Elements of a national policyEdit

Foreword: Preventive Defense

Through more than four decades of Cold War, America was set on a clear course to contain Soviet expansionism anywhere in the world, all the while building a formidable arsenal of nuclear weapon. Now, with the end of the Cold War, the underlying rationale for that strategy—the threat from the Soviet Union—has disappeared. What strategy should replace it? Much depends on finding the correct answer to this question.

The world survived three global wars this century. The first two resulted in tens of millions of deaths, but the third—the Cold War—would have been even more horrible than the others had deterrence failed. These three wars trace a path that leads to the strategy needed for the post-Cold War era.

Vowing not to repeat the mistakes made after World War I, the Truman administration created the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan and other examples of the preventive defense strategy, aimed at preventing the conditions that would lead to a future world war, were an outstanding success in Western Europe and in Japan.

But the Soviet Union turned down the Marshall Plan and, instead, persisted in a program of expansion, trying to take advantage of the weakened condition of most of the countries of Europe. The resulting security problem was clearly articulated by George Kennan, who forecast that the wartime cooperation with the Soviet Union would be replaced with a struggle for the heart of Europe and that the United States should prepare for a protracted period of confrontation. Kennan’s analysis was accepted by the Truman administration, which then formulated a strategy that would get us through the Cold War: deterring another global war while containing the Soviet Union’s demonstrated expansionist ambitions. Deterrence supplanted prevention: there was no other choice.

Even deterrence was a departure from earlier American military strategy. The United States had twice previously risen to defeat aggression, but it had not maintained the peacetime military establishment or the engagement in the world to deter World Wars I or II. Marshall and other defense leaders around Truman created the peacetime posture and new security institutions required. In time, as George Kennan had forecast, the Soviet Union disintegrated because of the limitations of its political and economic systems. Deterrence worked.

The result is a world today seemingly without a major threat to the United States, and the U.S. is now enjoying a period of peace and influence as never before. This period of an absence of threat challenges these leaders to find the vision and foresight to act strategically, even when events and imminent threats do not compel them to do so.

We now have another chance to realize Marshall’s vision: a world not of threats to be deterred, but a world united in peace, freedom, and prosperity. To realize this vision, we should return to Marshall’s strategy of preventive defense.

Preventive Defense is a concept of defense strategy for the United States in the post-Cold War Era. It stresses the need to anticipate security dangers which, if mismanaged, have the potential to re-create Cold War-scale threats to U.S. interests and survival. The foci of Preventive Defense are: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, catastrophic terrorism, "loose nukes" and other military technology from the former Soviet Union, Russia’s post-Cold War security identity, and the peaceful rise of China.

Preventive Defense is the most important mission of national security leaders and of the defense establishment. They must dedicate themselves to Preventive Defense.

This report is the sixth in a series of Preventive Defense Project reports on key applications of Preventive Defense. We are grateful to our colleagues in the Catastrophic Terrorism Study Group and the Visions of Governance for the Twenty-First Century for their collaboration

Finally, the Study Group is grateful for the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Herbert S. Winokur Public Policy Fund at Harvard University.


Imagining the Transforming Event

We find terrorism when individuals or groups, rather than governments, seek to attain their objectives by means of the terror induced by violent attacks upon civilians. When governments openly attack others, we call it war, to be judged or dealt with according to the laws of war. When governments act in concert with private individuals or groups, the United States government may call it war, or state-sponsored terrorism, and retaliate against both the individuals and the governments. Whatever the label, terrorism is not a new phenomenon in national or international life, although terrorists may be animated by a greater variety of motives than ever before, from international cults like Aum Shinrikyo to the individual nihilism of the Unabomber.

What is certainly new is that terrorists may today gain access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). These can come in a variety of forms: nuclear explosive devices, germ dispensers, poison gas weapons, or even the novel destructive power of computers turned against the societies that rely on them. What is also new is an unprecedented level of national and global interdependence on an invisible infrastructure of energy and information distribution.

Americans were shocked by the tragic results of the August 1998 terrorist attacks against their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. By comparison with the threat of catastrophic terrorism, we believe that the threat of ordinary terrorism of the kind we have known over the last generation is being taken seriously. The United States government’s commitment to address that danger is fundamentally sound. We are not as confident that the United States government is suitably prepared to address the new threat of catastrophic terrorism that utilizes weapons of mass destruction or intensive cyber-assault.

Long part of Hollywood’s and Tom Clancy’s repertory of nightmarish scenarios, catastrophic terrorism is a real possibility. In theory, the enemies of the United States have motive, means, and opportunity. The U.S. government has publicly announced that terrorist groups are attempting to manufacture chemical weapons and destroyed one such facility operating in the Sudan. As India and Pakistan build up their nuclear arsenals and Russia, storehouse for tens of thousands of weapons and the material to make tens of thousands more, descends toward a future none can foresee, it is not hard to imagine the possibilities. The combination of available technology and lethality has made biological weapons at least as deadly a danger as the better known chemical and nuclear threats. The bombings in East Africa killed hundreds. A successful attack with weapons of mass destruction could certainly kill thousands, or tens of thousands. If the device that exploded in 1993 under the World Trade Center had been nuclear, or the distribution of a deadly pathogen, the chaos and devastation would have gone far beyond our meager ability to describe it.1

Experts combining experience in every quadrant of the national security and law enforcement community all consider this catastrophic threat perfectly plausible today. Technology is more accessible, society is more vulnerable, and much more elaborate international networks have developed among organized criminals, drug traffickers, arms dealers, and money launderers: the necessary infrastructure for catastrophic terrorism. Practically unchallengeable American military superiority on the conventional battlefield pushes this country’s enemies toward the unconventional alternatives.2

Readers should imagine the possibilities for themselves, because the most serious constraint on current policy is lack of imagination. An act of catastrophic terrorism that killed thousands or tens of thousands of people and/or disrupted the necessities of life for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, would be a watershed event in America’s history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented for peacetime and undermine Americans’ fundamental sense of security within their own borders in a manner akin to the 1949 Soviet atomic bomb test, or perhaps even worse. Constitutional liberties would be challenged as the United States sought to protect itself from further attacks by pressing against allowable limits in surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and the use of deadly force. More violence would follow, either as other terrorists seek to imitate this great "success" or as the United States strikes out at those considered responsible. Like Pearl Harbor, such an event would divide our past and future into a "before" and "after." The effort and resources we devote to averting or containing this threat now, in the "before" period, will seem woeful, even pathetic, when compared to what will happen "after." Our leaders will be judged negligent for not addressing catastrophic terrorism more urgently.

Using imagination, we hope now to find some of the political will that we know would be there later, "after," because this nation prefers prevention to funereal reconstruction. When this threat becomes clear the President must be in a position to activate extraordinary capabilities. The danger of the use of a weapon of mass destruction against the United States or one of its allies is greater at this moment than it was during the Cold War, or at least since 1962. The threat of catastrophic terrorism is therefore a priority national security problem, as well as a major law enforcement concern. The threat thus deserves the kind of attention we now devote to threats of military nuclear attack or of regional aggression, as in the Defense Department’s major regional contingencies that drive our force planning and the resources we devote to defense.

The first enemy of imagination is resignation. Some who contemplate this threat find the prospects so dreadful and various that they despair of doing anything useful and switch off their troubling imagination. They are fatalistic, like someone contemplating the possibility of a solar supernova, and turn their eyes away from the threat. Some thinkers reacted the same way at the dawn of the nuclear age, expecting doom to strike at any hour and disavowing any further interest in the details of deterrence as a hopeless venture. But as in the case of nuclear deterrence, the good news is that more can be done.

We formed a Catastrophic Terrorism Study Group to move beyond a realization of the threat to consider just what can be done about it. This group began meeting in November 1997. We examined other studies that consider this problem. We received information and advice from some current government officials as well as from those who had considered the problem from the perspectives of governments in Great Britain, Israel, Germany, and Russia. We now advance practical proposals for consideration and debate. We avoid a grand solution, preferring to shape "bricks" that strengthen existing structures, consider the very different technical challenges presented by nuclear, biological, chemical, and cyber threats, and provide a foundation for future adaptation and future building.

Organizing for Success

The threat of catastrophic terrorism typifies the new sort of security problem the United States must confront in the post Cold War world. It is transnational, defying ready classification as foreign or domestic, either in origin, participants, or materials. As the World Trade Center incident demonstrated, one group can combine U.S. citizens with resident aliens and foreign nationals, operating in and out of American territory over long periods of time.

The greatest danger may arise if the threat falls into one of the crevasses in our government’s field of overlapping jurisdictions, such as the divide between terrorism that is "foreign" or "domestic;" or terrorism that has "state" or "non-state" sponsors; or terrorism that is classified as a problem for "law enforcement" or one of "national security." The law enforcement/national security divide is especially significant, carved deeply into the topography of American government.

The national security paradigm fosters aggressive, proactive intelligence gathering, presuming the threat before it arises, planning preventive action against suspected targets, and taking anticipatory action. The law enforcement paradigm fosters reactions to information voluntarily provided, post-facto arrests, trials governed by rules of evidence, and general protection for the rights of citizens.

Intellectual Framework Edit

Phase 0 Pre 9/11

  • Clash of Civilisations published
  • January 1998, Open letter to President Bill Clinton, PNAC
  • October 1998, Catastrophic Terrorism: Elements of a National Policy, Imagining the Transforming Event
  • 1999, Abel Danger
  • June 2000, Report of the National Commission on Terrorism, Bremer Commission.
  • September 2000, Rebuilding America's Defenses, PNAC
  • September 9, 2001, full "War on Terror" plan lands on President's desk

Phase 1 Al Qaeda: Bin Laden and Afghanistan, Sep.11 2001 - May.01 2011

  • Patriot Act
  • Homeland Security
  • 2002, TSA formed
  • May 2011, Bin Laden's death announced

Phase 2 AQAM: Al Qaeda and related cells all over the world, May.01 2011 -

  • February 2011, CSIS, A Threat Transformed: al Qaeda and Associated Movements in 2011
  • November 2011, New TSA model announced, scope expanded to all transporation

Phase 3 Take advantage of outpouring over 9/11 to change the way the International Community thinks about Terrorism

  • March 2006, Iraq Study Group
  • 2006, Princeton Project on National Security

Events Timeline Edit

  • Pan Am 103 Lockerbie
  • Black Hawk Down
  • WTC Bombing
  • OKC Bombing
  • 1998 East Africa Embassy Bombings
  • Millenium Plot attacks
  • USS Cole Bombing

Pan Am Lockerbie Edit

USS Cole Edit

  • Location: Aden, Yemen
  • Date: 12 October 2000 (Columbus day)
  • Time: 08:18 UTC
  • Deaths (injured): 17 (39)
  • Masterminds: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Ali al-Harithi, Osama bin Laden
  • Culprits: Jamal Mohammad Ahmad Al Badawi and Fahd al-Quso, Abdul Mun'im Salim al-Fatahani
  • Blamed publicly: Osama bin Laden

Data: According to former CIA intelligence officer Robert Finke, the blast appeared to be caused by explosives molded into a shaped charge against the hull of the boat. After the bombing, Yemeni Prime Minister Abdul Karim al-Iryani reported that a man named Kahlid al-Mihdhar had been one of the key planners of the attack and had been in the country at the time of the attacks. On March 14, 2007, a federal judge in the United States, Robert G. Doumar, ruled that the Sudanese government was liable for the bombing. Members of al-Qaeda attempted an attack on USS The Sullivans while in port at Aden, Yemen on 3 January 2000 as a part of the 2000 millennium attack plots, the scheme failed.

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