A New Strategy to Prevent Terrorist Acquisition of the Bomb: Clear, Hold, Build

Stimson Spotlight

A New Strategy to Prevent Terrorist Acquisition of the Bomb: Clear, Hold, Build

By Brian Finlay - General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq has been described by some as "the smartest active-duty general in the US Army today." Whatever one's sentiments of the War in Iraq, or the odds of success for the Petraeus-orchestrated surge, few military analysts would question the merits of the operational strategy underpinning of the surge itself: Clear-Hold-Build.

Writing the handbook on counterinsurgency operations for the US Army in 2006, Petraeus described the objectives of an effective and lasting counterinsurgency strategy thusly: create a secure environment; establish government control over an area; and gain the support of the populace. A winning strategy that yields lasting peace, he argued, requires not just the neutralization of armed combatants, but securing vital infrastructure, improving essential services, establishing a political apparatus, and even building and improving schools.

The nonproliferation community in Washington would do well to learn the hard fought lessons of the United States military-near-term security gains are indispensable, but ultimately transitory without the sustained support of an engaged and committed target community.

Fifteen years since their inception, programs operated by the US Departments of Defense, Energy, and State designed to keep nuclear, biological and chemical weapons out of the hands of terrorists are judged to be an unparalleled foreign policy success. But American government officials responsible for executing the Nunn-Lugar strategy are rightly concerned with host countries' willingness to indigenize and maintain these programs once US funding sunsets. Some of these countries have expressed an unwillingness to sustain critical security programs once Congress stops cutting the checks. Yet those efforts that would go furthest to secure a long-term return on our investment dollars-namely the "scientist redirect" programs-have long been the most undervalued leg of the nonproliferation triad of weapons elimination, materials protection, and expertise engagement. In addition to the political challenges in selling these programs to a Congress bent on quick and quantifiable metrics of success, some experts maintain that the human proliferation threat has ameliorated itself through a combination of scientist migration to the West, retirement, and death. More recently, they assert that an energy rich Russia should no longer need such financial support.

But this "mission accomplished" declaration reflects a dangerous lack of foresight into the nature and ultimate purpose of cooperative nonproliferation. "Redirection" programs are a critical component of a strategy of sustainability-building an industry of supporters who will advocate for and support nonproliferation objectives once Western funding ends. Furthermore, if configured appropriately, the benefits of these programs go far beyond our immediate nonproliferation goals. The unique scientific talents found in the FSU present commercial opportunities that could support innovation and US industrial expansion. In turn, scientific collaboration and business development support broader American foreign policy goals by contributing to the containment of extremism, increasing stability in an oil-rich region of the world, fostering freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, encouraging free enterprise, and promoting innovation in critical sectors like public health, energy, and national security. While the former Soviet scientific community continues to represent a proliferation challenge to security experts, it also presents tremendous, though poorly understood, commercial opportunities that would benefit the for-profit sector and advance economic growth and opportunity-and an unmatched opportunity to sustain nonproliferation programming.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the science retained within Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union remains valuable. That capacity has been validated most notably by the substantial investments made by major US corporate players-Intel, Boeing and Microsoft-in the computational, nuclear, and aeronautical sciences. Less well publicized, but equally compelling stories have been found in the biosciences, environmental and information technologies, chemical manufacturing processes and in electronics.

The scientific, innovative, and business marketing capacities of the American people are the envy of the world. Countries the world over yearn for engagement with American researchers and businesses. Washington's failure to transform this into a powerful tool for the enduring spread of peace, security, and development around the globe represents an appalling missed opportunity. Nowhere is this more glaring than in our lopsided and short-term approach to preventing terrorist acquisition of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Without building an enduring basis of support within states of proliferation concern around the world, the successful clearing and building by Nunn-Lugar and related nonproliferation programs will provide only temporary relief from this overwhelming security challenge.

Just as successful counterinsurgency operations may require clearing trash, improving roads, and digging wells, so too must a sustainable nonproliferation strategy involve seemingly ancillary activities like business development, capacity-building, and job creation. Without fully integrating efforts to secure inventories of weapons and materials of mass destruction around the globe with targeted "human engagement" efforts that build an enduring constituency of supporters in regions of proliferation concern, the United States will have failed to accomplish what should be its primary-and bipartisan-security goal: to keep the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world's most dangerous people.

A new report by the Cooperative Nonproliferation Program at the Henry L. Stimson Center entitled, Manufacturing Possibility: Expanding Resources to Meet Global Challenges, Promote Economic Development, Support Innovation, and Prevent Proliferation, proposes a new public-private partnership model that focuses on creating commercial opportunities for American businesses, capitalizing upon the unique talents of the region, promoting new remedies to global challenges, and preventing the diffusion of dangerous know-how to terrorist groups.

Photo Credit: Office of the Secretary of Defense


Brian Finlay co-directs the Cooperative Nonproliferation Program, a multifaceted project designed to accelerate existing efforts and design innovative new initiatives aimed at more rapidly and sustainably securing nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, materials, and expertise.