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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 24, March 1998

US Programme to Counter Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction (WMD) Terrorism

Remarks by Secretary of State William S. Cohen, National Press Club, Department of Defense transcript, 17 March 1998


"One of the greatest dangers in such times of crisis is that, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, we will have the sudden illumination that we had the experience but missed the meaning. The larger meaning of this moment is that we live in a world where more powerful weapons are in the hands of more reckless people who are more likely to use them. Iraq is one of at least 25 countries that already have or are developing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons and the means to deliver them. Of these, many have ties to terrorists, religious zealots, or organized crime groups who also seek these weapons. ...

America's military superiority also presents a superpower paradox. Potential adversaries know they cannot win a conventional challenge to our forces. So they are more likely to resort to unconventional, asymmetrical methods such as biological and chemical weapons. We cannot let our vulnerability to these weapons become our Achilles heel.

This is the reason that I announced in November the creation of a new Threat Reduction Agency to serve as the DOD focal point, not only for our technical work, but for the intellectual analysis required to confront this threat. We recognize that the use of chemical and biological weapons is a likely condition of future warfare. Planning and preparing for their use on future battlefields is therefore a key element of our defense strategy and our war planning.

We also recognize that there is no silver bullet, no single response to this threat. Rather, we must prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We must protect ourselves by deterring their use. And we must prepare for the possibility that these weapons may be used in America.

Prevention must be our first and foremost line of defense. Our Cooperative Threat Reduction program, Nunn-Lugar, is helping to destroy and dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons throughout the former Soviet Union. The United States also actively participates in a range of arms control and nonproliferation regimes...

Despite our efforts, proliferation is likely to occur. So our second line of defense must be to protect ourselves through deterrence and defense. We have made very clear to Iraq and to the world that if America or US forces are attacked by nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, we have the ability and will to deliver a response that is overwhelming and devastating.

We also deter adversaries by making sure our forces are ready to fight and win on any battlefield, even one that is contaminated. In the QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review), I directed that we increase our spending over the coming five years by nearly $1 billion additional to improve the ability of our forces to find and destroy these weapons before they are used against our troops; to arm our forces with the most advanced detection and decontamination equipment; and, to give them new, lighter protective suits.

Earlier this month, we started vaccinating our Persian Gulf forces against anthrax and we will continue until all our forces are immunized. We go to such lengths because defense is itself a deterrent. The more prepared our forces are, the less likely an attack against them will succeed and the less likely potential adversaries will try to do so.

Yet... the front lines are no longer just overseas, they are also here at home. Five years ago last month, six were killed and thousands were injured in the World Trade Center blast. And three years ago this week, the sarin gas attack in Tokyo's subway killed a dozen and injured thousands.

Some believe an even more deadly chemical or biological catastrophe on American soil is inevitable. While nothing is inevitable until it happens, we must be prepared for this potential future, and we are. We are building a third line of defense grounded in domestic preparation. DOD is leading a Federal effort to train the 'first responders' in 120 of America's largest cities. These first responders are the police, firefighters and medical technicians who will be first on the scene of a terrorist attack.

Today, I am announcing the creation of the military's first-ever rapid assessment teams to ensure the Department of Defense is even more prepared. Ten special National Guard teams will be dedicated to assisting local civilian authorities in the event of a chemical or biological attack. These teams will arrive quickly, assess the scene and help to ensure affected areas get the Federal help they need.

I am also announcing that Reserve units already trained to respond to attacks abroad will be given more training and opportunities to assist here at home.

In its first year, this entire plan will avail over 3,000 more personnel trained and ready to assist civilian authorities. In future years, our Guard and Reserve will assist even more. This new initiative will be the cornerstone of our strategy for preparing America's defense against the possible use of weapons of mass destruction. ..."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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