15 July 1998
Source: http://www.usia.gov/current/news/latest/98071501.plt.html?/products/washfile/newsitem.shtml

USIS Washington File

15 July 1998


(From USIA electronic journal "U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda") (3180)

(The continued existence of terrorist threats -- coupled with the
increasing availability of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons
-- "makes the world a much more dangerous place" for everyone, says
John D. Holum, Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and
International Security Affairs and Director of the U.S. Arms Control
and Disarmament Agency. And there is the added threat of information
warfare, he warns, which could harm the elements of a functioning
modern society "through unconventional kinds of attack." The following
interview appears in the July 1998 issue of the USIA electronic
journal "U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda," which deals with "U.S. Security
Policy in a Changing World." The interview was conducted by journal
Contributing Editor Jacqui Porth.)

QUESTION: U.S. security requirements have changed a great deal in the
post-Cold War era. Where there was once a single, identifiable threat
-- the Soviet Union -- there are now many threats demanding U.S.
attention. Would you address a few of those and the challenges they
pose to U.S. security?

HOLUM: These threats really have changed our whole outlook on the
world, and I hope the new reality has fully permeated our security
thinking. The sarin (gas) attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 is an
example of the kind of problems we could face. It is not the danger of
a missile from the Soviet Union anymore; it is the danger of a
terrorist bringing in something in a suitcase, or injecting something
into the water supply, and endangering large segments of the

The continued existence of terrorist threats -- coupled with the
increasing availability of nuclear, chemical, and biological
technologies -- makes the world a much more dangerous place for all of
us. If you think of the World Trade Center bombing or the Oklahoma
Federal Center bombing or the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, and
consider how much more awful the suffering would have been had there
been even primitive weapons of mass destruction involved, you get an
idea of what we might be facing.

Q: You have touched on the threat of terrorism from nuclear,
biological, and chemical weapons, but how seriously do you take each
of the three, and what is the United States doing to address each

HOLUM: They are all serious. I think, given the challenges, that the
least likely threat of the three is nuclear. On the other hand, the
potential consequences are probably the greatest from nuclear
terrorism, so it is something we have to devote a lot of attention to.

It is true that, with the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons are
being dismantled and the materials that are critical to nuclear
weapons are being removed. However, they are not being stored as
securely as we would like. And the control systems over those storage
sites, and over nuclear research reactors in the former Soviet Union,
are much less rigorous than they used to be.

So we are working very energetically to develop, there and elsewhere,
much more effective control systems, inventories, consolidation of
sites, and security systems, in order to prevent the theft or
diversion of the critical ingredients for nuclear weapons. That is an
issue of high consequence, and despite its relatively low probability
as a threat, it is still significant.

I think chemical weapons are the easiest for terrorists to use because
they can be made in a relatively small space and do not require a
great deal of technical competence. And the raw materials needed for
them are fairly widely available.

Biological weapons fall somewhere in the middle in terms of likelihood
of use because they are somewhat more technologically challenging. But
again the consequences could be horrendous.

The common view is to group chemical and biological weapons together,
setting nuclear weapons apart. But I think biological weapons are
closer to nuclear weapons in terms of their destructive potential,
because chemical weapons will disperse and become less lethal in the
atmosphere. Biological weapons, in the right environment, can
multiply; they are living organisms. And it takes a much smaller
quantity to inflict a fatal illness. They also strike me as something
particularly outrageous when you consider that humanity has been
laboring for generations to wipe out dreaded diseases -- anthrax, the
plague, and botulism -- and now there are perverse people deliberately
preserving and culturing and protecting foul organisms for use as
weapons of terrorism.

Q: What are U.S. plans for responding to these potential threats?

HOLUM: On all three we have aggressive international efforts to build
global norms of behavior against their production and use. The Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty and efforts to enforce its implementation
through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are well
advanced. The Chemical Weapons Convention has just gone into force and
the implementing body (the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons) is being set up.

The Biological Weapons Convention needs to be strengthened. It is very
strong in terms of its prohibitions, but it is almost entirely
voluntary. We need to have a better enforcement mechanism. The
president has set 1998 as the time for us to complete a framework
agreement. Negotiations have been underway since 1995, and we are
working on that effort very aggressively.

That's dealing with the external part of it. There is also a great
deal that needs to be done internally. And there have been
Presidential Decision Directives dealing with our ability to respond
through law enforcement systems, crisis management, and tracking down
perpetrators. The most recent of these is Presidential Decision
Directive 63, which deals with critical infrastructure and
non-conventional threats and terrorism.

Q: What about the nature of the information warfare threat, not only
in terms of unauthorized access to American computer systems but also
disruption of satellite services, and what can the United States hope
to do to avert this threat?

HOLUM: There is the threat of what has come to be known as "info war"
or "cyber war," and this is the possibility that very dedicated
computer hackers could get into our systems and turn off power grids
or air traffic control systems, or destroy our ability to operate
large systems, or even transfer money out of peoples' bank accounts.
There are new dangers coming in the future, new technological
capabilities that we're going to have to deal with that people have
been calling "weapons of mass disruption."

Some of our major concerns include the evolution of hacker tools that
can cruise the Internet and can stay on line waiting for the target,
and then dive in and corrupt a system either by overloading it, by
giving it false instructions, or otherwise disabling it. This can be
done through international phone lines. It could come through an
innocent-looking source so it hides the tracks of the intruder. And we
have very little capability to deal with it.

We know that countries like Iran, Iraq, and Libya are pursuing
information warfare. We know that our own Department of Defense is
under assault -- I think 600 times a week -- by efforts to hack into
its computer systems. Some may be through so-called "innocent
pranksters," although there is nothing funny about it, and some may be
deliberate attempts to corrupt.

Recognizing the international dimensions of this, there is also the
possibility that we would collaborate with others -- first, in raising
consciousness about the problem and, second, in designing
international conventions for protection of information systems. Not
because, as is the case in arms control, the convention itself solves
the problem, but because it gives a tool for cooperative efforts to
deal with the offender.

Q: You mentioned risk to water supply, but how realistic do you think
threats of environmental terrorism are? I recall the Gulf war where
Iraq used oil well fires.

HOLUM: I think it is very realistic, and that is a good example of
where it has actually been used. I was actually in the private sector
at the time working as an attorney representing a company that was
involved in the cleanup, so I had some very close exposure to the oil
field fires. It was hard for me to imagine how anyone could
deliberately cause such an appalling physical disaster: the smoke and
the fumes and the pollution of water and air were just incredible to
behold. And you can imagine any number of fairly easy steps that could
be taken to inflict similar damage, whether it is through introduction
of toxic agents like disease, biological weapons, or just

Q: What are U.S. priorities in the ongoing effort to eliminate the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?

HOLUM: It's really the three I've mentioned -- nuclear, chemical, and
biological weapons -- plus missiles. We have active efforts underway
in all of those areas.

I would like to focus attention on the frontline work of
non-proliferation -- something that is rarely seen in public, but
which goes on consistently and very aggressively. That is the
laborious process of sifting through intelligence reports, of
identifying shipments of dangerous material -- whether a chemical
weapon ingredient, a growth medium of biological weapons, nuclear
materials, or specialized steel that could be used for missiles -- and
interrupting those shipments and then going to the source and saying,
"Somebody in your country is going to sell Iran some speciality steel
that is destined for its missile program. You should stop it because
you have an international political obligation under the Missile
Technology Control Regime not to allow this."

That's where the day-to-day work of non-proliferation is done, and it
illustrates all of the elements of a successful strategy. You have to
have a legal or a political obligation, at a minimum, so that you can
go to the country involved and say: "You have a responsibility to stop
this." You have to have technology and detection equipment so you
learn about it. It may be through intelligence sources; it may be
through radiation detectors that are set up at borders. The technology
is advancing. And you need diplomatic resources to be on the ground to
try to intercept shipments.

Q: Why is the United States promoting a ban on fissile material for
nuclear weapons? What is the U.S. strategy and what does the U.S.
government want other nations to do?

HOLUM: The Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty is the way to confirm, for
us and for the other nuclear weapons states, that we can't renew an
arms race. It's another step in the direction of the ultimate
elimination of nuclear weapons. It is hard to imagine how we could
effectively control and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons if we are
still producing the basic ingredient. So for us, it is a limiting
factor, a means of locking in the steps that we have taken so far in
nuclear disarmament.

It is also the way to prevent the problem from getting bigger in, for
example, South Asia. If India and Pakistan were to join such a regime,
we wouldn't have the nuclear problem solved there, but we would have a
means to make sure it didn't get any bigger than it is. It is a way to
help prevent an arms race.

We have been pursuing these negotiations since 1995 in the Conference
on Disarmament. Thus far, we haven't been able to get negotiations
underway, even though the United Nations General Assembly has endorsed
a negotiating mandate, in significant part because India has blocked
negotiations. They have recently given some indication that they are
prepared to proceed.

Q: Is that diplomatically or publicly?

HOLUM: Publicly and diplomatically. Pakistan has made the argument in
the Conference on Disarmament that the limitation should cover
existing stocks of fissile material. That would be very hard to do in
an international regime because you would have to have the
international community involved in deciding how much each country
could have. Dealing with existing stocks is really something that
needs to be done regionally or bilaterally. But we are still hopeful
that there will be a mandate that will allow negotiations to proceed
in the Conference on Disarmament.

Meanwhile, we are pursuing our own efforts, both bilaterally with the
Russians and trilaterally among Russia, the United States, and the
International Atomic Energy Agency, to remove excess material from our
own weapons program and put it under IAEA safeguards. We have
identified more than 200 tons of material. Some of it isn't in the
form yet where it can be put under IAEA safeguards, but we have made
12 tons available for IAEA safeguards and more is on the way.

Q: In terms of regional threats, to what extent is the United States
prepared to take on those challenges alone and under what
circumstances should coalitions of nations be working together in a

HOLUM: I think it's always crucial to have the maximum possible
international participation. For example, in the Bosnia situation, and
as we approach the current crisis in Kosovo, it is certainly highly
desirable that we have a coalition of forces. The United States has to
be prepared to act unilaterally where the conditions warrant, but as
you have seen in our practice of international security policy, we
work scrupulously to build and maintain coalitions.

Q: What is the United States doing to counter the perception that, as
the world's sole remaining superpower, it has become "arrogant" in its
exercise of power?

HOLUM: It's a very complex problem because there is a temptation
internationally, sort of reflexively, to say that we are engaging in
hegemony. I think the answer is that we pursue our international
interests based on values and ideals. I think, by and large, we can
explain our approach in those terms.

If we're advancing the cause of democracy or the importance of
combating weapons of mass destruction, if we are trying to serve the
role of peacemaker, obviously that affects our interests, but it also
serves a higher purpose than simply national interest. That more than
anything else will help us to be seen as a constructive influence in
the world, rather than a country that is trying to throw its weight

It is also important that we craft our dialogue with other countries
in a respectful way. From what I have seen in the time that I have
been back in the government since 1993, there really is a very
conscious effort to do that. There isn't much of a tendency in our
diplomacy to suggest that countries should do things because we say
so, rather than because it is in their national interest. I think we
make very careful efforts to ensure that our relations are based on
respect for the country's point of view and security needs.

Q: Would you assess the role of conflict resolution and preventive
diplomacy in terms of formulating U.S. security policy?

HOLUM: It is a major aspect of our international presence. One of the
things we're engaged in, routinely, is trying to develop dialogues
between potential antagonists long before a conflict begins. The kinds
of diplomacy we have undertaken in the Middle East, Bosnia, and other
regions of tension are well known. There is a less visible but no less
important effort, wherever there is a potential for conflict, to act
as a facilitator to help the parties engage in direct dialogue: in the
Aegean, for example; in Ethiopia and Eritrea; and in a variety of
other places.

One area that I am very much involved in relates to the risk of arms
competitions that involve conventional weapons as well as weapons of
mass destruction. We have placed a very high priority, for example, on
basic confidence-building steps in Latin America -- declarations of
military holdings and advanced notification to neighbors of major
weapons acquisitions, which by their nature imply the need for some
discussion with your neighbors about why you are doing this. And
security dialogues between civilian and military authorities can be a
way to lessen the danger of existing military resources and other
future unforeseen moments of tension.

Q: The Partnership for Peace program has been a great success for the
former Warsaw Pact countries and others. How has the partnership
concept become a basis for strategic relationships elsewhere?

HOLUM: At the China summit in June, the term "strategic partnership"
was used quite extensively. This partnership is obviously of a
different character than what we have developed in the Partnership for
Peace in Europe, but it has a similar connotation: we are looking for
ways to get on the same side of the table in a number of countries,
recognizing that we have differences in many cases, but nonetheless
trying to unite and pursue a common objective, whether it is
non-proliferation, economic progress, or protection against climate
change. So I think the concept of partnership has very broad
application internationally. In fact, it is one of the valuable
counters to the proposition that the United States is trying to run
things its way. What we are really looking for are ways to create a
common cause with like-minded countries on specific high-priority

Q: What implications does a purely economic phenomenon like the Asian
financial crisis have for U.S. security interests?

HOLUM: There are some immediate implications in that countries that
find themselves in economic distress -- that has certainly been the
case in East Asia -- tend to reduce their defense modernization.
Because of our defense relationships, that is worrisome. In addition
to that, there is a concern that economic collapse can create security
problems by leading to regional instability and possible international
conflict, and certainly to internal dysfunctions in key countries. So
there is an important security dimension. That is why we tend to argue
that events like those in Thailand or Indonesia aren't purely economic
phenomena, because they have political and security dimensions.

Q: What will be the primary concerns in the 21st century for U.S.
security policy?

HOLUM: I always tend to think of security as what affects the average
American citizen and then look at the international dimensions of
that. I think unfortunately we will continue to live with the dangers
of drugs and terrorism. We need to reach a political understanding in
the United States regarding the importance of issues such as the
environment and climate change, which will have enormous future

I think weapons of mass destruction will inevitably be on the agenda.
I think we are making headway. We have made considerable headway in
the last four or five years, but the difficulty is that technology
also has advanced. Technology is more accessible, so the risk --
despite our gains -- is still very prominent. And there is a whole new
realm of danger to our critical infrastructure -- whether it is
information systems or transportation systems or energy structure. All
of the ingredients that make a modern society function could be at
risk through unconventional kinds of attack.