Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The World at Risk

The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism has released its report, titled "The World at Risk." Congress chartered the Commission, co-chaired by Senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent, to look at our progress in preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism. The Commission was also asked to give the next President and Congress recommendations on how to ensure we protect our nation from weapons of mass destruction. According to the Report's Executive Summary,

"The Commission believes that unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013. The commission further believes that terrorists are more likely to be able to obtain and use a biological weapon than a nuclear weapon.

"The Commission believes that the U.S. government needs to move more aggressively to limit the proliferation of biological weapons and reduce the prospect of a bioterror attack.

"Further compounding the nuclear threat is the proliferation of nuclear weapons capabilities to new states and the decision by several existing nuclear states to build up their arsenals. Such proliferation is a concern in its own right because it may increase the prospect of military crises that could lead to war and catastrophic use of these weapons."

The Report is very interesting, very frightening, and very necessary. It's been seven years since terrorists used civilian airliners as cruise missiles and attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In that seven years, we have been fortunate that there has not been another successful terrorist attack, despite the best efforts of some miscreants. Our law enforcement and security folks are fantastic and have been able to stop those who have wanted to attack us in some way. Thankfully! But unfortunately, the lack of a successful attack has caused much of our citizenry to become complacent. Some people have regressed into a belief that "it can't happen here." According to this Commission, a terrorist attack can happen here and it might happen here within the next five years.

The Commission makes 13 different recommendations on how we can better protect our nation from weapons of mass destruction. Some are really good, like the recommendation to implement a series of measures to protect against bioterrorism, the recommendation to continue to work with Russia reduce the danger of the use of nuclear and biological weapons, and the recommendation to create a principle advisor at the White House for issues relating to weapons of mass destruction. But the best recommendation, in my opinion, was the recommendation that said,

"As a top priority, the next administration must stop the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs. In the case of Iran, this requires the permanent cessation of all of Iran’s nuclear weapons–related efforts. In the case
of North Korea, this requires the complete abandonment and dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs. If, as appears likely, the next administration seeks to stop these programs through direct diplomatic engagement with the Iranian and North Korean governments, it must do so from a position of strength, emphasizing both the benefits to them of abandoning their nuclear weapons programs and the enormous costs of failing to do so. Such engagement must be backed by the credible threat of direct action in the event that diplomacy fails."

I've always thought that Teddy Roosevelt had it right when he said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Well, it may be worth another try to get both Iran and North Korea to stop their nuclear weapons programs. But somehow, I don't think more talking will work. I agree with the commission that the only way diplomacy will work with either country will be if there is a "credible threat of direct action." Neither country will play nicely without Teddy's "big stick."

The Commission has concluded that "America’s margin of safety against a WMD attack is shrinking. " However, the Commission also found that there was "ample and solid ground for hope about the future." I hope so. I hope that our nation's leaders and our nation's citizens wake up and read the Commission's report. I hope that we lose our collective complacency. I hope that we, as a nation, take the steps necessary to protect ourselves; before it's too late (again). The Commission believes that "our nation has immense reservoirs of strength that we have only begun to use, and our enemies have weaknesses that we are learning how to exploit. There is much more that we can do to protect ourselves." Okay, so let's wake up, meet the challenge, and do what we need to do to protect ourselves from the threat of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction against us.


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