issued statements of support for CSI, calling for its expansion. Unlike weapons facilities inspections, the introduction of CSI in Russian ports would not involve American inspectors crawling over sensitive Russian sites, and should therefore be more amenable to the Russian government. Furthermore, CSI allows for reciprocal inspections, with foreign inspectors allowed to scan containers departing the US for their own ports, a provision which should further mollify Russian concerns. While CSI scanning overseas is only carried out on vessels traveling to American ports – and can therefore be circumvented by a trip to a third party port – the growing number of major world ports supporting CSI means that only a small amount of traffic would be traveling from Russia to non-CSI ports and then on to the US. Intelligence should be able to identify this conspicuous traffic with relative ease.

In a single sentence the 2006 National Security Strategy explains that
To deter and defend against [chemical] threats, we work to identify and disrupt terrorist networks that seek chemical weapons capabilities, and seek to deny them access to materials needed to make these weapons.
There are a number of ways terrorist networks can be disrupted, including the use of law enforcement efforts to arrest members and economic efforts to deprive networks of funds. Both of these are valuable tools that could be employed. A more direct – though difficult – method involves the infiltration of such networks and their criminal associates by intelligence personnel. While this is not easily done, it would create the ability to disrupt terrorists at the heart of their operations.

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