WMD Commissioners: World Still at Risk
January 14, 2009 – This past September, members of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Proliferation and Terrorism were en route to the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad when a dump truck filled with explosives detonated in front of the hotel, injuring about 250 people and killing nearly 50.
The commissioners, headed to Pakistan to assess the United State’s progress in preventing the rapid spread of weapons of mass destruction, narrowly avoided the attack, which served as a reminder of the urgency of their mission and message. The commission’s goal is to set forth the threat that America may face if terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction and to present recommendations of actions the country can undertake to increase safety.
Jim Talent, vice-chairman of the commission, said the terrorist threat remains as he joined fellow commissioner Graham Allison during a discussion presented by the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University on Jan. 8.
“Seven years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the threat of a terrorist attack on the United States is still very real -- we are not yet safe -- and there is more that can and must be done,” Talent said, “The security of the United States – and the world – depends on it.”
Building on the work of the 9/11 Commission, the WMD commission’s final report, “World at Risk,” was officially released on Dec. 2. The report’s findings center on two areas where risks to the United States are increasing: terrorism and proliferation in Pakistan and biological and nuclear terrorism.
“Many thousands of dedicated people across all agencies of our government are working hard to protect this country, and their efforts have had a positive impact,” said Talent, a former U.S. senator for Missouri. “But the terrorists have been active, too -- and unless the current trajectory is changed, which it can be, America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing.”
Allison, who also serves as the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the purpose of the report is not to frighten Americans about the current state of terrorism and WMDs, but wants Americans to know risks are growing faster than the nation’s multilayered defenses.
“A lot of good things were done after 9/11 by the Bush administration, in regards to removing Al Qaida from their sanctuaries,” said Allison. “But I still would not be surprised if we see something by Al Qaida in the first year of the Obama administration.”
In the report’s recommendations, the commission also called for a new emphasis on open engagement between government and citizens in safeguarding the United States, with better methods of distributing knowledge about potential terrorist attacks, coordinated public response mechanisms and improved networks of communications.
“Ours remains a world at risk,” said Talent.
But the former senator also said he’s convinced that adopting the commission’s recommendations will enhance safety.
“It is an honor to have Senator Talent and Dr. Allison at Georgetown explaining the urgency of the commission’s findings,” said Daniel Byman, associate professor and director of the Georgetown University Center for Peace and Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. “Their work and recommendations about biological weapons and Pakistan is extremely important for the safety of the United States.”