Issues in Science and Technology, Online A Publication of National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Engineering Institute of Medicine University of Texas at Dallas
  • Home
  • Back Issues
  • Search


Book Review

After the Cold War

Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America, by Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1999, 243 pp.

William C. Potter

In late 1992, Ashton Carter and William Perry joined John Steinbruner in writing A New Concept of Cooperative Security, a seminal study published by the Brookings Institution. The study's thesis, subsequently refined in the hefty volume Global Security: Cooperation and Security in the 21st Century, edited by Janne Nolan, was that in the aftermath of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union it was necessary to fashion a new formula for international security based on conflict prevention and cooperation. To a large extent, Carter and Perry's Preventive Defense represents an extension of that thesis, with reference to a number of key security challenges confronted by the authors during their service in the Department of Defense in the Clinton administration. (Perry was secretary of defense, and Carter was assistant secretary for international security policy.)

The great merit of Preventive Defense is its accessibility for a lay audience. In less than 250 pages, readers are provided with a cogent and very sober assessment of five dangers that have the potential to become "A-list" threats to U.S. security, followed by a set of thoughtful and practical policy recommendations to forestall their development. The dangers, which a strategy of preventive defense is designed to mitigate, are that (1) Russia might follow Germany's course after World War II and devolve into chaos, isolation, and aggression; (2) Russia might lose control of its nuclear assets; (3) China could emerge as a major U.S. adversary; (4) weapons of mass destruction will proliferate and threaten directly U.S. security; and (5) "catastrophic terrorism" involving weapons of mass destruction might occur on U.S. territory.

A chapter is devoted to each of these very real dangers, and a concluding chapter addresses what must be done to meet what the authors regard as the greatest challenge to preventive defense: "the threat within." This threat is post-Cold War complacency.

The authors succeed admirably in providing snapshots of preventive defense in action regarding the nuclear legacy of the Soviet Union and North Korean nuclear brinkmanship. They also make a persuasive case for engaging Russia and China in a variety of military-to-military relationships ranging from regular high-level talks to nuclear arms reduction and security negotiations. Especially instructive is the extended discussion of the process by which the Russian military was recruited as a partner in NATO peacekeeping operations in Bosnia. The discussion exploits the authors' unique vantage points. Also revealing are the behind-the-scenes glimpses of U.S. responsiveness to the 1996 Chinese "missile tests" in the Taiwan Strait.

It is a shame that the book does not provide more such novel insights informed by the authors' unusual firsthand experiences. The account of the Clinton administration's decision to support rapid expansion of NATO, for example, sheds little light on the domestic and bureaucratic political determinants of that watershed event. The authors also choose not to explore the damaging implications of the NATO decision for U.S.-Russian cooperation in the sphere of nonproliferation. One could argue that NATO enlargement, more than any other single event, has led policymakers in Moscow to question the wisdom of close consultation and cooperation with the United States in the sphere of nuclear nonproliferation--cooperation that persisted during much of the Cold War. Similarly, the book's succinct description of "Project Sapphire," the successful removal of approximately 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Ust Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, in November 1994, highlights the positive outcome of the initiative but ignores the toll taken by the accompanying interagency battle. An aversion to repeating that bureaucratic struggle accounts in large part for the failure to mount similar preventive defense operations immediately thereafter to remove other stocks of bomb-grade material from Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. By the time another airlift was undertaken to remove a small quantity of highly enriched uranium from Tbilisi, Georgia, in April 1998, at least one cache of weapons-grade material had been diverted from its storage site in Sukhumi, Georgia (located in the breakaway region of Abkhazia). The location of the diverted material remains unknown.

Missile defense

Perhaps most conspicuous by its absence is more than a passing reference in the book to the role of national missile defense in a strategy of preventive defense. The failure to confront this complex and controversial issue head-on weakens the otherwise very constructive recommendations for a new agenda for arms control. That agenda correctly identifies the need to broaden the nuclear reduction process to include tactical nuclear weapons and, ultimately, other nuclear powers. The prospects for implementing this new agenda, however, are severely impeded by U.S. plans to accelerate the development and deployment of a national missile defense system. Although it may yet be possible through creative diplomacy to gain Russian acquiescence in modifying the 1972 ABM Treaty, it is doubtful that the United States can simultaneously embrace early deployment of national missile defense and expect to engage China further in multilateral arms control.

If Preventive Defense is less than comprehensive, it nevertheless offers a host of very prudent policy recommendations, which deserve careful consideration by U.S. national security policymakers and the public. Perry and Carter were on the losing side of the debate within the Clinton administration in 1995 regarding the timetable for NATO expansion. At that time, they maintained that NATO's Partnership for Peace (PFP) should be the cornerstone of the alliance's eastward policy. They were correct then and are right again in arguing for a pause in NATO enlargement and the revitalization instead of the PFP. Time is needed to repair relations with Russia and to more fully integrate Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the alliance.

Renewed effort also must be invested in providing substance to the NATO-Russian Founding Act, which was heralded in 1997 as the embodiment of a new NATO-Russian relationship but has yielded few tangible results. As the authors note, the Permanent Joint Council that was established pursuant to the act "has been more of a diplomatic debating society than a catalyst for practical NATO-Russia cooperation." Although one should not underestimate the difficulties of implementing the Founding Act given the general state of U.S.-Russian relations, Carter and Perry identify a list of practical measures that should be pursued, including cooperation in the areas of counterterrorism and nonproliferation. One modest step to enhance cooperation that is consistent with the authors' approach would be to create and maintain, under the auspices of the Permanent Joint Council, a joint database on international terrorist incidents involving the acquisition, use, or threat to use weapons of mass destruction.

Both authors are well known for their creative implementation of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, and it is not surprising that the book recommends that this form of "defense by other means" not only continue but grow. The authors also correctly identify the areas of fissile-material safeguards and chemical and biological weapons dismantlement and destruction as priority areas for further Nunn-Lugar initiatives. Not mentioned directly by the authors but also vital to the long-term effectiveness of the Nunn-Lugar program is the development in the Soviet successor states of a nonproliferation safeguards culture and an incentive structure that encourages prudent safeguards practices.

Two of the greatest challenges to U.S. national security at the dawn of the new millennium are ignorance and complacency. These tendencies find expression in Congress, the Russian Duma, and in most national parliaments, which remain woefully uneducated about nonproliferation and other security issues and generally are unprepared to exercise the political will or to allocate the resources commensurate to the threat. Today, more often than not, parliamentarians and their constituents are preoccupied with pressing domestic problems and display scant interest in international issues, especially those that are not directly related to economics. For many, this disposition is reinforced by the mistaken perception that with the end of the Cold War and the diminution of superpower conflict, there are no longer any real nuclear security threats.

Preventive Defense is an excellent antidote for anyone with symptoms of this post-Cold War malaise. It provides in short, easy-to-digest doses more than enough factual nuggets to counter such complacency. National security addicts already exposed to the A-list dangers of the new millennium, however, await a more comprehensive treatment by scholar/practitioners Perry and Carter.


William C. Potter (wpotter@miis.edu) is institute professor and director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.