The era of asymmetric threats: The need for a missile defense system is just the beginning

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted July 10, 2000

In this increasingly complicated and dangerous world, U.S. policymakers need to fully grasp the emerging threats facing our national security, which are like none other in history. The concept of conventional warfare as we know it, identifiable countries or factions engaging in symmetric warfare on the battlefield, is not so much being supplanted, but augmented by the phenomena of asymmetric strikes. Asymmetric strikes are often difficult to link to perpetrators, making retaliatory actions on the part of the U.S. difficult, if not impossible. Although the U.S. has been fortunate in that few serious incidents have occurred on our home soil, numerous asymmetric assaults have occurred overseas, targeting both our military personnel and civilian population alike, on air flights, on cruise ships, at embassies, and other venues. This increasing activity is being orchestrated by a number of players on the scene, including rogue nations and their surrogates involved in state sponsored terrorism, and by independent terrorist groups that apparently are in possession of adequate resources.

According to a 1999 report entitled "What are Asymmetric Strategies?" available through Rand's National Security and Defense Policy Center, a federally funded research and analysis institute, "U.S. conventional superiority has forced adversaries to consider asymmetric threats." Asymmetric strikes "attack vulnerabilities not appreciated by the United States and that capitalize on limited U.S. preparations." "Full–dimensional protection" is the goal of the U.S., but clearly it does not presently exist.

The U.S. requires a series of contingency plans to address the various types of asymmetric threats that this country might be subjected. Many policymakers believe that wide ranging preparations will have to be made, including stockpiling medicines and vaccines such as smallpox (no longer readily available, despite the fact that rogue nations have been attempting to splice it with other horrible viruses such as Ebola, AIDS, deadly flu, etc.), improving our intelligence information, creating better encryption and protections for our cyberspace, guarding our borders more effectively to deter entry of terrorists, creating an efficient missile defense system, and effectuating other protective actions too numerous to outline here.

Notably, our State Department must enact appropriate safeguards to ensure that the technologies, which we are providing to other countries to aid their commercial enterprises, do not have state-of-the-art military application as well. The Clinton administration fiascos, involving U.S. transfer of super-computers, and rocket launch technology to China, are cases in point. By the Clinton administration moving oversight of these transfers from the State Department to the Commerce Department, proper monitoring was lost, and China was able to access technologies with dual commercial and military application. Specifically, the super-computer has the capacity to provide nuclear simulations and honing of this weaponry system. Likewise, the rocket technology, ostensibly to be utilized for commercial satellite launch, can also improve China's launch of nuclear missiles. Either by design or incompetence, the Clinton administration has significantly undermined our national security in this regard.

We, as a nation, are exceedingly vulnerable to asymmetric assaults, which have the capacity to affect all major areas of our lives. These currently include the well-known biological, chemical, information (telecommunication and cyber) and economic spheres of asymmetric warfare. With the recent completion of the Human Genome Project, which identified and mapped all genes in human DNA, it is now theoretically possibly to create biological warfare tailored to the genetic traits of a targeted ethnic group. However, this specific threat is years away. Electromagnetic pulse (affecting electronic devices) and laser (causing eye damage and blindness) technologies are of immediate concern, given that these are presently being perfected by our enemies. A notable incident cited in the Bill Gertz book, "Betrayal", which details the "lasing" episode of a Canadian military surveillance helicopter tracking a Russian vessel suspected of spying, demonstrates the stark reality of our enemies' willingness to utilize this technology. According to Gertz, "During the encounter, someone on the Russian vessel fired a laser at the helicopter, permanently damaging the eyes of the Canadian helicopter pilot and a U.S. Navy Intelligence Officer working with the Canadians." Regarding the other cited emerging threat, electromagnetic pulse technology, it has the capacity to disrupt and damage all types of electronic equipment, which could have a broad effect upon communications, weaponry, and even basic, everyday appliances.

Much press, as of late, has been accorded the U.S. efforts to establish a National Missile Defense system, for the purpose of providing a shield against a limited number of incoming nuclear missiles, the "onesy" or "twosy", the most likely scenario to be perpetrated by a rogue nation or terrorist faction. Given that nuclear proliferation is rampant, with many countries in the development phases of both nuclear technology and long-range delivery systems, it would be quite prudent for the U.S. to develop an appropriate shield, which could stymie this type of attack. Moreover, establishing the National Missile Defense system would actually act as a deterrent to those considering a limited nuclear assault on this nation. On weighing all factors, the National Missile Defense system is an excellent idea whose time has come. The cost of such a system, currently cited at 60-80 billion dollars, is not prohibitive, and we are in the process of perfecting the needed technology, which is undoubtedly within our reach.

I briefly had the privilege a few weeks ago, when in attendance at a Women's Issues forum in upstate N.Y., to ask former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick a few questions related to national security. Ambassador Kirkpatrick offered an emphatic response that deploying the National Missile Defense system was vital at this juncture. When asked by me "What is the primary national security issue that presidential candidate George W. Bush should be addressing on the campaign stump?" again she stated, "the need for the National Missile Defense system" to protect this country. Moreover, when I queried whether the Clinton administration has done a good job meeting this country's national security needs, she replied, "The answer is no. You asked me a direct question, and I need to give you a direct answer". Undoubtedly, the Ambassador is a forthright woman who minces no words. In terms of the proposed National Missile Defense system, many policy experts are of the view that a limited nuclear attack on this country by rogue forces is imminent, probably no more than 3-5 years out. Clearly, that is the reason for the Ambassador's adamant posture on this subject. In response to critics of the National Missile Defense system, who cite that it is a violation of our thirty year old Anti-Ballistic Treaty with Russia, myself and others are of the belief that it would be in the best strategic interest of the U.S., and the safety of its citizens, to re-assess existing treaties, in view of the new threats posed by the changing global landscape.

And it is indeed true that deployment of nuclear weapons is not limited to long or medium range missile launch; That, in fact, a nuclear device could be detonated in any number of ways including a delivery by ground (even in a suitcase) or by sea (in a barge off N.Y.C., for example). To reiterate, we must plan for a multitude of contingencies, and set in place any and all protections that are needed under a comprehensive plan to counter terrorists and varying kinds of asymmetric threats.

As we now know, some terrorist factions may well have benefited from the chaotic circumstances associated with the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, and the reported willingness of military personnel to sell off weaponry including warheads from the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Rogue nations, and "nations of concern" as the State Department are now calling them, which include China and Russia, are sharing a variety of nuclear and missile delivery technologies with countries such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan, which is cause for extreme consternation. In other words, nuclear technology is out there, and our enemies indeed have it. Moreover, many of our enemies would like nothing better than to launch a nuclear first strike against us. And, some have hypothesized that both Israel, and its primary supporter and protector, the United States, would likely be targeted at the same time in a limited, but effective, nuclear assault.

Carol Devine-Molin is a Republican District Leader, a community activist, and the host of "On The Right Side", a local program sponsored by the Republicans, and seen throughout most of Westchester County, New York.

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