DOD Broadens, Updates Strategy for Countering WMD
The Defense Department has released the first update since 2006 of the military’s strategy to counter weapons of mass destruction, replacing it with a broader one that focuses on preventing adversaries from acquiring such weapons and mitigating threats at an early stage, a senior defense official said today.
During a briefing for reporters, the official called the strategy an “important milestone.”
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In a constrained fiscal environment, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote in the report’s foreword, the department is focusing on preventing WMD acquisition and countering the most likely threats.
“Accordingly,” he said, “this strategy emphasizes early action through pathway defeat, shaping the environment to dissuade actors from pursuing WMD, and cooperating with partners to achieve countering WMD goals.”
Pathway defeat is defined as deliberate action taken against people of concern and their networks to delay, disrupt, destroy or otherwise complicate WMD-related activities.
This updated strategy, the secretary added, “provides foundational guidance for enacting the department’s countering WMD policies, plans and programs, and advances a comprehensive response to existing and developing WMD threats.”
The senior defense official told reporters the updated strategy allows DOD to align its efforts with the broader national strategy for countering WMD that are reflected in the administration’s efforts over the past few years.
“It shifts the focus from some of the prior documents to allow us an increased emphasis on prevention and reducing and mitigating threats earlier,” the official added, “rather than focusing more exclusively on military options [or] scenarios that might be associated with crises in later phases.”
Although the strategy is just being released, the official explained that its approach is already being used.
“It reflects what we are doing and activities that we have underway, the ways we've been responding to events in the world over the last five years and the way we've been learning from those events,” the official said.
Documenting such activities “does give us the ability to … capture and structure the changes that have developed, especially over the last five years,” the official added, “so that going forward we can use a broad, flexible document to better guide investment planning, force and capability development and so forth. … Its inherent value is to begin to set that stage for the future.”
The document’s key themes include early action, shaping the environment, and cooperating with partners across the department and the interagency, and with partners, allies and international organizations around the world, the official said.
“In every tabletop exercise or war game that's ever involved weapons of mass destruction, especially if it involves the use of such weapons,” the senior defense official said, the one lesson everyone learns is that they want to do more to prevent it from happening.
“And if we can't prevent it, how do we shape an environment and create conditions [in which] we can be more effective so that the problem we have to respond to is smaller and has effects that are less catastrophic? That’s what we're really trying to do,” the official said, “is open up that prevention space.”
The updated strategy includes new priority objectives, the official said, and described some of the strategy’s big elements.
One of these is to reduce incentives to pursue and possess and use WMD, to raise barriers to acquisition -- make it more expensive, costly and harder to acquire WMD, and to manage risks emanating from hostile, fragile or failed states or safe havens.
“If we can eliminate the places in which WMD capabilities can grow, where nonstate or state actors can operate without good governmental controls,” the official said, “we can make it much more difficult. So it’s very important to look at those conditions and try to eliminate them as opportunities for WMD capabilities [to take hold] in the hands of state or nonstate actors.”
Another priority objective is to have a fully layered and integrated set of defenses to mitigate the risks of WMD use and to look comprehensively on a global basis between the needs of combatant commanders and U.S. domestic needs.
The senior defense official said two important lessons learned since the 2006 National Military Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction are that the efforts to keep state or nonstate actors from acquiring WMD have to involve the whole of DOD, and actions to counter the problem must begin earlier then they have in the past.
The 2006 document was a military strategy, the official said. “It didn't take into account other important efforts of the department, such as the Cooperative Threat Reduction, or CTR, program, established in 1991 to reduce WMD proliferation.”
CTR has since expanded from 13 to more than 80 countries, and the program’s work has evolved. Working with the departments of State and Energy and regional partners, DOD refocused the program to take on global biological threats.
“That program focuses on reducing risks [and] improving capacity so partners can prevent the movement of WMD capabilities and a whole other range of tasks that allow us to get at this problem,” the official said.
The official also mentioned DOD’s work with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration and its vessel the Cape Ray. The ship was outfitted with two field-deployable hydrolysis systems to turn some of Syria’s chemical stockpiles into low-level hazardous waste for long-term storage.
“If you look at ways that we have now over the last year been able to operate in the Middle East and use [such programs] to help bolster capabilities in countries, for example, surrounding Syria, and to do that in a collaborative way that [combines] civilian tools and military tools, you see that as an example of the strategy … already at work,” the official added.
The most important idea in the Syria-Cape Ray example in terms of future scenarios, the senior defense official explained, “was our ability to look at a problem and to quickly apply creative solution sets by working across this department and pulling all of those elements together. That's where we were able to apply innovation and creativity and unique processes to put us in a position where we could have a solution. That sort of thing is what I want to see replicated in the future.”
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