Article Published in The Wall Street Journal
It is now twenty years since President Ronald Reagan provoked controversy during his first year in office by proposing that the United States acquire the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war. Reagan’s reasoning, widely misunderstood at the time, was that retaliatory capability by itself wasn’t enough. Possessing a credible capacity to fight and win would strengthen deterrence in peacetime and mitigate suffering in wartime.
He therefore proposed changes to the strategic posture designed to enhance the flexibility of offensive forces, maintain the continuity of political authority in nuclear attacks, and bolster civilian preparedness. For the first time in a generation, the U.S. sought to build an integrated strategic warfighting posture.
Today, we could learn from Mr. Reagan’s actions. The scale of danger we now face is also one of mass destruction. It goes beyond out belated recognition that a fully loaded widebody jet carries the explosive power of a kiloton-range warhead. It is also the growing awareness that technology has placed in the hands of extremists many different methods of mass killing.
To take just one example, a hundred kilograms (220 pounds) of anthrax optimally dispersed in a straight line from an aircraft transiting a major metropolitan area has the potential to kill over a million people. We know that several countries in the region from which the recent terrorist attacks originated are actively developing such biological weapons, not to mention chemical and radiological weapons of similar destructive potential.
Last night, George W. Bush again summoned the nation to a war against terrorism. But the administration must understand that, when faced with a threat, it isn’t enough simply to be able to respond in kind. The nation needs a full spectrum of offensive and defensive capabilities. These should include:
The place to begin in building such a posture is not overseas, but at home. American popular culture today does not place a high value on the kind of behavior that contributes to vigilance against danger. Citizens are socialized to be passive and accepting of ambiguity, without giving much thought to the monsters that may be lurking among them. Hundreds of people came into contact with the perpetrators of the recent terrorists attacks, and some of them heard or saw things that should have provoked concern.
We must abandon our reticence about expressing such concern. To a limited degree, American society will need to follow the example of Israel in encouraging skepticism about the intentions of strangers. Wiretaps, intrusive searches and other tools of aggressive law enforcement will all be indispensable, but the most valuable tool of domestic counter-terrorism will be a mistrustful citizenry that doesn’t assume the good intentions of others. We know from past experience with illegal immigrants and drug smugglers that we cannot control our borders, so instead we must search for threats already in our midst.
There is another way in which public behavior needs to change. The average American today has no idea what to do if his water supply is poisoned, his air contaminated, or his electricity interrupted. He not only doesn’t know how to obtain an antidote for chemical or biological agents, he doesn’t even know what symptoms to look for that might reveal danger. Government at all levels needs to launch a crash program to educate citizens in preparedness for various types of terrorism. Here too, informed vigilance is the most basic requirement of survival.
As to the structure of government response, there is only one suitable model: the National Guard should take the lead in domestic preparedness, assisted by federal law-enforcement and emergency-management agencies. Only the Guard has an articulated military structure firmly rooted in all 50 states and organized to cope with emergencies. From physical protection of critical assets to counter-terror response to chem-bio defense, the Guard is clearly the organization best suited to support domestic preparedness.
Continuity of Government
Most of the federal government’s decisionmaking authority, including that of the military, is concentrated in a few vulnerable locations. For example, aside from a handful of four-star officers heading unified and specified commands, all of the military’s senior uniform and civilian leaders are located in one building — the Pentagon. That makes no sense when weapons of mass destruction can easily be moved on the various transportation arteries that pass within yards of the building.
One facet of the Reagan Administration’s strategic posture was a secret program to facilitate the dispersal of federal authority in wartime. Political and military authorities were to be scattered among underground bunkers, airborne command posts, and specially-equipped tractor trailers constantly moving on the interstate highway system. Many of the features of the Internet were originally developed in part to facilitate continuity of government in wartime.
We need to revist such ideas, because it is clear terrorists may seek to launch what nuclear strategists call a “decapitation” strike against the federal government. The military for some time has been exploring the concept of network-centric warfare to enhance its resilience and flexibility. The same concepts and technology now have obvious relevance for reorganizing domestic decisionmaking authority, and perhaps other parts of society.
External Military Action
As it secures its base, the nation must launch a comprehensive military campaign to systematically destroy the overseas sources of aggression. Much has already been said about the need to build a broad coalition of supporters for military action among allies and regional powers. That effort seems to be progressing very well. But in the process of constructing a diverse coalition, there will be a tendency to start compromising on which targets are to be attacked, and that could undercut the prospects for real victory.
One of the warfighting innovations President Reagan backed twenty years ago was to start breaking out the various categories of nuclear targets, rather that treating the Soviet target base as an undifferentiated mass suitable only for large-scale retaliation. Some targets, he and his advisors reasoned, were of greater importance in achieving an acceptable conclusion to hostilities.
The same is true in today’s very different circumstances. Among the various discernible categories of targets, none is more important than the weapons of mass destruction residing in Iraq and other regional states. While it is imperative to target and kill terrorist operatives as soon as possible — presumably relying for the most part on unconventional formations such as the U.S. Special Forces and Britain’s Special Air Services — it is at least as essential to begin the process to definitively destroying all chemical, biological and radiological weapons in potentially hostile hands. That does not mean cruise-missile strikes, it means American boots on the ground, moving site to site, eliminating all relevant weapons and facilities.
That may prove to be the hardest decision for the Bush Administration, because few regio
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