U.S. Must Go Nuclear Against Terrorists

The bad guys in the world need to fear the United States.

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Two employees from the National Nuclear Security Administration use gamma detectors to test the outside of a container of highly-enriched uranium for surface contamination at the Charleston Weapons Station near Goose Creek, S.C. on March 19, 2010.

Daniel Gallington is the Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Recall that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta took a lot of criticism for announcing when we would "rotate" our combat troops out of Afghanistan. The gist of the criticism was/is that it was foolish to announce the timing of the departure, thus informing the Taliban—and the various other violent and corrupt influences there—when to plan their own "surge" to take over or maximize their positions for a takeover.

Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing to do. However, neither was it very smart to fight 1) a massively expensive, 2) manpower intensive, 3) 10-plus year war there in the first place—and, with borrowed money that pushed us into recession. Not to mention that the war was waged against a ubiquitous, secretly financed, and hidden enemy that kills thousands of innocents each year in various parts of the world, in the name of Islam.

We did a ll of this, while depending on fundamentally corrupt local regimes for political, diplomatic and even our military logistic support—not to mention the totally compromised and penetrated Pakistani intelligence services. Also, don't forget that so-called "factions" in Pakistan's officialdom hid Osama bin Laden in plain sight for years, while taking—more like stealing—billions of our dollars for their "cooperation" and "security assistance".

[See a collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

Where/when should we have learned basic lessons like this in the past, lessons we should have remembered before we got ourselves in such a war? How about Iraq—or perhaps even by watching the Soviets invade Afghanistan in 1978 and noting how well they did—when we were covertly supporting the Mujahedeen "insurgents" against them.

But that's in the past, hugely expensive as it was, both in measurable resources and in the untold, but far more precious, human costs. Now, we have a new opportunity to deal with world terror threats against us in ways we probably should have handled them in the first place.


[See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

By shifting to a primarily "strategic" plan against terrorism , one employing strategic weapons and targeting them strategically, focusing primarily on terror organizations and their state sponsor leaderships.  And, by using our high–tech weapon advantage to keep the enemy forever back on its heels, disorganized,. A nd above all we must deter state sponsors from covertly funding terror and terrorists.

We could have already begun such a strategic transition. Hopefully, it's pursuant to new, comprehensive, and well thought out national policies, rather than just with a case-by-case terrorist leader "kill list" and by increased use of drones and Special Forces raids. While these tactics are included in the means and methods to help carry out a new strategy, they are not substitutes for the new strategy itself.

The bad guys in the world need to know—and fear—that we can and will take them out in a matter of minutes, with super "smart" precision weapons and other types of precisely targeted munitions, m uch as we did during the Cold War when we targeted the senior Soviet leadership (during the Carter a dministration) pursuant to "PD-59," a strategic nuclear targeting doctrine.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the U.S. Withdraw from Afghanistan Sooner?]

Wait a minute—did I intend to use the word "nuclear"?

Yes. All classes of weapons should be in the new strategic mix, just as the most advanced earth penetrating and high efficiency conventional weaponry should be, delivered either from the air, via ballistic missiles or from space. This is especially important when we are talking about deterring state terror sponsors and other extremists from ever attacking us again. And, it should also be our expressed policy that a wide scale 9/11- style attack against us—anywhere in the world—could result in a nuclear response.

Will there also need to be structural and supporting policy changes to implement this new strategy?

[See 2012: The Year in Cartoons.]

Yes. During the Cold War, and in an effort to get more nations to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty , we gave so-called "negative security assurances" to "non-nuclear weapons states", if they agreed to sign the treaty. These assurances were that we would not attack a non-nuclear country with nuclear weapons—if they agreed not to pursue nuclear weapons.

These assurances never "worked" as intended. For example, some countries—i.e., Iran and North Korea for example—signed the treaty as "diplomatic cover" while maintaining their covert nuclear weapons programs. North Korea already has nuclear weapons and Iran is close behind them. At any rate, negative security assurances given for the purposes of the non-proliferation regime should no longer operate to protect the leaderships of state sponsors of terror.

In sum, the first part of the new strategic policy toward deterring both terror and the state sponsors thereof would be to repeal or revise our "negative security assurances" to exempt state sponsors of terror. Next, would be the strategic targeting of the leaderships of terror organizations and the leaderships of the state sponsors of terror, along with a very simple message: "You will be held personally responsible for terror."

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