International Security: An Agenda for Rethinking

International Security: An Agenda for Rethinking Summary Report on NATO Advanced Research Workshop “Security in Knowledge-based Society” Zagreb, Croatia November 16 – 20, 2005 by Prof. Lincoln P. Bloomfield

The following is a report on the NATO Advanced Research Workshop held in Zagreb, Croatia, November 16-20, 2005, concurrently with the General Assembly of the World Academy of Art and Science. This international workshop followed a preliminary meeting in Washington DC in September 2005 in which the major themes were initially developed. The workshop focused on three major areas of security concern to the international community: terrorism, international peacekeeping, and nuclear weapons. This report synthesizes the main points brought out in the Zagreb discussion, although it inescapably also reflects the writer’s perspective on the subject matter. After an introductory word on the meanings of security, the reported discussion of the three subjects follows, consisting of some general propositions and proposed policy actions. The ARW participants constituted a multinational group with varying premises regarding the meaning of security. To some, security connotes strategic stability through maintenance of the status quo in regard to nuclear arsenals and acknowledged possessors. To others, security meant elimination of all nuclear weapons. Still others think of it in terms of substantial reductions. The same difference of perspective exists in approaches to international military forces. Some participants see international security advanced by spreading democracy, others cite evidence that the process of democratization creates instability. The environmentally-minded define security in terms of pollution and global warming. Despite these differences, consensus emerged on some desirable courses of action.


Terrorism is generally defined as a menace emanating from non-state cells and networks with no return address, which makes inapplicable traditional defense responses. Deemed equally inappropriate is any revival of isolationism, since involvement in distant places is now essential if we are to be safe at home. The principal differences were over assumed sources of international terrorism, to wit:

  • Some focused on "draining the Swamp", stressing poverty, youth unemployment, government corruption, lack of education, and unmet popular expectations
  • Interview evidence links terrorists to personality characteristics of individuals – frustrated middle-class youth, possibly abused as children, full of rage at their personnel powerlessness, and receptive to a new identity and meaning that imparts a sense of personal importance linked to a divine mission.
  • Globalization perversely aids terrorists and their networking thanks to rapid advances in technology that makes available WMD components/knowledge that benefits both hostile state régimes and non-state actors with evil intents. A key element is the Internet, handy for both malign and benign purposes, supplying weapon-building information to terrorists while facilitating international police and financial cooperation.
  • The sometimes toxic mix of religion and politics is particularly evident in the Middle East, but also in South and Southeast Asia.

Policy Recommendations

Like most people, we had no dazzling prescriptions to offer on countering terrorism that others may not have thought of. However, the group surfaced several useful insights:

  • The proliferation of small arms exports, chiefly by great powers, is a help to terrorists and calls for a tighter policy sharply limiting such exports.
  • Easily obtained and smuggled biological weaponry may be a greater threat than the much-feared possibility of crude nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists.
  • The positive outcome in Northern Ireland provides a suggestive (but disputed) model for ending terrorism. The demilitarization of the IRA correlates historically with the phenomenal surge of economic and technical growth in Ireland. This suggests a package of similar coordinated peace-building policies for other areas plagued by terrorism. (Some dissenters do not believe the Ulster demilitarization is necessarily permanent.)


The new conflict agenda substitutes for war between states the category of civil strife, including humanitarian disasters, crimes against humanity that offend the civilized world, failed states requiring nation-building operations, and other novel additions to the diplomatic armamentarium This change takes place in an environment of human rights activism including a growing number of governments. In this atmosphere, "peacekeeping" has come to imply not just neutral blue berets interposed between warring parties who have agreed to stop fighting, but civil governance operations as well as quasi-military missions that might be better called "peace enforcement". But peacekeeping, however defined, still tends to be reinvented with every new crisis. Troop contributors are hard to find, and it is astonishing that the problem of adequate training and discipline is the same as it was 40 years ago Some UN peacekeeping missions have been successful. But the record of other efforts, like that of the political UN itself, is a mixed one. International peacekeeping has become indispensable before it has become truly effective.

Policy recommendations

  • During the Cold War it made sense to exclude the two superpowers from participation in UN peacekeeping forces. It makes little sense today, particularly at a time when major operational problems arise from deployment of undisciplined, poorly trained troops, as in recent scandals in eastern Congo.
  • Many governments have agreed to earmark troops for UN peacekeeping missions. The time has come for all who have promised to earmark troops and/or provide financing and logistical support to actually show up.
  • The time has also come to implement the endless recommendations for better training of contributed national military units. A decision should be taken to negotiate the selection of a country willing and able to supply the facility for execution of a detailed and well-planned training blueprint for today's peacekeeping operations, and to provide for its financing.
  • Regional organizations, hopefully but unrealistically mentioned in the past as substitutes for the UN, have new peacekeeping salience, for example African Union forces in Darfur and ECOWAS units in Liberia, as well as NATO operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The small-country units contributed to the UN and AU need far better and more reliable financial and logistical support as well as coordination with the UN. This should be a promising investment for wealthy countries that prefer not to use their own forces to police the neighborhoods they hope to stay peaceful.
  • It is also time for international forces to acquire and employ non-lethal crowd control and pacification technologies that are increasingly used in place of guns in some domestic policing operations. Any number of city police chiefs would probably be happy to lend their expertise to training for this.
  • A growing number of non-UN "multinational" forces have stepped into the breach when UN action was unfeasible, for instance the force led by Australia that pacified East Timor and NATO forces currently in Afghanistan. Such operations, usually sanctioned or requested by the UN Security Council, represent the original intended meaning of “coalitions of the willing” rather than some recent misappropriations of that useful concept.


Despite international treaties and other national and bilateral efforts to curb nuclear proliferation, the barriers are weakening, even as approximately 27,000 deliverable nuclear weapons, most in the hands of the US and Russia, remain in the arsenals of the nuclear weapons powers. Bomb effects experts would have little trouble agreeing that one-tenth that number would be enough to destroy the civilized world, and one-hundredth that number more than sufficient to end the life of several major world metropolises... Of the three topics considered, this is clearly the most dangerous, difficult -- and imperative. Much attention is given to curbing nuclear proliferation, including recent steps to intercept illicit shipments.But neither sanctions nor obloquy stopped India and Pakistan from actually deploying, nor North Korea or Iran from building or pretending to build. As for the acknowledged nuclear weapons powers, no serious negotiations on reducing (let alone eliminating) inventories of weapons or fissile materials are visible. The situation is one of stagnation, which for several reasons does not equal stability. Earlier predictions of inevitable use (for example CP Snow) happily did not transpire. Nor did President Kennedy's prediction of 20 nuclear weapons powers by 1970, although the NPT is now failing to plug expanding holes in the nuclear dam. One new pair of proliferators -- India and Pakistan -- are still technically at war over Kashmir. Israel, estimated to have between 100 and 200 undeclared weapons, faces a nuclear-bent Iran which speaks openly of destroying Israel. Of the declared nuclear powers, Europe is stable. But accidental launches are not impossible in the deteriorating Russian command and control system. China and the US periodically look into the abyss of a potentially nuclear encounter in the Taiwan Straits. Perhaps the most daunting concern is acquisition by terrorists of a atomic explosive device smuggled in a suitcase or container, designed with Internet help, and unstoppable by an ABM system. A growing number of former high government officials and military chiefs in the US argue publicly for complete abolition of nuclear weaponry. Some others urge "almost complete" abolition on the grounds that, short of universal brain surgery, the memory of how to build a nuclear weapon, facilitated by the Internet, might leave a disarmed country defenseless against a threat of use. To the “almost abolition” group it is essential to maintain minimum deterrence, seemingly confirmed when North Korea announced that it possessed nuclear weapons and the US softened its tone. It has long been evident that it is uncertainty, not certainty, that deters. There is no shortage of private proposals, NGO advocates, UN resolutions, and religious injunctions, to break the stalemate under which nuclear arsenals are built, maintained, and updated even in the face of a broad global consensus that stockpiling such weapons is not only immoral but wholly irrational in any realistic political or military calculus. There are precedents for national and collective action to ban use of other morally repugnant – and mutually harmful – weapons of mass destruction. The Chemical Warfare Treaty of 1925, abided by except by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, was grounded on the harsh experience of World War I. The Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 banned production or use of biological weapons, and President Richard Nixon, deeming that the value of biological weapons was far less than its costs, shut down the American program. In the preliminary ARW Washington meeting, former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara restated with passion the military inutility of nuclear weaponry, echoing former US national security adviser McGeorge Bundy’s earlier assertion that, on the record, it was totally inconceivable for an American president, even the face of overwhelming threat, to actually launch nuclear weapons. Indeed, presidents and military leaders around the world have said much the same -- after leaving office. The problem is that while in power they seemed paralyzed from trying to change the equation. For its part the military. while in uniform. naturally follows SOPs. Meanwhile public discussion has virtually ended, and at least two generations have grown up without the reality check provided by publicity on nuclear weapons effects The problem is obviously systemic, in that failure to make more than marginal changes in an irrational program is built into organizational and bureaucratic behavior. This means that action will be taken only when the decision-making culture changes. In the light of all these daunting realities, what steps might be useful to help persuade governments to act on the realization that their nuclear arsenals (or ambitions) are really irrelevant to their security needs?

Policy Recommendations

  • A reawakened public awareness is needed of the suicidal implications of nuclear weapons use, including mass civilian deaths, poisoning of economic and agricultural resources, and retribution from others on the same genocidal scale.
  • Total abolition of nuclear weaponry is the logical solution. Barring that, and considering that outlaw states still need to be deterred, retention of a small number of properly protected weapons is adequate to deter (as illustrated by the recent North Korean situation). It has always been uncertainty that deters.
  • A fresh analysis of the utility of nuclear weaponry by influential scientific and military think-tanks in declared and undeclared nuclear weapons powers should be stimulated. The primary focus should be national academies of science, and war colleges where future military leaders are trained, doctrines discussed, and policy influenced.
  • Despite the obvious weaknesses of the UN General assembly, its unique strength is the formulation of new norms of international behavior that set a standard against which national behavior is tested.. Important norms already established in this fashion include human rights, nuclear nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of outer space. Of course propaganda aimed at the West, or calling for total disarmament, will be a non-starter. But based on realistic analysis, a new norm would find nuclear weaponry strategically unusable and morally unacceptable, and their use and eventually, according to a timetable, their possession, declared illegal.
  • A first step might be a high-level blue ribbon study by the only security organization that includes four of the five acknowledged nuclear weapons powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely NATO. The panel would include experts and other individuals who have the respect of centers of action, with a mandate to take a fresh look and come up with recommendations for mapping a step-by-step mutual drawdown of nuclear arsenals and inspected removal from alert status..
  • Looking ahead, one could envisage the NATO nuclear powers (minimally Britain and France, plus Russia) proposing to the NATO Council a daring global plan for "A Safer, Non-Nuclear World". Such an initiative could also come from a group of non-nuclear NATO members such as Germany, Italy, and Poland. The argument would rest on the non-utility and inherent mutual peril of nuclear weaponry, and be backed by substantially improved conventional capabilities.

Two Post-Scripts

  1. Inappropriate timing is often cited as an excuse for inaction. In this case, however, the time may in fact be ripe for a genuine paradigm shift. The evidence overwhelmingly points to both the total non-utility of nuclear weaponry except for minimum psychological deterrence, and to potential perils from loose Russian controls and from terrorist ambitions. One problem is that the behavior of some nuclear weapons powers perversely encourages proliferators despite proclaimed non-proliferation goals. With retention of thousands of weapons, many on alert status, the original nuclear weapons powers have failed to deliver on either their rhetoric or on their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. On the contrary, the United States is incomprehensibly building new tactical nuclear weapons systems that can only encourage others to follow suit. Even more incomprehensibly, the US in 2004 changed its policy and now opposes IAEA inspection and verification aimed at discouraging proliferation.
  2. An alternative pathway focuses on the world's number one military power, calling for a US initiative (perhaps unrealistic now, but consider President Reagan's late enthusiasm for nuclear abolition).The US would announce a rapid reduction in its strategic nuclear arsenal to 400 concealed and deliverable strategic warheads, while destroying its equally unusable tactical nuclear weapons along with stockpiles of fissionable material. Minimum nuclear deterrence would be maintained, backed by incomparable conventional military power greater than all potential competitors combined. Intensive diplomatic pressure would be exerted on other nuclear powers to follow suit, while nuclear wannabees would be given attractive incentives and persuasive disincentives to shut down their programs. IAEA powers would be made far more airtight, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would be forcefully reaffirmed, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ratified.

Funding for this workshop was provided by NATO and The Mother's Service Society, India.