News | April 1, 2003

The Best Defense: Counterproliferation and U.S. National Security Policy

By Jason D. Ellis The Washington Quarterly

Neither terrorism nor the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are new phenomena; states in key regions of U.S. security concern have for several years aggressively pursued nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons and missile capabilities or have engaged in or sponsored terrorism. What is new is the prospective conjuncture of these twin scourges that constitutes a combined threat greater than the sum of its parts. The Bush administration’s new national security strategy, aimed at refocusing U.S. efforts to deal with proliferant states and nonstate actors, essentially replaces the traditional state-centered U.S. nonproliferation approach with one that—for the first time—privileges counterproliferation and explicitly acknowledges prospective requirements for preemption.

Rather than a recipe for further proliferation or a license to hunt those who would harm the United States, the national security strategy is the product of the existing post-proliferated and terror-prone security environment. It is precisely because nonproliferation efforts have failed to prevent WMD proliferation effectively in the past—and there is no convincing reason to believe that nonproliferation will exclusively be able to address these increasingly linked threats in the future—that a comprehensive national counterproliferation strategy is needed. In this context, the best defense against proliferation and terrorism is a good offense—backed up by effective deterrent, operational, and mitigative plans and capabilities. READ MORE >>