Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=108951
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 7:06:18 PM CST
WASHINGTON -- To ensure the nation’s safety, the Obama administration must prepare for the possibility of germ warfare or a nuclear attack within the next five years. But according to a congressional commission report, there’s a way to reduce the terror threat to the U.S. and international communities.
“World at Risk,” a report issued Tuesday by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, recommends that the U.S. try to inhibit the global development of biological weapons and work with Pakistan to eliminate terrorist strongholds, among other preventive measures.
Interested in swift and forceful implementation, the commissioners met Wednesday with Vice President-elect Joe Biden to advise the transition team on how to reduce the risk. They hope the new administration will use the commission’s suggestions to shape the security agenda.
The commission, comprising nine members including former Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Jim Talent of Missouri, took six months to assess whether the U.S. is equipped to prevent WMD proliferation and related terrorism. The panel, created by Congress, determined that a biological or nuclear weapon is likely to be used against America or another nation by the end of 2013 and they offered more than a dozen recommendations on how to deal with the threat.
The commissioners cite the “cascade effect” as the strongest indicator of a potential attack: weapons proliferation only leads to more proliferation. With the amount of weapons growing, a greater number of states will be in a position to use WMD or transfer them to people who will.
In addition, nations will feel the need to protect themselves against other armed nations, leading to an ever-growing level of nuclear and biological capabilities. The report mentioned Iran and North Korea as two states that pose a significant threat.
Despite 132 pages of detailed reporting, the panel left some issues untouched—which has irked security experts.
Ben Friedman, a defense specialist at the libertarian Cato Institute, criticized the report for failing to analyze the motives of states who want biological and nuclear weapons. Based on his research, Friedman thinks Iran and North Korea want WMD because the U.S. is hostile toward them and they want to feel secure.
“What strikes me is that they come out with this screaming headline, but there’s not much analysis I see in the report that justifies it,” he said.
Friedman added that individuals have made similar predictions in the past. Not only has there been no WMD attack, but a terrorist has not come close to developing biological or nuclear weapons, he said.
To some experts, however, the commission goes beyond scare tactics.
“It’s not about a sensationalist prediction,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “You have a congressional commission come forward with the knowledge that terrorism with unconventional weapons is a growing danger.”
Gartenstein-Ross believes the report did a good job of focusing on the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the global spread of biotechnology, increasing the availability of deadly pathogens to terrorists. The commission lists anthrax, the plague, smallpox and Ebola among the diseases that can be spread through biological weaponry.
To prevent bioterrorism, the commission recommends advancing bioforensic capabilities— the ability to study and fight biological threats—and increasing government oversight of certain scientific laboratories that contain strains of dangerous viruses.
“It should give urgency to the issue in the next administration,” Gartenstein-Ross added. “It’s an issue that should not be ignored.”
Ultimately, however, President-elect Barack Obama will decide whether the recommendations are put to use.
Although he supports the panel’s suggestions and hopes they contribute to stronger national security, Ben Friedman remains skeptical about the commissioners’ predictions.
“There doesn’t seem to be any penalty for getting these things wrong,” he said.