New report about WMD: “The World at Risk”

A new report which will probably prove highly influential with Obama’s new national security team:  “World at Risk“, Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, 2 December 2008.  Since much of this might be put into action, why not get ahead of the news and read about it now!

This report is the growling of the national security beast’s stomach.  “Feed me!” it says”   Seen between the words is an organic, instinctual desire to grow in size, influence, and power — with no consideration of the larger national interest.  While the details are sound and some of the recommendations reasonable, the overall thrust — combining equal parts of paranoia and parasitic self-interest — is insane. 

Excerpt from the Letter of Transmital to President Bush

In accordance with the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53), we hereby submit the report of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The mandate given to this Commission by Congress was farreaching.

We were given a charter to assess, within 180 days, any and all of the nation’s activities, initiatives, and programs to prevent weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism. We were also asked to provide concrete recommendations—a road map, if you will—to address these threats.

In response, we brought together a staff of more than two dozen professionals and subject matter experts from across the national security, intelligence, and law enforcement communities. We interviewed more than 250 government officials and nongovernmental experts. We held eight major commission meetings and one public hearing.

… Ultimately, we opted to center the Commission findings on several areas where the risks to the United States are increasing: the crossroads of terrorism and proliferation in the poorly governed parts of Pakistan, the prevention of biological and nuclear terrorism, and the potential erosion of international nuclear security, treaties, and norms as we enter a nuclear energy renaissance.

The intent of this report is neither to frighten nor to reassure the American people about the current state of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It is to underscore that the U.S. government has yet to fully adapt to these circumstances, and to convey the sobering reality that the risks are growing faster than our multilayered defenses. Our margin of safety is shrinking, not growing.

Excerpt from the 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. As former Senator Sam Nunn testified to our Commission: “The risk of a nuclear weapon being used today is growing, not receding.”

This Commission was chartered by Congress to assess our nation’s progress in preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism—and to provide the next President and Congress with concrete, actionable recommendations that can serve as their road map to a safer homeland and world.

No mission could be timelier. The simple reality is that the risks that confront us today are evolving faster than our multilayered responses. Many thousands of dedicated people across all agencies of our government are working hard to protect this country, and their efforts have had a positive impact. But the terrorists have been active, too—and in our judgment America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing.

… According to an April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate on Trends in Global Terrorism,

“Activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing both in number and geographic dispersion. . . . If this trend continues, threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.”

Since 9/11 there has been an increase in the number of groups that have associated or aligned themselves with al Qaeda—the preeminent terrorist threat to the United States and the perpetrators of 9/11—including al Qaeda in Iraq, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the Algerian al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, formerly the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). This increase in terrorist networks is a threat to the entire world.

Though U.S. policy and strategy have made progress, they have not kept pace with the growing risks. In the area of counterterrorism, our government has innovated and implemented new initiatives since 9/11, but its focus has been mainly limited to defense, intelligence, and homeland security programs and operations. The next administration needs to go much further, using the tools of “soft power” to communicate effectively about American intentions and to build grassroots social and economic institutions that will discourage radicalism and undercut the terrorists in danger spots around the world—especially in Pakistan.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The United States should undertake a series of mutually reinforcing domestic measures to prevent bioterrorism:

  1. conduct a comprehensive review of the domestic program to secure dangerous pathogens,
  2. develop a national strategy for advancing bioforensic capabilities,
  3. tighten government oversight of high-containment laboratories,
  4. promote a culture of security awareness in the life sciences community, and
  5. enhance the nation’s capabilities for rapid response to prevent biological attacks from inflicting mass casualties.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The United States should undertake a series of mutually reinforcing measures at the international level to prevent biological weapons proliferation and terrorism:

  1. press for an international conference of countries with major biotechnology industries to promote biosecurity,
  2. conduct a global assessment of biosecurity risks,
  3. strengthen global disease surveillance networks, and
  4. propose a new action plan for achieving universal adherence to and effective national implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention, for adoption at the next review conference in 2011.

RECOMMENDATION 3: The United States should work internationally toward strengthening the nonproliferation regime, reaffirming the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons by

  1. imposing a range of penalties for NPT violations and withdrawal from the NPT that shift the burden of proof to the state under review for noncompliance;
  2. ensuring access to nuclear fuel, at market prices to the extent possible, for non-nuclear states that agree not to develop sensitive fuel cycle capabilities and are in full compliance with international obligations;
  3. strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency, to include identifying the limitations to its safeguarding capabilities, and providing the agency with the resources and authorities needed to meet its current and expanding mandate;
  4. promoting the further development and effective implementation of counterproliferation initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism;
  5. orchestrating consensus that there will be no new states, including Iran and North Korea, possessing uranium enrichment or plutoniumreprocessing capability;
  6. working in concert with others to do everything possible to promote and maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing;
  7. working toward a global agreement on the definition of “appropriate” and “effective” nuclear security and accounting systems as legally obligated under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540; and
  8. discouraging, to the extent possible, the use of financial incentives in the promotion of civil nuclear power.

RECOMMENDATION 4: The new President should undertake a comprehensive review of cooperative nuclear security programs, and should develop a global strategy that accounts for the worldwide expansion of the threat and the restructuring of our relationship with Russia from that of donor and recipient to a cooperative partnership.

RECOMMENDATION 5: 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.

RECOMMENDATION 6: The next President and Congress should implement a comprehensive policy toward Pakistan that works with Pakistan and other countries to

  1. eliminate terrorist safe havens through military, economic, and diplomatic means;
  2. secure nuclear and biological materials in Pakistan;
  3. counter and defeat extremist ideology; and
  4. constrain a nascent nuclear arms race in Asia.

RECOMMENDATION 7: The next U.S. administration should work with the Russian government on initiatives to jointly reduce the danger of the use of nuclear and biological weapons, including by

  1. extending some of the essential verification and monitoring provisions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that are scheduled to expire in 2009;
  2. advancing cooperation programs such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, and the Proliferation Security Initiative;
  3. sustaining security upgrades at sensitive sites in Russia and elsewhere, while finding common ground on further reductions in stockpiles of excess highly enriched uranium;
  4. jointly encouraging China, Pakistan, and India to announce a moratorium on the further production of nuclear fissile materials for nuclear weapons and to reduce existing nuclear military deployments and stockpiles; and
  5. offering assistance to other nations, such as Pakistan and India, in achieving nuclear confidence-building measures similar to those that the United States and the USSR followed for most of the Cold War.

RECOMMENDATION 8: The President should create a more efficient and effective policy coordination structure by designating a White House principal advisor for WMD proliferation and terrorism and restructuring the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Congress should reform its oversight both structurally and substantively to better address intelligence, homeland security, and crosscutting 21st-century national security missions such as the prevention of weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism.

RECOMMENDATION 10: Accelerate integration of effort among the counterproliferation, counterterrorism, and law enforcement communities to address WMD proliferation and terrorism issues; strengthen expertise in the nuclear and biological fields; prioritize pre-service and in-service training and retention of people with critical scientific, language, and foreign area skills; and ensure that the threat posed by biological weapons remains among the highest national intelligence priorities for collection and analysis.

RECOMMENDATION 11: The United States must build a national security workforce for the 21st century.

RECOMMENDATION 12: U.S. counterterrorism strategy must more effectively counter the ideology behind WMD terrorism. The United States should develop a more coherent and sustained strategy and capabilities for global ideological engagement to prevent future recruits, supporters, and facilitators.

RECOMMENDATION 13: The next administration must work to openly and honestly engage the American citizen, encouraging a participatory approach to meeting the challenges of the new century.

… The vast majority of the world’s peoples stand with us in wanting to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction and to defeat terrorists. 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. In this report we lay out the steps that need to be taken, with confidence that they will be taken, and that as a result the United States, leading the international community, will have enhanced the safety of our world at risk.


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

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For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Some posts on the FM site about Grand Strategy and National Security:

A related question concerns grand strategy.  Does America need a grand strategy?  If so, what should it be?  Answers to these questions illuminate many of the questions hotly debated about foreign policy and national security.

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy , 31 January 2006
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
  3. America takes another step towards the “Long War” , 24 July 2007
  4. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
  5. ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy , 21 February 2008
  6. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I , 19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008
  7. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II , 14 June 2008
  8. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  9. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
  10. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
  11. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
  12. Justifying the use of force, a key to success in 4GW , 8 July 2008 – chapter 5
  13. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief” , 8 July 2008 — chapter 6
  14. Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering , 9 July 2008 — chapter 7
  15. The world seen through the lens of 4GW (this gives a clearer picture) , (10 July 2008 — chapter 8
  16. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus , 11 August 2008
  17. The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy, 18 November 2008
  18. “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power”, 19 November 2008

4 thoughts on “New report about WMD: “The World at Risk””

  1. Did I miss something or does recommendation 3.1 require the logical impossibility of proving a negative? Accused states must prove that they don’t have a program? How can they counter the accusation that they aren’t showing everything they have?

    Also, under recommendation 3.1 punishing NPT violations, what punishment will the US impose on itself for keeping its nuclear arsenal in violation of the NPT treaty? Beams, specks, and eyes, there’s some old saying there, can’t put my finger on it.

  2. Recommendation 2.4: since 2001, the USA has been adamantly rejecting any review of the convention on the prohibition of biological and toxins weapons (CBTW) — especially in the view of setting up a verification regime.

    Recommendation 3.3: the USA signed the additional IAEA protocols to the NPT in 1998, but never put them in force.

    Recommendation 3.6: after more than 12 years, the USA has not yet ratified the CTBT (comprehensive test ban treaty).

    And the USA is still reserving a right to retaliate in kind in case of an attack with chemical weapons, in derogation to the Geneva protocol of 1925 and the CBW of 1993.

    I vaguely remember something about a pot and a kettle…

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