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Counter proliferation: U.S. steps up efforts to keep WMD out of enemy hands.

Amid continuing concerns about terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, the U.S. government is increasing its efforts to keep enemies from acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction.

Some of the steps that it is taking, however, are raising hackles even at home.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency--whose job it is to develop technologies to defeat WMD, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons--has scheduled a controversial test this month designed to detonate a 700-ton conventional explosive at a site in Nevada. The explosion is to be part of an experiment called Divine Strake, which is intended to test new ways to destroying hardened and deeply buried targets, such as the nuclear facilities of Iran and North Korea.

North Korea claims to have acquired nuclear weapons, and Iran has embarked upon a program to develop nuclear power. It announced in April that it had been successful in enriching uranium.

Iranian leaders have said they want to use the technology for peaceful purposes. The United States and its allies, however, are convinced that Tehran is intent on producing weapons, and they are committed to preventing that from happening.

U.S. officials have said that they prefer to resolve the issue through diplomacy, but that all options--including military action--remain "on the table."

One option may be the kind of device being tested in Divine Strake, which DTRA Director James A. Tegnelia said could offer a more acceptable alternative than nuclear "bunker-busting" bombs, existing conventional munitions or ground troops.

"This is the largest single explosive we could imagine doing," Tegnelia told a recent gathering of defense writers. The blast, he said, will generate a "mushroom cloud" over nearby Las Vegas for the first time since the end of nuclear-weapons testing.

Tegnelia later issued a statement assuring Nevadans that the experiment will pose no danger to them, and that while the dust cloud may reach an altitude of 10,000 feet, it isn't likely to be visible off the test site.

Nevertheless, at least one member of Congress, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., was not mollified. She complained that Tegnelia could not provide definitive information about whether any toxic materials would be unleashed by the explosion.

"Given the level of contamination in areas where nuclear tests were conducted, I have real concerns about the dust and other pollutants that will be released into the air as a result of this explosion," she said.

The test is part of the most recent national strategy for combating WMD, which was released in March by the Defense Department. The strategy calls for the military services to adopt plans to:

* Reduce the numbers of weapons of mass destruction.

* Stop their proliferation.

* Prevent enemies from using them.

* Respond against any attacker, while simultaneously helping victims of the attack to recover.

In 2005, the U.S. Strategic Command, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., was told to take the lead in the effort. DTRA was tasked to monitor potential WMD threats around the world and to develop new technologies to counter them.

In January, the two organizations opened a combined center for combating weapons of mass destruction at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The facility is part of a new $107 million headquarters for DTRA. It consolidates more than 1,400 agency personnel from five separate locations in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area and a small contingent from STRATCOM into a single, secure facility.

The installation includes an operations center that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also provides state-of-the-art technologies for planning missions worldwide, said STRATCOM Commander Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright.

"The objective here is, one, to prevent the startup of WMD, two, if that doesn't work, prevent their use, and three, if that doesn't work, institute consequence management," Cartwright told the center's personnel during an opening ceremony.

STRATCOM began taking on its new anti-WMD mission over the past year, Cartwright told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. By 2007, he said, the Army's 20th Support Command will expand into a joint task force capable of rapid deployment to locate, seize, secure, disable and safeguard an adversary's WMD program.

The 20th was stood up in 2004 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to provide a technically qualified chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives response force. It includes the Army's technical escort battalions and an explosive ordnance disposal group. Many of its units participated in the fruitless search for WMD in Iraq.

Within two years, the command also plans to begin deploying conventionally armed, precision-guided Trident ballistic missiles aboard Navy submarines, Cartwright said.

"The speed and range advantage of a conventional Trident missile increases decision time and provides an alternative to nuclear-weapon use against fleeting, high-value targets," he said. "Such a weapon would be particularly useful in deterring or defeating those who seek to coerce or threaten the United States with WMD."

This plan, however, has been controversial. "Many have expressed concerns about the possibility that other nations, such as Russia and China, might misinterpret the launch of a conventionally-armed ballistic missile and conclude they are under attack with nuclear weapons," noted Amy F. Woolf, a national defense specialist with the Congressional Research Service. While some of the Navy could address some of the concerns, she wrote in a study published in March, those measures "are note likely to eliminate the misunderstandings, particularly if the United States used these missiles on a short notice in a crisis."

In addition, by 2018, STRATCOM plans to field a land-based weapon employing next-generation bunker-busting technology to penetrate WMD-related targets, Cartwright said.

DTRA was established in 1998. One of its key missions is to implement the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which helps nations that were once part of the Soviet Union safeguard and dismantle their stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, related materials and delivery systems.

To conduct this program, DTRA has officers in 30 countries. Since the program began in 1991, it has separated 6,828 former Soviet nuclear warheads from missiles, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a co-author of the legislation that established the program, told the DTRA gathering.

Currently, Lugar said, the agency is helping to build a facility at Shchuchye, Russia, to eliminate some 2 million chemical weapons. DTRA personnel also are working to establish security controls and dismantle infrastructure at many bio weapons sites.

In addition, Tegnelia said, DTRA is laying plans to help Libya get rid of its chemical-weapons facilities. That country's leader, Col. Moammar al-Ghadafi, in 2003 agreed to abandon all WMD programs in exchange for the United Nations lifting economic sanctions imposed after Libyan officials were indicted for the 1988 bombing of a Pan American World Airways airliner in the air over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Libya has formally requested assistance in getting rid of its chemical weapons, which is a difficult project, Tegnelia explained. The weapons, which include tens of tons of mustard gas and precursor chemicals, are located deep in the Libyan desert south of the Mediterranean Sea, he said. "It's a pretty remote area, and there are issues like the availability of water and road access."

The project could cost $100 million or more. But such efforts are worth the money, Lugar said. "More so than at any time in the past, the spread of weapons of mass destruction constitutes a profound and urgent threat at home and abroad."

Potential U.S. adversaries see such weapons as particularly useful against regional competitors or as instruments of asymmetric warfare designed to overcome the conventional military superiority of the United States, Lugar said.

"Weapons of mass destruction have made it possible for a small nation or even a sub-national group to kill as many innocent people in a day as national armies killed in months of fighting during World War II."

For this reason, Lugar favors expanding the program. In 2003, he persuaded Congress to permit $50 million to be spent outside of the former Soviet Union. Using these funds, efforts currently are underway to destroy 16 tons of chemical weapons in Albania. In addition, Lugar and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., have introduced legislation extending the program to include keeping conventional weapons out of terrorist hands.

Arsenals around the world may hold as many as 750,000 man-portable air defense systems, Lugar said, adding that terrorists may have used such weapons to have hit more than 40 civilian aircraft over the past three decades.

The Lugar-Obama bill also would authorize tighter controls on stocks of small arms and other weapons that help fuel civil wars in Africa and elsewhere, where they endanger civilians, peacekeepers and air workers. In addition, it would seek to get rid of unsecured artillery shells like those used in the improvised explosive devices that have been employed to attack U.S. and coalition forces, as well as civilians, in Iraq.

"In many circumstances, these are the weapons of choice for terrorists," Lugar said.

To halt smuggling of WMD and related material, President Bush in 2003 launched the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is supported now by more than 70 nations. PSI participants are working together to improve their national abilities to interdict suspect shipments, explained Peter C.W. Flory, assistant defense secretary for international security policy.

Thus far, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, 19 exercises, involving a wide range of naval, air and ground forces, have been conducted around the globe. In early spring, for example, NATO led a maritime interdiction exercise in the North Sea. USNS Laramie (T-AO 203)--a U.S. Navy underway-replenishment oiler--conducted 20 at-sea refuelings for 13 ships during the exercise, Brilliant Mariner 2006. She also played the part of a suspected smuggler and was boarded by forces from a Spanish ship participating in the exercise.

Some of the exercises, however, do not involve live forces, Flory said. "Table-top games and simulations, in particular, have helped participants work through interdiction scenarios."

As counter-proliferation efforts increase, however, concerns are growing on Capitol Hill that they could be undermined by the recently announced agreement between United States and India. Meeting in New Delhi in March, President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to cooperate on the two countries' civilian nuclear programs.

President Bush hailed the deal as a major step toward improving relations with a rapidly growing nation in a strategically important part of the world. He pointed out that the United States does not intend to assist India's nuclear weapons program, but it will support its civilian energy sector.

Critics quickly pointed out that the agreement offends India's nuclear-armed neighbor and longtime adversary, Pakistan, a key partner in the U.S. war on terrorism. Also, they noted, India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"We must not undermine world support for the nuclear non-proliferation regime by saying that nuclear weapons are fine for our friends," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Nor, he told the committee, should the United States create "the sense that we only oppose proliferation until it succeeds, and then make our peace with new nuclear powers."
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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