Center for Strategic Decision Research


Unconventional Threats to the New Europe and the Need to Cooperate with NATO

The Honorable John J. Hamre
Deputy Secretary of Defense of the United States

As NATO stands on the brink of its 50th anniversary, it is very important that we all think about its future, the future of Partnership for Peace, and the future of our own countries.

Historians will conclude that this is a fortunate time in European history. We have seen a transformation to freedom that is grand in scope, noble in cause, and unique in the annals of humankind. From the Atlantic to the Urals, we are helping to secure the peace of the post-Cold War world. We have a chance to make the 21st century in Europe the antithesis of the 20th century in Europe.

This historic time did not come to us through luck, but through determined leadership. It also came through the perseverance of peoples throughout the continent who remained steadfast in their support of freedom, and through the resilience and strength of our military commitment to stand against oppression. These were the forces that brought down the Berlin Wall. The burning truth of democratic idealism destroyed the Iron Curtain, but it has taken the determined persistence of military might to give the new democratic ideas time to take root and grow.


While these are golden days, they are not without peril. The theme of this conference is “Confronting the Security Challenges of the New NATO.” Future foes, unable to prevail in a conventional challenge, are likely to seek other ways to challenge us. Our opponents of the future, be they nation-states, sub-states, or transnational actors, will seek our Achilles heels—unconventional ways to attack our vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, modern post-industrial society provides many targets for would-be adversaries. Future opponents who could not match us on traditional battlefields have disturbing new tools. These include:

  • Chemical and biological weapons—and the ability to deliver them;
  • Nuclear weapons, still threatening despite Herculean efforts to control them;
  • Cyberattacks against vital information systems, capable of disrupting and even destroying the infrastructure of modern society; and
  • The scourge of terrorism and the willingness of terrorists to use chemical and biological weapons.

Meeting these threats demands unprecedented cooperation among all of our countries.

While current, in some ways these threats are not new. Chemical and biological weapons have been used before. In ancient times, the Spartans assailed the Athenians with noxious fumes from smoldering pitch and sulfur. During the Middle Ages, cadavers were catapulted over besieged city walls to spread death and disease. In this century, the searing sting of mustard gas poisoned the battlefields of Europe, and nerve gas has claimed innocent civilians in Iraq. Combatants since the dawn of time have sought to sever vital lines of communication, and terrorism has been a tool of conflict for as long as fear has been a weapon.

What makes their use in our age different is that these threats are becoming strategic weapons, and are no longer used in tactical maneuvers. Technology has made these weapons more powerful and much more widely available. Five pounds of anthrax, properly dispersed, would kill over 200,000 in Washington, DC. Internet sites now give instructions on how to make chemical bombs and how to make primitive biological agents. Hackers’ clubs around the world compete to break into the computers of business, academia, and government.

We have only to look around the world to realize that chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are a growing threat. At least two dozen nations already possess chemical and biological weapons or have active development programs to build them. The globalization of world economies and increasing ease of information transfer make knowledge of these weapons available to even more nations and non-state actors at the click of a button. The Tokyo subway Sarin gas attack broke the taboo of first use, sparking interest by dozens of other terrorists/fringe organizations. And the shock of nuclear tests in the deserts of India and Pakistan still reverberates in each of our capitals, and makes us fear that others may match their terrible decisions.


But the picture is not uniformly gloomy! In the U.S., we have decided that these so-called asymmetric threats (threats made by small numbers requiring huge numbers for defense) represent the most important security challenge of the next century, and stopping the proliferation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and protecting our vulnerable infrastructure will be our top security priorities. We have initiated a broad range of measures to help us as we enter this frightening new world.

First, we will continue our participation in and expand our funding of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to speed the reduction or elimination of nuclear weapons in Russia, Belarus, Kazahkstan, and Ukraine. We would like to extend that program to include the elimination of chemical weapons.

Second, we have reorganized and consolidated our own Defense Department, bringing over a dozen separate treaty and threat-reduction implementation efforts into a single new defense threat-reduction agency. This new agency will be the focal point of our efforts to reduce nuclear, chemical, and biological threats. It will monitor all of our treaties. It will manage the licensing process for the export of technologies and products that have dual-use potential. It will manage all of our programs that collaborate with other countries to reduce threatening systems.

Third, to protect our armed forces, for the first time in our history we have instituted mandatory systematic vaccinations against deadly anthrax for our entire military.

Fourth, I believe that at some point we will offer voluntary vaccinations to all Americans. While that decision lies in the future, we will spend over $5 billion on chemical and biological protection and counterproliferation efforts over the next six years. The major emphasis will be on developing remote detection systems and non-aqueous diagnostic techniques.

Fifth, we have launched an expansive new effort under the label of “homeland defense.” For example, to protect our citizens in the U.S., we have organized special Rapid Assessment Teams within our National Guard. We are placing teams at strategic locations around the U.S. that will be trained to identify, diagnose, and contain terror-weapon attacks using chemical and biological agents. We are also building a new generation of rapid diagnostic equipment that can identify deadly chemical and biological agents within seconds or minutes. In the United States, the Defense Department is normally not commissioned to deal with internal threats. We will be changing that in coming months. But a terrorist incident that involves chemical or biological agents will quickly outstrip the ability of local emergency authorities to deal with it. Military forces unfortunately are better able to deal with the consequences of chemical, biological, or nuclear use, especially if those weapons result in mass casualties.

All of these actions demonstrate that the U.S. firmly believes that the threat of terrorism and weapons of terror is very real and increasing.


Our new-found emphasis on America’s homeland defense should not be seen as a retreat from NATO. Indeed, we believe we cannot succeed in countering international terrorism without active collaboration with our partners in NATO. We think it is equally important that NATO members and Partner countries take this threat just as seriously, and that we all continue and expand efforts to counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, monitoring threatening developments and determining hostile acts will demand an unprecedented level of cooperation among all NATO Allies.

NATO has already made important initial strides. The senior politico-military group on proliferation was created to review political issues. The senior defense group on proliferation was created to address the defense issues associated with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons risks.

In June 1998, the defense group issued a report taking stock of NATO defense efforts against proliferation. The group noted that both NATO and member-countries have taken the essential first steps to adapt forces to face the risks of terror weapons. The group’s report makes several excellent recommendations on how the Alliance can enhance its defense posture against asymmetric chemical and biological threats.

One recommendation focuses on the challenges posed by possible attacks against civilian targets. The report also notes that NATO should consider national and collective responses to these threats, including providing appropriate defense support to civil authorities. I believe it is appropriate for the NATO senior defense group on proliferation to consider how NATO—and interested Partner countries—can further improve their capabilities for dealing with the consequences of these horrific weapons. We must all act on these recommendations in order to sustain progress. The report makes it clear that much more needs to be done to prepare our forces and protect our citizens.

The senior defense group report also recognizes that theater missile defense is a vital component of NATO’s military posture. Missile defense is required to adapt to new out-of-area missions and a new security environment characterized by the proliferation of ballistic missiles armed with chemical, biological, or nuclear warheads. The threat to our troops and our cities from theater ballistic missiles is real and here today. The Alliance must continue to work toward developing layered ballistic missile defense.

In the near term, one of our common goals should be establishing an effective coalition warfare capability among those Allies already possessing missile defense systems. We are making progress. The U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands—the three member-nations with the Patriot system—have participated together in theater missile-defense exercises and planning. NATO nations should build on this cooperation to identify further opportunities to strengthen our defenses. Missile defense is integral to our response to the threat of terror weapons, and it is part of our broader efforts to counter the threats of the future.

To guide these efforts, we must ensure that NATO take full account of nuclear, chemical, and biological risks in its upcoming updating of the Strategic Concept. We need strong defense guidelines to enable all of us to prepare our forces to counter these threats.


We also must realize the national security implications of the explosion in information technologies. Computers and virtual linkages make it possible for us to communicate tremendous amounts of information to our allies and partners. The militaries of all of our countries rely on this technology. But information technology can be both a benefit and a burden.

Once our critical national and Alliance infrastructures were defined by geography and physical equipment. That is no longer true. There are no borders in cyberspace. Critical infrastructures now are vastly dependent on information systems; all of our nations depend on these systems to run our communications, power grids, air traffic control systems, hospitals, banks—all of our key functions. It is absolutely imperative that we prepare now to protect these systems.

In the United States last year, we ran an exercise in the Defense Department in which we tried to test whether or not we were susceptible to computer attack. We asked a small group of employees to use off-the-shelf, commercially available computers and software to see if they could attack the computer systems that control our infrastructure—our electric power system, for example. We learned that it requires only a modest, easily available capability to seriously disrupt vital services such as electric power distribution and telecommunications systems. A handful of capable computer specialists—something well within the reach of even moderately developed countries—using off-the-shelf tools and techniques can wage war on the largest nations in the world.

The United States has now implemented a presidentially mandated national plan to provide information assurance measures. We are establishing lead agencies that will act as coordinating bodies for work with private American companies and concerns. We have designated a Senior National Coordinator for Infrastructure Protection on our National Security Council. We have created a new National Infrastructure Protection Center. We are also establishing a National Warning and Analysis Center, and are increasing expenditures for information assurance. But we can’t fix this problem unless we develop working partnerships with the private sector. We also cannot accept weaknesses in Allies, since in cyberspace the weakest link breaks the entire chain. Coordination among NATO and Partnership countries, and between NATO functions, will be the key to effectively implementing information assurance measures. The fear that the U.S. will outpace our allies in technology will only get worse if NATO weakness undermines our security against cyberattacks.

We must make the critical infrastructures in all of our countries less vulnerable to cyberattack. We must implement information assurance regimes so that we can reliably and securely protect our information systems. This spring I traveled to Europe to talk to several participants of the Xvth NATO Workshop about this issue—U.S. senior defense officials have also been here in Europe discussing this threat. We have laid the groundwork, but much more must be done.

Because the need to address the threat of cyberattack is so great, it should also be addressed in the new Strategic Concept. NATO should seek a coordinated response. The Senior Civil Emergency Planning Committee is one structure that could assume a coordinating role.


While NATO has already spent significant amounts of time and money on addressing the terrorist threat, fighting terrorism demands continuing close cooperation among all partners. The threat of terrorism is not only national—it is international. And force protection initiatives must include not just defense anti-terrorism efforts, but also proactive counter-terrorism efforts. The results of just a single terrorist attack, if it involves chemical or biological weapons, underscore the need for our efforts to combat this scourge. We must prepare now so that when a horrific event does occur we do not act in haste and jeopardize the civil liberties we cherish in our democracies.

With these points I have only scratched the surface of what I view as the threats of the future. In other chapters, Undersecretary for Acquisition and Technology Jacques Gansler and the director of our Ballistic Missile Defense Office, Lieutenant General Lester Lyles will discuss some of these emerging threats at greater length. But I do hope I have stimulated your thinking on how we should respond to asymmetric threats.

We stand poised now at a great moment in history, and have overcome many of the threats of the past. But in order to realize Europe’s great potential in the 21st century, and the great potential of America’s partnership with Europe, we must maintain our vigilance against these threats. I hope historians 50 years from now look back and say that the leaders of 1998 had the same foresight as the leaders of 1949 to put in place the foundation of security that brought us all safely through the most dangerous epoch in human history.


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