The WMD Commission released today its public report to the President and Congress. Commissioners briefed President Bush and this afternoon briefed Vice President-elect Biden and Secretary-designate of Homeland Security Napolitano before they hosted a conference call with a few bloggers to discuss their new report.
The WMD threat is dynamic, as are our abilities to defend against it or defeat it. However, the threat is evolving in ways that open new vulnerabilities or further expose existing ones. The challenge, Commissioners told us, is to better direct today’s efforts with more coordination from the White House and to focus new resources on those worsening vulnerabilities. It is the Commission’s view that nuclear and bioterrorism represent the most pressing of these vulnerabilities. There’s a noticeable demotion of chemical and high explosives in the WMD threat embraced by the report.
• Undertake a series of mutually reinforcing domestic measures to prevent bioterrorism
• Undertake a series of mutually reinforcing measures at the international level to prevent biological weapons proliferation and terrorism.
• Work internationally toward strengthening the nonproliferation regime, reaffirming the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.
• Undertake a comprehensive review of cooperative nuclear security programs, and develop a global strategy that accounts for the worldwide expansion of the threat and the restructuring of our relationship with Russia from that of donor and recipient to a cooperative partnership.
• Stop the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs.
• Work with the Russian government on initiatives to jointly reduce the danger of the use of nuclear and biological weapons.
• Reform, reorganize, and consolidate the NSC and HSC structures.
• Congress should reform its oversight both structurally and substantively to better address intelligence, homeland security, and other national security programs.
• Accelerate integration of effort among the counterproliferation, counterterrorism, and law enforcement communities to address WMD proliferation and terrorism issues.
In the post-9/11 Commission era, such as it is, all Commissions and task forces deal with a new high-water mark in terms of publicity sought and impact measured. Parts of the WMD Commission report are written with this in mind (not least of which is the report’s title). As a result, vagueness or hyperbole clouds the message on some serious points. For example:
“This time we do know. We know the threat we face. We know that our margin of safety is shrinking, not growing. And we know what we must do to counter the risk.”
We’ve spent about $500B on homeland security alone since 9/11. Is this investment failing to keep even a bad situation from getting worse?
Impose “a range of penalties for [Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty] violations and withdrawal from the NPT that shift the burden of proof to the state under review for noncompliance.”
Does this mean that a nation accused of proliferating nuclear weapons is guilty until proven innocent?
The Commission strongly endorses the creation of a senior White House advisor whose sole responsibility is to serve as the President’s advocate and overseer of the policy nexus between WMD proliferation and terrorism. The position of senior advisor could readily be placed within the National Security Council structure. Alternatively, such an advisor could be placed within the office of the Vice President or made the head of a separate White House office.
The last time the Vice President’s office was in charge of assessing the risk of a nexus between terrorism and WMD…well, you get the point.
Let’s be clear: The Commission doesn’t mean to assert that we have near nothing to show for the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on homeland security. (Although Commission co-chair Bob Graham did state in the interview that we are “less safe today than we were.”)
And the Commission probably doesn’t endorse converting the NPT regime into a gotcha game of guilt and suspicion. Nor does the Commission really believe that the Office of the Vice President needs to serve a role like it did between 9/11 and the Iraq war.
In fact, the Commission actually stands for several initiatives and investments already on the table or already underway. Their recommendations make sense because, in a way, they’ve been made before and we already accept them. Hopefully, they’ll get the influx of Presidential prerogative these recommendations deserve.
Also check in on Armchair Generalist for more reflection on this report. Jason was one of the other bloggers on the call.