Prevention vs Punishment
№1 2002 December

Vladimir Dvorkin — Head of Research, Center for Strategic
Nuclear Forces, Major General (Ret.).

Vladimir Dvorkin

What is to be done with countries “suspected” by the world
community of being potential developers of weapons of mass
destruction (WMD)? Should a wait-and-see attitude be adopted,
letting political and economic sanctions do the job (even if such
sanctions have already proved ineffective), or should a “preventive
treatment” be applied by means of preventive strikes? In seeking an
answer to this question, which in recent years has become an object
of growing concern for politicians throughout the world, one must
take into account the new situation that has taken shape in the
wake of the emergence on the international stage of transnational
terrorist organizations.

It is evident that the growing number of countries that possess
weapons of mass destruction and effective delivery vehicles,
increases the risk of their unauthorized (accidental) or even
large-scale use in regional conflicts. As distinct from the
traditional members of the nuclear club, the newcomers have no
experience in developing and applying concepts of nuclear
deterrence, nor did they participate in the process of developing
systems of control and sanctions for the use of nuclear arms.

Nuclear arms and missiles which find or may find themselves in
the hands of new owners have a very low margin of safety. To be
sure, these countries are not conducting a sufficient number of
field tests – in particular regarding the control and guidance
systems; a consequence of this may well be substantial deviations
in missile flight trajectories and the hitting of unintended
targets on foreign territories.

This danger will increase manifold if transnational terrorist
organizations backed by totalitarian regimes obtain weapons of mass
destruction. These organizations, moreover, become sustainable
structures only thanks to support from the so-called problem states
which play host to centers, laboratories and camps for equipping
and training fighters, manufacturing weapons of mass destruction
and providing medical and recuperation facilities for terrorists.
Usually, Iran and Iraq are referred to in this context as “suspect”

In Iran, a missile armament program has been in the process of
implementation since the early 1980s. Currently, the main emphasis
there is on setting up an infrastructure to produce medium-range
ballistic missiles. The aim is to build up a most powerful missile
capability by 2010-2015. It is an aim that is facilitated also by
Iran’s cooperation with China and North Korea. The capacity of the
assembly line that turns out the Shahab-3 missiles (range up to
1,000 km) may reach 100 rockets a year.

In Iran, the IAEA inspectors did not find nuclear weapons or
basic components for their manufacture (this, however, does not
exclude their development in the foreseeable future, or the
development of chemical weapons). The possession of atomic energy
facilities is objectively conducive to nuclear arms development by
Iran – from the viewpoint of both access to materials and
technology and the building of its own intellectual capacity.

Apart from confronting Israel and containing the U.S. threat,
Iran has regional stimuli, such as confrontation with a real
nuclear power (Pakistan) and with potential nuclear rivals (Iraq
and Saudi Arabia). It is not out of the question that if the
struggle against Islamic extremism in the Caucasus and Central Asia
is stepped up, ideology may overwhelm geopolitics in Iran, thus
turning Russia into a target for Iranian nuclear missiles and an
object of political and military confrontation.

If international control becomes any weaker, Iraq is capable of
developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction quite
quickly. It could also restore its missile potential by reanimating
frozen programs, such as the Tammuz-1 missile (flying range up to
2,000 km) or a perspective ballistic missile of similar range but
with a bigger warhead load. By 2015, apart from fixed launchers,
Iraq may be able to add to its armory from 10 to 20 mobile
launchers. The purchase of North Korea’s No-dong-2 and
Taep’o-dong-1 missiles is not excluded either.

It is hard to venture to use nuclear arms even for the most
odious dictator – if only for fear of a devastating retaliatory
strike. Yet, if international forces undertake vigorous actions to
topple the ruling regime, the cornered ruler is liable to do
anything. This is why the time factor becomes vitally important –
is it really worth waiting until the dictator actually takes hold
of a weapon of mass destruction?

The question is especially relevant given the fact that regimes
supporting international terrorist organizations offer them an
opportunity to prepare for actions on any scale and, as long as
they wish, resort to any ways and means of gaining an influence and
using any type of weapons of mass destruction. This is why defense
capabilities will always lag behind offensive potential.

A nuclear terrorist act is possible anywhere today.
Nuclear-charged weapons carriers on railway, air, water and land
transport vehicles, as well as nuclear production and utilization
facilities, are all potential targets for terrorists. Another group
of such targets includes fixed and mobile installations designed to
produce, store, process and utilize nuclear fuel, including
plutonium, uranium, deuterium, tritium, among others. In their
sights also would be ore mining and dressing facilities, reactors,
radiation sources, chemically hazardous installations with
thousands of tons of chloride, ammonia and acids of all kinds, oil
refineries and fuel depots. To trigger off a catastrophe equal in
scale to the catastrophic use of WMD it is sufficient only to
disrupt a vital technological process or engineer some kind of
explosion at such a facility. And there is no longer ground to
doubt that terrorist organizations are also ready to use their own
weapons, including “dirty” nuclear bombs, chemical, bacteriological
and other such weapons.

The array of methods for countering this threat is similar to
the choice of actions that can be taken against problem states –
ranging from relatively passive and slack holding or blocking
operations to preventive military intervention.

For Russia, the choice is especially hard primarily owing to its
internal difficulties. A part of the Russian elite believes that in
the current tough situation (economic difficulties, demographic
problems, corruption, the unsettled Chechen conflict, and so on)
Moscow should not be overconcerned by problems of regional
instability, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and
their delivery vehicles, or international megaterrorism. Within the
belt of instability, Russia has no overt foes among the problem
countries that possess or seek to possess WMD (including guided
missiles) and back terrorism. Terrorists in Russia are largely
home-bred. This is why, some reason, it is quite possible to
refrain from any vigorous activity and wait instead until the
country’s economy is restored, meanwhile doing all possible to
foster the implementation of international nonproliferation
treaties and agreements and support the fight against international
terrorism politically.

Another part of the Russian elite holds that there is no
alternative to a policy of military-political and economic
integration with the West if the country is to be restored, and
that Russia should extend cooperation with the West in settling all
security problems, including an uncompromising campaign against the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery
vehicles. Above all, this pertains to the problem countries with
totalitarian regimes that are, or are potentially capable of
assisting international terrorism.

The first scenario looks attractive. But the trouble is that the
emergence of unpredictable catastrophic situations (for example,
those that may ensue following any attempt to settle a regional
conflict by force) cannot be excluded, even in the foreseeable
future. It is hard to disagree with the U.S. warning that the
situation that has developed following the end of the Cold War is
as unpredictable as ever. The wait-and-see policy is tantamount to
establishing a most-favored-nation regime for terrorist
organizations and inviting them to commit new catastrophic terror
acts. Only preventive actions by the international community can
minimize that threat.

Objections against this stand stem primarily from fears aroused
by an increasing U.S. global domination. Recent developments,
especially in economic policies, indicate that the sole world
leader is upholding its own interests in a tough manner and no one
can say with certainty that it is about to reckon even with the
interests of its traditional allies, to say nothing of those of its
newly acquired ones. All this hinders the process of withering away
of deeply rooted anti-American feelings that exist among a
considerable segment of Russian society. It is hard to convince
that constituency, for example, that the U.S. is securing its
foothold in Central Asia with any aim other than encroaching on
Russia’s interests. Equally, it is hard to convince them that U.S.
policies in all spheres are strictly pro-American and egocentric,
rather than anti-Russian or anti-European. In Russian society, the
suspicious attitude towards the West, the U.S. and NATO will
continue to prevail for a while yet, although it may wane as the
economic and social situation in the country improves.

Another objection stems from Russia’s interest in maintaining
economic ties with America’s most obvious foes – Iran (atomic
energy and arms deals) and Iraq (long-term contracts worth dozens
of billions of dollars). Generally, the opponents of the
pro-Western course hold that Russia, occupying as it does a special
position in-between the underdeveloped and increasingly radical
regions, and the world of the prosperous nations, should try to
balance between them, reaping whatever benefit from that balancing
act. One should not forget, however, that by wishing to please
everyone, one often ends up in being of no use to anyone.

What is to be done, then? Should Russia continue sitting on two
chairs or should it stop confining itself to political declarations
and respond to new global challenges by real military-political
integration and closer allied relations with the West?

It should be noted here that alliance with the U.S. does not
mean following obediently in the wake of U.S. policies – look at
contradictions over a wide range of problems that frequently arise
between leading NATO countries. In itself, the West is not
homogeneous, and this offers an opportunity to choose a model of
allied relationship while simultaneously rigorously upholding one’s
national interests. But an independent policy requires long-term
strategic planning, rather than sporadic dashing about in the
attempt to reap some temporary benefits. There is a need for a
long-term policy based on the military-political and economic
integration of Russia and the West, and this means moving away from
the entrenched thinking that eventually we will be cheated. Such a
policy may include programs of cooperation in various fields, such
as joint development and use of strategic and non-strategic ABM
systems, outer space information systems and other projects. Such
programs would be conducive to confidence building and serve as a
guarantee against any rolling back to confrontation. But, even if
there is political will and the relevant decisions are taken, the
implementation of these kinds of programs will require overcoming
bureaucratic inertia and resistance both in Russia and America.

But is a long-term anti-terrorist strategy possible in
principle, given the fact that the U.S., Europe and Russia differ
markedly on the question of problem regimes? Indeed, is the
strategy needed at all? Who knows, maybe nothing similar to the
September 11th tragedy will ever happen again?

Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar justifiably deem it
necessary to set up a multilevel global coalition against
catastrophic terrorism. It is better to overestimate the danger
than underestimate it. One cannot but agree with Senator Lugar:
however monstrous the September 11th tragedy may be, the resultant
devastation and panic will look insignificant compared to what
might be caused by a weapon of mass destruction. According to
Senators Nunn and Lugar, a program of joint action by a global
coalition should be geared to resolving a wide range of problems in
order to prevent terrorists from getting hold of WMD. This involves
tighter non-proliferation regimes, improved systems of control over
the storage and transportation of nuclear, biological and chemical
materials, preventing the brain drain and establishing and
observing world-class nuclear safety standards.

Obviously, setting up a global coalition is a protracted and
complex process – if, of course, it is not accelerated by
international terrorism. The U.S. and Russia could be the nucleus
of such a coalition for they have the biggest experience in
developing weapons of mass destruction, their delivery vehicles and
defenses against them, as well as relevant systems of control and
communication. Both countries have suffered greatly from terrorism.
For these reasons Russia and the U.S. could well become centers of
stability on their continents, and rally around them most of the
democratic countries.

It is high time to admit that by relying merely on defense
measures it is impossible to eliminate the threat of using mass
destruction weapons by totalitarian regimes – especially those
adhering to radical Islam – and put an end to transnational
terrorism. No country, however rich it may be, can be guaranteed
against all known methods of attack, to say nothing of those that
are harder to predict. This is why the most effective strategies
are preventive actions against problem countries; and these include
disarming them, provided that sufficient and relatively reliable
information points to their possession of WMD and to their backing
of international terrorists.

What is needed is not only a reaction to the irreparable damage
caused by terrorist acts, but also concerted preventive actions
aimed at forced disarmament, a change of ruling regimes and
ex-territorial neutralization of the terrorist strongholds. It is
impossible to win a total victory over terrorism, but reducing the
level of its threat to an “acceptable” minimum, which would exclude
any large-scale catastrophes, is a most pressing task of the
international community. To achieve it, international terrorism
should primarily be deprived of the support extended to it by
totalitarian or failing regimes.

The system of international law, including the UN Charter, is
not fully fit to address this problem because that system was
formed decades ago; today it does not correspond to new global
challenges and needs to be adjusted – a task involving lengthy work
and international terrorists will hardly wait until it is
completed. They must be rebuffed decisively today. A forceful
counteraction need not necessarily involve a large-scale military
operation against individual totalitarian regimes. For example,
prior to the UN Security Council discussion on Iraq, thirty U.S.
authoritative independent analysts suggested that Iraqi weapons of
mass destruction could be liquidated by way of “coercive
inspections.” They suggested that inspections should be accompanied
by international air-mobile combat units in any chosen region at
any facility and at any time with no time limit. When found,
prohibited facilities are to be disassembled or destroyed. Such
coercive inspections could be backed up by modern high-tech
instrumental reconnaissance and an international force deployed
near the Iraqi border.

The suggested measures can well be applied to the inspection of
the training bases and strongholds of international terrorist
organizations – and not only in Iraq. It should be noted that
international consensus is needed to achieve the goals of the
“preventive treatment.” However imperfect the legal foundation of
the world order may be, maximum efforts should be made to ensure
that preventive strikes are carried out on the basis of UN Security
Council resolutions and a coordinated position of a broad
international coalition. Unilateral moves may result in
developments that will be far away from the set goals – deep cracks
may appear in the united anti-terrorist coalition and this will
play primarily into the terrorists’ hands.

The experience of the anti-Taliban campaign shows that the U.S.
can hardly do without Russia in carrying through counter-terrorist
operations. To be sure, no other country near the belt of
instability possesses such a huge political and
military-technological potential. Essentially, Moscow has ample
grounds to become Washington’s full-fledged ally in the
uncompromising struggle against new threats. Sitting in a trench
trying to adjust oneself to rapid changes in relations with
undemocratic regimes has no perspective. All the more so as there
are solid grounds to expect that, following a change of ruling
regimes in problem countries, Russia will establish more stable and
no less beneficial relations with them.