- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008


Astute prioritizing is the quintessence of statecraft, since we cannot be adequately prepared for all plausible attacks. After Pearl Harbor we knew our enemies, and it did not take us long to develop strategies and build forces to defeat them. We even prepared ourselves for the cataclysmic possibility that Nazi Germany might acquire the atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project designed, developed and tested the first atomic bombs within less than four years - in time to end the war with Japan. Evidently, our government had a way of implementing projects in a timely fashion.

Today, implementation is blocked by onerous laws and regulations, bureaucratic infighting, procrastination and sheer incompetence.

According to recent media reports, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates approved a new National Defense Strategy, which emphasizes the need to fight a long-term, episodic, multifront and multidimensional conflict more complex than the Cold War confrontation with communism. Indeed, the new complexity is overwhelming. Some of the aggressors are loosely organized terrorist groups, whose members can inflict immense damage. Other potential enemies are powerful nations who can equip large military forces with the most advanced weaponry. China and Russia come to mind. Unfortunately, the war in Iraq has worn down the equipment of the U.S. Army, and replacing or refurbishing it will take time and might cost billions.

Clearly, our Army needs new equipment. Yet, how much of the defense budget should be devoted to conventional war fighting and how much should be set aside to protect us from other threats? Immense devastation could be inflicted on our nation with certain new technologies that have never been used in warfare and for which we are totally unprepared. An example is the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack: the detonation of a nuclear weapon between 40 and 400 kilometers above the earth to create an EMP that can cause a long-lasting electrical blackout over a wide area. If such an attack disabled America’s electric system and telecommunications from coast to coast, the system could not be restored for a long time. Without electricity, America would sink back into the 19th century, the age of steam power and horse-drawn carriages. Only a fraction of today’s population could survive. We would be totally defeated.

Ballistic-missile defense would not help if the nuclear weapon for the EMP were delivered by a cruise missile. The best protection might be a combination of air defense against cruise missiles, ballistic-missile defense and relatively cheap measures to reduce the vulnerability of the electric system and to accelerate its recovery. Dr. William R. Graham, who chairs the EMP Commission, has provided compelling and incontrovertible warnings. But what has been implemented to avert such an apocalyptic ending of our nation? Nothing has been implemented.

Also, we must not neglect more immediate dangers. Pakistan, a nation with a sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons, is in political turmoil. Its eastern territories are largely controlled by Taliban terrorist groups or insurgents. Inter-Services Intelligence - Pakistan’s powerful intelligence organization - is partly in cahoots with these enemies of the national government. If the Taliban and associated terrorist groups stole just a fraction of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, how could we detect these weapons and disarm them as they are being smuggled into Afghanistan and beyond? The Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency has conducted promising research on sensors for detecting nuclear weapons in such a hostile environment, as well as on tools to render them harmless. But this program is grossly underfunded. At the current pace, it will take years until these vital defenses can be deployed. Without them, we will be naked to our enemy. Yes, the “mene, mene, tekel” is written on the wall!

Unfortunately, suicide bombers and other terrorist acts are not the only problem frequently associated with Islam. In the coming years, we will be challenged far more seriously by Islamic ideologies and organizations that are gaining political control in Europe - especially in England where the Muslim population increased about fiftyfold since the 1950s. Shariah law has already been accepted by various English banks, the Muslim Brotherhood is making progress promoting the Global Caliphate, and the radical Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir is tolerated in England even though Germany found it necessary to ban it. Surely, this trend will dilute the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain, which benefited our strategic cooperation.

There are now some 1,300 mosques in England, mostly financed by Saudi Arabia, which also tutors the imams for these mosques in the harsh Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. On its territory, Saudi Arabia does not allow a single Christian church and bans all Bibles. But in other countries, it promotes anti-American organizations. In Indonesia, for example, the Mecca-based Muslim World League distributes cash to fund extremist religious schools. Pentagon officials are rightly concerned with asymmetric warfare, where the enemy can hurt us in ways that we cannot reciprocate. In many ways, Saudi Arabia has been supportive of America’s strategic interests and the military relationships have been constructive. But in other ways, alas, Saudi Arabia is the ultimate asymmetric adversary.

Given the waning of the “special relationship” with Britain and the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performance of Saudi Arabia, we need to plan our nation’s defense for a lonelier world.

Fred C. Ikle is a distinguished scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and currently engaged in studies about the impact of technology on national security and the prospects for democracy.

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