The Advanced Methods of Cooperative Security Program

The collapse of the Soviet Union and basic trends associated with globalization have fundamentally altered the conditions of international security. The prior confrontation between two alliance systems of roughly comparable capability has been replaced by the U.S. alliance system''s global dominance. Although Russia's nuclear force remains capable of massive destruction, only the U.S. alliance system can project conventional power on a large scale. The alliance's economic base and its rate of military investment are so predominant that a peer competitor is unlikely to emerge anytime soon. Balance of power politics and security policies could only reemerge if the U.S. alliance system fragmented, and  deliberate, large-scale aggression could only be conducted by the U.S. alliance system, which has no inclination or inherent reason to do so.

The most troublesome security problems involve the diffuse dangers that are not effectively addressed by massive deterrent operations and conventional force contingency plans. Basic trends associated with globalization--such as more porous borders, expanding access to dual-use material and information technologies, and the growing vulnerabilities of complex social, economic, and military systems have vastly increased the damage that can be wrought by angry individuals, terrorist groups, and weak states. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon demonstrated that one no longer needs to be a major power to inflict grave damage on the U.S. homeland. Less obvious, but no less important, are the ways in which these global trends also increase the unintended damage that can result from dispersed human interactions. Spontaneous civil violence, the inadvertent development of new diseases, and deteriorating systems for the command and control of nuclear weapons stem from behavior that is not centrally organized. They do not reflect strategic calculation or deliberate hostility. Nevertheless, the dangers they pose to global security are every bit as real as the Cold War Soviet threat or terrorist threat today.

The fundamental alterations in the global security environment have not been matched by comparable changes in U.S. security policy. Despite the U.S and Russian calls for a new strategic framework, deterrent force operations remain essentially unchanged from the Cold War. The size, composition, training and operational planning of conventional forces have long been concentrated on preparation for rapid reaction to major designated contingencies and have proven poorly suited to the challenges of suppressing violence and establishing new governments to provide security and basic services. Homeland security and counter-terrorism represent additional missions grafted atop old requirements. And debates about arms control are still conceived in terms of regulating numbers of weapons and preventing potential enemies from gaining access to dangerous capabilities rather than developing rules to manage the widespread availability of powerful dual-use technologies.

If security policy is to ameliorate, rather than exacerbate, the diffuse dangers of a globalizing world, there must be corresponding adjustments in the conceptions of threats, in the organizing principles of policy, in the structure and operations of military forces, in international institutional arrangements, and in the orientation of arms control. These adjustments should start with the realization that capability-based threat assessments provide neither a realistic measure of danger nor a reliable guide to policy. Airplanes, envelopes, and other everyday items are now seen as potential lethal weapons. Biotech firms, agribusiness, and other leading industries routinely engage in beneficial activities that could, if mishandled, kill even more people. It has thus become impossible to implement effective access-control measures or to develop comprehensive response plans for every potential major contingency. Moreover, weakness and disorganization cause some of the most likely security problems. Neither a balance of power nor decisive superiority provides protection against inadvertent launch or unauthorized access to nuclear weapons, against failed states that become havens for terrorists and incubators for civil violence, or against asymmetrical attacks by desperate states and sub-state groups which fear the continued worsening of an intolerable situation.

Reconceptions of danger suggest that the emphases of security policy should be shifted from denial and deterrence to reassurance, and from contingency reaction to systematic prevention. The key question is no longer who has access to how much potentially dangerous weaponry, but are they operating in a safe and non-threatening manner with dual-use materials, technologies, and information? Answering this question requires broad agreement on operational standards that can prevent aggressive or inadvertently dangerous behavior, coupled with reliable mechanisms for assessing compliance, addressing concerns, and, if need be, taking collective enforcement actions against violators or hold-outs. In a global security system, the central problems have less to do with defending territory and much more to do with defending legal order. Effective protection depends less on military firepower than on the adroit management of information. Security institutions must be much more inclusive than alliance arrangements currently are, such that everybody with the power to destroy the system gains a stake in defending it. In short, the new situation requires a fundamental reorientation of security policy from confrontation to cooperation.

Such dramatic adjustments are understandably difficult because they involve drastic revision of conceptual, emotional, political, and institutional commitments. Thus, it is reasonable to expect the process of adjustment to begin in specific contexts where the need is clear and the logic compelling. The more obvious candidates for this catalytic role include:

  • biological pathogens since they have not been and do not promise to be weapons in the traditional sense but are potentially extremely destructive;
  • space operations which will require more refined international agreement about which activities are acceptable and how the resulting benefits should be shared;
  • nuclear programs where current managerial arrangements for weapons, fissile material and advanced technology are obviously defective and presumably unsustainable, especially if the global use of nuclear power expands dramatically in response to global warming; and
  • civil conflict where the underlying dynamics that generate political violence and the requirements for reconstructing governments that have been destroyed by it are poorly understood.

Despite their differences, these problems share important characteristics. Each case involves powerful technologies or ideologies that are spreading inexorably and can be used for both constructive and destructive purposes. In each case, micro-level choices by sub-state groups or national governments can have widespread consequences for other countries and for global security as a whole. Maximizing the benefits from the free flow of ideas and technologies while minimizing the potential threats to global security requires distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate activities that cannot be drawn in categorical terms and that may hinge upon intentions. Finally, implementation of these operational standards requires detailed information that cannot be acquired through remote sensing or passive on-site monitoring technologies.

Effective regulation therefore requires direct and reasonably intimate collaboration:

  • to set generally agreed and therefore equitable standards of behavior;
  • to provide for the systematic exchange of information documenting compliance with those standards;
  • to verify exchanged information and give timely indication of potential problems; and
  • to manage compliance concerns and respond to violations.

Such intimate security cooperation would have been unthinkable during the Cold War. The new features of global security that make cooperation essential, however, also help overcome previous obstacles. For example, the rapidly evolving capacity of sensing and information processing technology associated with global commerce and the revolution in military affairs could also facilitate the exchange and analysis of detailed compliance information. A sophisticated transparency system would integrate information from a wide array of open sources with more sensitive information exchanged on a limited-access basis. It could also include information volunteered by individuals, civil society networks, and national intelligence services as long as there were clear rules about how such information would be vetted and used.

It is now possible to envisage the basic elements of cooperative security arrangements that could provide effective, refined, efficient regulation of activities involving dangerous technologies. Precisely because the requirements for such a system are potentially so consequential, however, they will only be accepted if they are accompanied by credible protection against misuse. Their development requires legal and institutional provisions that would be trusted to accomplish the specified purpose while providing robust protection against misapplication. The working out of such arrangements is likely to be an increasingly prominent element of international security. That process is well underway in practical terms but its core logic has not been recognized or accepted well enough to support systematic development of the technique in any of the candidate applications.

The AMCS program was initiated under a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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