Advancing Security and Addressing Vulnerabilities
No. 1 2003 January/March
Sam Nunn

Sam Nunn, a former Democratic US senator, is Co-Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Sam Nunn is Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the
Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), former U.S. Senator (D) from

Sam Nunn

As the 21st century unfolds, three aspects of the international
security environment combine to create a daunting and urgent set of
challenges for the international community.

First, the persistent gap between the developed and the
developing world. The uneven integration of developing countries
into the global economy, imbalances in population growth between
rich and poor nations, severe environmental degradation, inadequate
public health systems and a shortage of jobs and educational
opportunities in the developing world — all form a part of this

At the same time, a number of seemingly intractable conflicts
continue to fester around the globe, inciting public outrage, a
shared sense of grievance, and even sympathy for terrorists in some
quarters. In addition, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons,
materials, and know-how are becoming more widely accessible to both
states and non-state actors.

These three developments create a much higher probability of
terrorism or conflict with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons
being used – with catastrophic effects that would dwarf the carnage
of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

As we saw on September 11, technology is a two-edged sword: the
same technology, science and innovations that have advanced
globalization and increased productivity and prosperity around the
world can also be used by individuals or small groups in the
service of terror. This includes cyberterrorism, which could be
used as a weapon of mass disruption.

Advancing security and addressing vulnerabilities in this
context requires an urgent re-examination of our security
objectives, priorities, and strategies. Today, the international
community relies on institutions created in the aftermath of World
War II – the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International
Monetary Fund – to address a set of challenges that could not have
been foreseen at the time of their creation. In addition, most
national governments are organized into isolated departments and
bureaucracies which hinder efforts to address problems whose
solutions demand wide ranging knowledge and expertise across
agencies and across borders.

It will certainly require new partnerships between the public
and private sectors. None of the key challenges facing us can be
addressed by governments alone. The private sector has an
indispensable role to play in protecting its assets and its
business continuity against strikes by terrorists at the source of
our strength – our economy, supported by critical infrastructure,
interlinked by information technology. Corporations today have a
global security responsibility that they can only discharge in
tandem with the public sector. Engaging the private sector and
forging new public-private partnerships will be critical to

Defining Dangers And Opportunities

In the coming decade, the world must be prepared to cope with a
broad mix of familiar threats and new dangers. Traditional threats,
such as interstate conflicts and cross-border aggression, cannot be
discounted, even in the face of the rise of terrorism. India and
Pakistan could easily stumble into war over Kashmir, and such a war
could escalate to include the use of nuclear weapons. Tensions
between China and Taiwan, as well as tension in the Middle East or
on the Korean Peninsula could flare into all-out war. The scarcity
of critical resources, such as water, could spark conflict on
several continents in the mid- to long-term.

At the same time, ethnic and internal conflicts continue in
numerous locations across the globe from Sudan and Nigeria to the
Caucasus and Sri Lanka. And, a number of failed or failing states –
whose central governments are no longer able to exert control over
their territory or provide for the needs of their populations –
risk becoming sanctuaries for global terrorism, international
organized crime, illicit drug and weapons trafficking, and other
activities that undermine the safety and security of their citizens
and could threaten the security of other countries and regions. One
of the undeniable lessons of September 11 is that failed states
matter – not only from a humanitarian perspective but also from a
strategic perspective.

In addition to these more familiar threats, a number of newer
dangers are now on the rise. These so-called asymmetric threats –
such as terrorism, cyber attacks, and nuclear, biological, and
chemical weapons — can be used by weaker actors to undermine the
strengths or exploit the vulnerabilities of stronger states. Cyber
attacks on critical infrastructure could damage not only the U.S.
economy, but also disrupt international commerce and cause serious
harm to parts of the world economy. Similarly, the use of nuclear,
chemical or biological weapons could create hundreds of thousands
or even millions of casualties, as well as widespread panic that
could undermine the foundations of democratic governance.

Although the Cold War is over and the U.S. and Russia have
pledged to develop a new partnership, the risk of accidental or
inadvertent nuclear war between these two powers continues to exist
and cannot be ignored. With thousands of intercontinental nuclear
weapons on high alert in each country, a deteriorating Russian
early warning system, and reports of weaknesses in parts of the
Russian command and control system, we still face the horrific
possibility that a single point failure could have catastrophic
consequences. The risk of a nuclear war beginning through
miscalculation or unauthorized action must be addressed.

On the optimistic side, the coming decade offers us substantial
opportunities to enhance international security. We now have new
opportunities for international cooperation and strategic
realignment among some countries. International security issues are
back on the world agenda as top priorities, and there is a renewed
sense of political will to tackle and resolve even the most
difficult challenges. In so doing, we must not only seek to reduce
the immediate risks of terrorism, but also to address what have
been called their root causes — the conditions that foster sympathy
and even support for international terrorism. Reckoning with root
causes represents an effort to reduce future threats. Although
global terrorism is certainly one of the greatest threats we
currently face, it cannot be the sole lens through which we view
the challenge of enhancing international security.

A Strategy For Effective Response

To meet these challenges, the international community must
pursue a multidimensional strategy that combines both short-term
and long-term actions. The strategy should be based on several key
characteristics. Our efforts should be co-operative – on a
multilateral basis and with public-private partnerships.
Unilateralism cannot successfully respond to multilateral threats.
They must take a multidimensional approach that responds to the
full spectrum of challenges. No one threat should define the
agenda. They need also to be preventive — in an effort to address
small problems before they become large ones.

The specific elements of the strategy include: preventing the
spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, materials and
know-how to both states and terrorists; dismantling global
terrorist networks and blocking their ability to operate;
encouraging nuclear weapons states to further reduce their
operational nuclear forces to lower the risk of accidental and
inadvertent nuclear war, and set an example for others; enhancing
the security of our societies – especially against attacks on
critical infrastructure – and our ability to manage the
consequences of catastrophic attacks should they occur; redoubling
international efforts to help resolve long-festering conflicts;
improving the capacity of the international community to prevent
violent conflict before it occurs; enhancing the international
community’s ability to provide rapid and effective reconstruction
assistance to failed states and states emerging from conflict; and
addressing the conditions that create fertile soil for conflict and
terrorism, such as grinding poverty, gross inequities between rich
and poor, and the absence of rule of law and viable means of
peaceful political participation. This challenge rests on the
conviction that security and development go hand in hand. The world
cannot have one without the other.

One fact did not change on September 11: the most significant,
clear and present danger we face is the threat posed by nuclear,
biological and chemical weapons, and this is the first challenge we
face. The question is not whether we must prepare for terrorism or
for attacks with weapons of mass destruction. These two threats are
not separate but interrelated and reinforcing, and if joined
together, become our worst nightmare. To counter this threat, we
need to take international security cooperation to a whole new
level by establishing a global coalition against catastrophic

It is essential that the U.S. and Russia join together as lead
partners in a multilayered global coalition against catastrophic
terrorism. No global effort is possible without Russian and U.S.
participation but their participation alone is not enough. Until
now, Russian and U.S. collaboration on threat reduction has focused
on the two nations alone, but the arsenals, know-how and materials
of these two nations are not the only threat. India and Pakistan
have both tested nuclear weapons. Forty-three nations have research
reactors fuelled by weapons-grade uranium. As leaders of a global
effort, the U.S. and Russia must develop and pledge to meet
world-class standards of nuclear security and safety and encourage
every nation to do the same. These standards would cover inventory
accounting, security of fissile materials and weapons, border and
export control, and international transparency – with each member
developing a country plan to meet these standards. It would also
include tightened export controls and international cooperation for
interdiction of diverted weapons or materials and consequence
management of radiological or nuclear incidents worldwide.

The U.S. and Russia should also accelerate their cooperation on
biological weapons defense. Thousands of scientists accumulated
great expertise in the Soviet biological weapons program. Today,
this expertise gives Russia a special opportunity to advance global
protection against bioterrorism. Now is the time for the U.S. and
Russia to share knowledge on the nature of biological threats and
develop better means to address them – from prevention, to early
detection and warning, to treatment and consequence management.
Prevention would include efforts to strengthen medical capacity to
detect, diagnose and treat infectious disease.

The coalition could advance disease control and treatment
efforts by developing new drugs, vaccines and antidotes. The
coalition could improve approaches to consequence management,
including enhancing the capacity of health care systems to manage
mass casualty situations, developing strategies for environmental
decontamination and improving communications systems to spread
information and prevent panic.

This agenda can do more than protect against bioterrorism –
increased investment in disease surveillance, antibiotics, and
early treatment can also make significant improvements in public
health. We must also recognize that infectious disease is an
international security issue – threatening the stability of
governments, economic growth and human potential. When the same
investments can improve global security, advance public health and
promote global partnership, it is an investment we should make.

The threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is
global. The U.S. and Russia cannot meet it alone. But these two
countries have an obligation to lead the world in undoing the
danger. Other nations must also join and lead.

The second challenge is to combat global terrorism because to
prevent nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons terrorism, we
must control the supply of weapons and reduce the demand. The world
must cooperate in dismantling global terrorist networks and denying
them the ability to recruit personnel, train them, and launch
attacks. In practice, this will require continued international
cooperation on a broad range of fronts, including intelligence
sharing to identify suspected terrorists and prevent future
attacks, law enforcement to roll up cells in various countries and
apprehend individual suspects, financial measures to track and
choke off money supplies, and, if necessary, military action to
destroy terrorist safe havens and training camps. Two principal
objectives will be developing a common definition of who should
(and should not) be considered a global terrorist and constructing
a common strategy for dealing with states that are known to have
provided support to global terrorist organizations.

The third challenge involves encouraging the nuclear weapons
states, particularly the U.S. and Russia, to reduce the number of
nuclear weapons they deploy on high alert. Both countries should,
in joint consultation and collaboration, stand down their nuclear
forces to the maximum extent possible consistent with their
national security interests. But even more important is finding
ways to reduce the risk of a catastrophic accident or
miscalculation. The same approach should also be extended to other
countries that deploy nuclear weapons, but they must be led by the
two leading nuclear powers.

The fourth challenge is enhancing critical infrastructure
protection globally. Many countries have found themselves in the
cross hairs of terrorists or cyber warriors in the past, and many
more could find themselves in a similar position in the future.
Today, a terrorist strike on critical infrastructure in one part of
the world can provoke dire economic consequences oceans away. Stock
exchanges around the world were rattled after September 11 in a way
that was mild compared to effects that could result from
catastrophic terrorism. So, it is not just rhetoric or treaty
language but a fact that an attack on one is an attack on all.

An important step is to launch a global initiative to enhance
the protection of critical infrastructure worldwide. Critical
infrastructure includes those physical and cyber-based systems
essential to the minimum operations of economies and governments –
for example, telecommunications, energy infrastructure, banking and
finance, transportation, water systems, and emergency services. In
many countries, much of this infrastructure is owned and/or
operated by private firms. And with the advent of new information
technologies, much of the world’s critical infrastructure has
become increasingly automated in recent years – bringing new
efficiencies but also new vulnerabilities, including vulnerability
to cyber attacks. Enhancing the security of critical infrastructure
on a worldwide basis will require the coordinated efforts of
national governments and the private sector to assess
vulnerabilities and develop system-wide solutions.

The fifth challenge – resolving the most destabilizing conflicts
– involves redoubling the international community’s efforts to
resolve those conflicts that could fuel support for global
terrorism and/or have the greatest potential to erupt in
large-scale war and destabilize entire regions. Highest on this
list is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The international
community should do everything in its power to pressure both the
Israelis and the Palestinians toward a ceasefire and a resumption
of negotiations toward a two-state solution. As long as this
conflict continues, it is difficult to imagine real peace and
stability in the region.

The world community should also launch a major initiative to
bring about a negotiated solution to the dispute over Kashmir.
Given the presence of nuclear weapons in both India and Pakistan,
the history of wars between the two countries since partition, and
the potential for miscalculation and uncontrolled escalation when
two armies face off across a border and terrorist groups act
independently of government control, the risk that this dispute
could spiral out of control and into nuclear war is quite real.

The sixth challenge is to improve the international community’s
capacity for preventing armed conflict before it occurs. Although
the importance of conflict prevention has received more attention
in recent years, much remains to be done. In practice, this means
substantially improving international capacities for intelligence
gathering, early warning and assessment as well as increasing the
availability of both civilian and military response capabilities
that can be rapidly deployed to a crisis. It means developing a
broad political consensus in support of early international
intervention in crises and a concerted effort to strengthen civil
society in nations at risk.

The seventh challenge is to enhance the international
community’s ability to provide rapid and effective reconstruction
assistance to failed states and states emerging from conflict,
particularly those that are or could become sanctuaries for
international terrorism, organized crime, drug and arms
trafficking. Too often, the international community provides too
little, too late to societies emerging from chaos and war. In some
cases, the capacity to provide the kind of assistance that is
urgently needed – in the security, economic and social well-being,
justice and reconciliation and governance sectors – simply does not

The final challenge – a concerted effort by the international
community to address the conditions that create fertile soil for
conflict and terrorism. Addressing these conditions must be an
integral part of any strategy for advancing international security
over the longer term. This will undoubtedly require decades of
effort, but it must begin now if we are to deny would-be terrorists
or aggressors the sympathy of deprived and humiliated populations
around the globe.

More specifically, the world community must substantially
increase its efforts to reduce poverty, increase equity, enhance
sustainable growth, create more representative governments and
respect for the rule of law, improve educational opportunities for
advancement, and combat disease and environmental degradation
around the globe. Investments in economic and political development
should be seen as investments in security. Particular attention
should be paid to those countries and regions that have the
greatest potential to spawn conflict or international

This will require more than simply increasing the amount of
development assistance for the developing world. Are current
international mechanisms for the provision of aid – most of which
channel money through governments – adequate? Is broad
institutional reform needed? And do we need fundamentally new
approaches to providing development assistance?

Any effort to enhance development must also include serious
measures to increase the kinds of trade and investment flows that
can substantially raise the prosperity of developing nations. But,
the obligation is not one-sided. Any nation seeking international
assistance must work seriously to root out corruption and adhere to
rule of law. These should be minimum requirements for receiving
assistance. It must not become a burden on the international
community to help nations who won’t help themselves. These
questions must be confronted squarely. Here again, the combined
efforts of governments and private companies will be needed.

Private Sector Must Share Responsibility

To successfully implement this multidimensional strategy, we
must think beyond a single, monolithic “coalition of the willing”
to creating a more fluid and long-term “coalition of coalitions” to
meet the key challenges. More than half a century ago, the world
emerged from war with a new understanding of what it would take to
keep the peace. We built new institutions with world-wide
responsibilities – the United Nations, the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund – to better address problems that all
nations face but no nation can solve on its own.

So what is the appropriate division of labor? In general, the
role of national governments should be to define broad objectives,
set standards, establish mechanisms to ensure accountability,
create incentives for participation and compliance, and provide
resources as necessary to assist other actors in meeting national

By contrast, local entities – both public and private sector –
have the expertise to develop solutions. If the private sector is
to avoid excessive government regulation, it should take the lead
in developing ways of integrating security issues into its internal
audits. For example, in the case of bioterrorism, industry must
come together and design normative standards and requirements for
safe and secure transfer and handling of dangerous pathogens.
Chemical and biological agents are overwhelmingly in the hands of
private industry. Industry must devise ways to keep such material
out of the hands of those who would misuse them or it will find
solutions imposed by the government, especially if the regulatory
regime is constructed in response to the biological equivalent of
the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island disasters, or worse.

The work will need to be done at multiple levels. Individual
firms, for example, need to make security and crisis management a
core competency. This means developing and implementing a
comprehensive security and crisis management plan addressing issues
in three dimensions: security/prevention, emergency response, and
business continuity.

Across industries, individual firms should share planning
approaches, best practices, and lessons learned from both
real-world experience and simulated exercises. This could
conceivably be the mission of a new entity set up expressly for
this purpose.

Because of the connectivity and interdependence of various
sectors, a substantial degree of information sharing and
coordination should also occur across sectors. For example, the
financial sector in a given country might want to coordinate its
crisis management plans with other sectors on which it is
dependent, such as power generation and telecommunications
providers. Here, governments may play a useful role in facilitating
and legitimizing such cross-sector dialog.

In some countries, this more extensive cooperation between
elements of the private sector may require revising current laws.
For example, in the U.S. context, certain forms of corporate
cooperation would require changes to existing antitrust legislation
and certain types of public-private cooperation might require
changes to the laws governing the freedom of information. Here
again, government must play an important role in spearheading the
necessary changes.

This moment in history is fraught with risk but is rich with
opportunity. How we emerge from this period will depend in large
part on our ability to adapt to new realities and channel trends in
positive directions. Meeting these challenges will require a
sustained commitment of resources and substantial leadership from
not only governments, but also private companies the world

The stakes are high – the time for action is now.