- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

Neither presidential candidate has made serious mention of what is clearly this country’s most urgent policy concern — staying “alive” as a nation. Nuclear war and nuclear terrorism remain genuinely existential threats to the United States. In fact, their likelihood is increasing, not diminishing.

The United States has always drawn precise policies from strategic doctrine. Earlier, this doctrine was fashioned principally from the standpoint of countering the Soviet Union. Now, facing very different threats, especially from such jihadist or Islamist proxies as Hezbollah and al Qaeda, our next president will need to make certain essential and time-urgent changes.

The new American president will need to understand that anti-U.S. threats should no longer be assessed according to antiquated “spectrum of conflict” thinking. He will also need to acknowledge plainly (and plan accordingly) that dedicated proxies may have ready access to weapons of mass destruction. Like states, sub-national enemies could soon imperil us with grievous harms. These would include weaponized pathogens, as well as nuclear explosives.

Our next president will face a unique configuration of national vulnerability. Should he continue America’s essential reliance upon the logic of deterrence, even when the assumption of rationality may no longer always be valid? A continued commitment to classical threat-system dynamics could be problematic, even if American planners were to focus on the state sponsors of terrorist proxies. Here, some obvious combinations for concern would be Iran and Hezbollah; similar would be a new state of “Palestine” and al-Qaeda.

Certain core matters of strategic doctrine will require re-examination. Our next president will need to consider both “counter value” (counter-city) and “counter force” targeting doctrines - this time with regard to both state and non-state proxies. These sensitive re-examinations could become divisive and acrimonious, but the issues concern nothing less than our physical survival.

The next president will have to look closely at preemption. Present Iraq-war controversies notwithstanding, there are other major perils that may indeed require “anticipatory self-defense.” There will be circumstances in which the only alternative to capable and lawful preemption could be an American national surrender.

Strategic doctrine is a complex matter, and any improved U.S. plan will have to be comprehensive and creative. If, for any reason, we should disavow preemption and allow Iran to join the nuclear club, our doctrine will then have to identify new options for coexistence with that country. Fashioning these options should be “job one” for the next U.S. president.

How should we deter a nuclear Iran, both from launching direct missile attacks, and from dispersing nuclear assets among terrorist proxies? Should the new president do more to aid and empower the Iranian opposition? And for Deterrence Against Nuclear Terrorism (DANT), how should he compensate for the evident absence of “fingerprints,” and for the pertinent operational limits of satellites and radars? A nuclear threat to American cities could come from cars, trucks and ships. Could we convince Tehran and its surrogates that any proxy act of nuclear terrorism would elicit a massive nuclear retaliation against Iran itself? Any useful answer will have to be drawn from a re-conceptualized and up-to-date U.S. strategic doctrine.

Important changes are underway in the traditional notions of victory and defeat. The next president will need to acknowledge that, sometimes, there are no longer any clearly identifiable markers. In the unavoidable war against rational and irrational enemies, both state and sub-state, our leaders will just have to adapt to circumstances of protracted uncertainty. Politically, such an adaptation will be very difficult for any new president, Democrat or Republican. It will, therefore, require courage as well as intellect.

Any purposeful security doctrine will have to embrace both a forward strategy (offense) and a homeland strategy (defense). Significantly, Russia now presents us with some of the very same perils that were manifest during the Cold War. Should our next president advocate further expansion for U.S. ballistic missile defense, or would such a Bush-era recommendation merely prod Moscow to seek even more offensive missiles and policies? Ideology may now be less critical, but geopolitical rivalries still endure.

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama already have a lot on their plates, but no issue is more important than up-to-date strategic doctrine. We now urge each candidate to give full and apt attention to this core issue: immediately, openly and seriously.

Louis Rene Beres is professor of International Law at Purdue University. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney and Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely, both retired, are authors and military strategist.

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