As the world continues to press forward with technological advancements, weapons of mass destruction remain a threat to our national security and global stability. We have devolved into an era where the possession and use of WMDs is escalating, the penalties for their use is declining, and the risk of a catastrophic event is ever-increasing. But there is an opportunity to reverse the march toward increasing WMD threats.

One step is for the United States to reestablish its leadership role in the countering-WMD space. To do that, we need a clear strategy along with active implementation plans across each responsible department and agency. It is time to reboot our national CWMD strategy.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, combined with the continued threat of WMDs across the globe led to the 2002 publication of the “National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.” This strategy established the tenants of nonproliferation, counterproliferation and consequence management, and they remain valid. Yet, the current era of great power competition, advances in technology and globalization necessitate a reboot that incorporates those lessons into an implementable whole-of-government approach.

What should a rebooted national CWMD strategy cover? I recommend the following: “The United States seeks to counter weapons of mass destruction through a whole-of-government effort. The U.S. government’s efforts will include work with partners and allies to achieve the goals of preventing the development, countering the proliferation and recovering from the use of WMDs enabled by comprehensive deterrence actions.”

How is this different from the previous “National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction”? The principles are the same, but these restated goals, in conjunction with an emphasis on comprehensive deterrence, build upon the 20 years of lessons learned from implementing programs and actions under these old tenants.

Prevent

The first objective of the strategy should be to prevent the development and transfer (across borders and within) of WMD-related knowledge and technology while promoting and protecting technologies that benefit society. It includes the continued safeguarding of WMD-related materials along with the transparent and responsible elimination of declared stockpiles (chemical, biological and nuclear).

Our focus to achieve this end state is to strengthen regimes and international norms, and work with the global community to enact a new one. Our work will increase partnerships with likeminded nations to establish secure, viable environments that promote the use of advancing scientific capabilities for the benefit of humankind, and that dissuade nefarious development efforts and uses. We will use national and international fora to identify technology risks and install protective measures to mitigate those risks, while preserving beneficial innovation.

Counter

The second goal encompasses efforts to counter the potential use of WMDs by nonstate or state actors. Although we seek to prevent WMD threats from materializing, we are committed to stopping the potential use of these weapons by nonstate or state actors. We will use all applicable aspects of diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial, intelligence and law enforcement assets to prevent any use against the United States or its allies.

Our efforts will ensure that we can act to develop, transfer or use WMDs immediately. We will punish noncompliance as a measure of last resort, but seek to reward compliance.

Recover

The third goal focuses on developing and sustaining the ability to effectively and swiftly recover from the use of WMDs, including responding to their use, attributing responsibility for their use, restoring operations, mitigating residual hazards and promoting rapid recovery.

The ability to swiftly recover provides a hedge, should our efforts to preventing the development of WMDs or countering their use prove unsuccessful.

Should these efforts fail, we will respond swiftly to WMDs against the U.S. and our allies to mitigate their effects, preserve life, maintain order and recover the affected area to resume daily activities.

Deterrence

Accomplishing these three goals hinges upon deliberate and comprehensive deterrence, which includes maintaining a range of credible offensive and defensive capabilities to prevent use, along with coordinated and effective strategic messaging.

Our deterrence activities and capabilities will reinforce our efforts to reestablish international norms and promote compliance — and should be multilateral.

The U.S. Army wants a robotic system that can provide an enhanced capability to detect, identify, access, render safe, exploit and achieve final disposition of heavy explosive ordnance, including weapons of mass destruction, at a safe standoff distance. (Staff Sgt. Cashmere Jefferson/U.S. Army)
The U.S. Army wants a robotic system that can provide an enhanced capability to detect, identify, access, render safe, exploit and achieve final disposition of heavy explosive ordnance, including weapons of mass destruction, at a safe standoff distance. (Staff Sgt. Cashmere Jefferson/U.S. Army)

These efforts rely upon deliberate and comprehensive deterrence. Comprehensive deterrence includes offensive capabilities such as maintaining responsive capabilities to prevent the use of WMDs as well as developing and deploying U.S. nuclear and non-nuclear response capabilities. These are complemented by defensive capabilities, which include demonstrating effective chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response capabilities, and maintaining a robust military and public health network. Evaluating and demonstrating these capabilities during regular training and exercises is part of establishing and delivering consistent strategic messaging that reinforces our readiness to counter, respond and recover from the use of WMDs.

Our deterrence activities and capabilities will reinforce our efforts to reestablish international norms and promote compliance. Our deterrence will also be multilateral. Through those international and regional partnerships that promote readiness and provide a unified response to threats and hazards, we can encourage prevention and promote compliance.

A useful national strategy must clearly state these goals and the desired outcomes from each. It should be short, direct and published within 90 days of initiation. In parallel, work should begin to develop implementing directives that assign responsibilities and tasks to departments and agencies, designate a lead, identify supporting activities and agencies, and solidify timelines to achieve each objective’s milestones. These implementing directives should be completed within 120 days of issuing the revised national strategy.

Once published, annual reviews should assess each department’s and agency’s progress toward accomplishing the goals as well as identify specific gaps and/or shortfalls. Reviews should result in modified implementing directives to sustain progress or revisions to account for the variables that impeded progress.

Within 180 days of the implementing directives’ issuance, departments and agencies should begin regular monitoring of progress. This affords valuable and necessary feedback to monitor progress between formal reviews. It also enables risk-based decisions when areas of limited progress need more attention and resources. This review process will ensure actions are progressing to achieve the strategy’s goals.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Ron Fizer is a fellow at LMI. He served in the force for 30 years in various command, staff and leadership positions across the Army, Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.