A Program of the Stanley Foundation

Couterproliferation vs. Cooperative Security

A Summary and Analysis

Michael Kraig, March 2003

History and Background
The counterproliferation school of thought was first brought to life by former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and fellow security intellectuals such as Ashton Carter in 1993 under the Clinton administration. It has since been incrementally defined and expanded by both independent experts and governmental institutions, including Clinton administration defense policies and military procurement decisions, Clinton national security strategies, the long-range strategy documents of the US armed forces, various US military schools and academies, US defense journals, congressional commissions such as the two Rumsfeld Commissions on the "missile threat" and on the future military use of outer space, and most recently, the Bush administration's National Security Strategy of the United States (NSS), released on September 20, 2002.

Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has also sought to link the counterproliferation approach (which stresses the threat of "rogue states" like Iraq or North Korea) with a "war on terrorism" or counterterrorist approach (which stresses the future threat of transnational terrorist cells to the US homeland). The State of the Union address of January 29, 2001, and the above-mentioned NSS both seek to define, defend, and emphasize this linkage between counterproliferation (aimed at traditional sovereign state actors) and counterterrorist military actions (aimed at transnational terror networks abroad).

A broad counterproliferation/counterterrorist strategy involves:

  • Dissuasion of competing military buildups by potential state adversaries like China, Iran, Russia, or others. This is accomplished through the solidification of indefinite US global military superiority, which presumably will convince rising "middle powers" in key regions to embrace US-style liberal democracy and forego military expansion in their own spheres of influence.

  • Deterrence of those "rogue states" or future "near peer competitors" who manage to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or significant conventional forces that challenge US hegemony at the regional level in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia.

  • Deterrence of transnational terrorists by threats to strike their networks within the boundaries of "failed states."

  • Preventive/preemptive military strikes, or the threat of such strikes through coercive diplomacy, in the case that dissuasion and deterrence are not feasible or desirable. This includes the covert aid of those Third World states perceived to be too weak to effectively police their own territory and rid themselves of threatening terrorist cells without US intervention.

In turn, each of the above elements could be seen as an overall strategy of compellance, in that the superiority of US values, culture, political institutions, economy, and global military power will act together as a combined package to compel (or convince) others to embrace secular, liberal, capitalist democracy for their own future development and forego threats to US leadership in key regions of the globe.

As defined operationally by the US government since the early 1990s, counterproliferation consists of technology denial methods directed at the developing world (export controls) as well as new methods of deterrence, defense, and preemption (precision-guided and more lethal conventional munitions alongside the existing nuclear arsenal). The perfection of defense, deterrence, and preemptive policy options has become the major goal of the national security planning community, incorporating such things as:

  • Better targeting through increased surveillance and reconnaissance.

  • Seamless integration of all information to provide a flawless picture of the battlefield.

  • Better long-range intelligence.

  • More accurate and flexible (usable) nuclear and conventional weapons.

  • Better detection of hostile biological or chemical agents in regional battlegrounds.

  • The invention of both small and large unmanned aerial vehicles for automated intelligence missions and also "standoff" strike capabilities.

  • If all else fails, missile defense against WMD strikes.1

Under the counterproliferation approach, the economic sphere and the military sphere are integrated only in the narrow sense of military operations. In the larger sense of politics, international development, and diplomacy they remain separate, with the "fist of military power" protecting the "open hand of the free market." In fact, the counterproliferation vision of the world is much like that of 18th or 19th century diplomacy. Traditional alliances (both multilateral like NATO and bilateral like South Korea and Japan) will ensure collective security for "friends and allies" against unfriendly enemies, while at the same time protecting trade routes, international financial holdings, and technological advances from disturbance or exploitation by enemies. Under this vision of global politics, globalization of the free market is selective, insofar as dual-use commercial advances with military applications are to be uniformly denied to developing countries that may use them to gain political strength or military power. Security is therefore seen in cooperative, multilateral, or mutual terms only in the sense of friends and allies, who band together in their economic and military relations to defend against intractable and potentially irrational enemies. Both ideological and resource competition are seen as endemic to international relations and as an unavoidable reality that necessitates improved methods of control to minimize unpredictability and uncertainty in relations with potentially hostile actors.

One recent instance of this emphasis on global methods of control to minimize uncertainty is in Space Command's Long Range Plan and in the Report of the Rumsfeld Commission on Space,2 which both define "space control" as the ability to "deny/degrade/disable/destroy" space assets used by the enemy, while protecting our own satellite assets, based on a superior understanding and manipulation of the space battleground. The Rumsfeld Commission also emphasized the need to "shape the international legal environment"—i.e., treaties and commercial regulation for outer space—in a way that does not impede greater US control of the outer space environment.

The overarching counterproliferation strategy does emphasize the economic side of security, although in a way that feeds directly or indirectly into improved military methods of defense and deterrence. Existing commercial/civil assets are seen as both fragile interests that must be protected through military means (for instance, defense of space-based commercial satellite networks) and, at the same time, as valuable "inputs" into new military capabilities. The technological results of globalization and the free market are therefore viewed simultaneously as vulnerabilities that can be easily disabled or destroyed by terrorists and rogue states and also as military assets that act as "force multipliers" in conflicts, allowing a degree of flexibility, precision, and lethality in military operations that heretofor was all but impossible. This aspect of globalization, which blurs the military and commercial mediums through technologies that are inherently dual use, has now become widely known as the "Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)," a catch-all phrase that has permeated the entire Washington, DC, security community.3

According to the Joint Chief's 2020 Vision—the long-range strategy document for ensuring US security into the 20th century—the ultimate goal of US national security is to exploit the fruits of the RMA to achieve "full spectrum dominance" over any conceivable adversary. Under a strategy of full spectrum dominance command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) are improved to the point that US decision makers know exactly what is happening anywhere on the globe, and these global C3I information nets are to be combined with advanced weapons systems to allow "precision strike" anywhere, at any time, to take out any target of our choosing. Key to "full spectrum dominance" is the achievement of "data-centric methods of warfare" and "information dominance" through a "global information infrastructure"4 that relies on dual-use advances in the commercial sphere; namely, new capabilities in computer-based information technology and space assets in communications, imaging, navigation, weather prediction, mapping, and environmental monitoring. These dual-use technologies and systems now compete with traditional military systems in both peacetime and crisis operations.5

In sum, the counterproliferation approach views US diplomatic relations largely in terms of discrete bilateral and multilateral relationships; i.e., in terms of formal alliances or informal security understandings among friends, including NATO, South Korea, Japan, Israel, Australia, nonallied Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Singapore, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in the Middle East, who receive preferential US aid, trade relationships, military technology-sharing arrangements, and (in the case of GCC states) large sales of off-the-shelf, high-technology military items.6 Technological diffusion and development are seen to be positive only insofar as they occur within this circle of friends and allies. Security is viewed as a fungible good that can (and should) be divided among opposing camps. Moreover, the primary actor is still seen to be the sovereign nation-state, insofar as transnational terror networks are thought to be produced, guided, funded, encouraged, equipped, or otherwise supported by "rogue" state actors such as Iraq or failed states such as Afghanistan.

The nonproliferation/cooperative security school of thought incorporates far different assumptions about world politics and the place of the United States within it. The central idea is that all nation-states seeking to protect themselves from the same threats and all states seeking to lend certainty, predictability, and stability to their security situations will find greater relative security through mutual obligations to limit their military capabilities rather than through unilateral or allied attempts to gain dominance. Within this approach, it is not only "friends and allies" that participate in security regimes. The cooperative security outlook assumes that enemies or potential enemies will accept the same exact legal and technical constraints on behavior as friends, despite the existence of substantial mutual suspicions and mistrust. It is also assumed that these legal and technical constraints will be mutually advantageous and mutually verifiable. Security is guaranteed not through dominance but through the outlawing of policy options that have the goal of achieving dominance over the opponent. Stated simply, unilateral gain is not the goal of nonproliferation and cooperative security arrangements.

All the major tenets, concepts, and assumptions of this school of thought have been enumerated in a 1994 Brookings Institution publication: Global Engagement: Cooperation and Security in the 21st Century.7 First, according to the Brookings study group, "The central strategic problem for a cooperative security regime is not deterrence, as in the cold war, but reassurance." The requirements of reassurance are more demanding, in some ways, than that of deterrence: "Unlike deterrence...the key to reassurance is a reliable normative and institutional structure.... It requires an ability to initiate and maintain cooperation among sovereign states on matters that have been traditionally conceived of as the heart of sovereignty: decisions about what is needed to maintain and preserve national security." Achieving this end state of cooperation depends not only on threats against bad behavior but more importantly on political legitimacy, economic incentives and inducements, and plain self-interest: "[S]ubstantial compliance with these strictures cannot be achieved by the threat of military retaliation. Compliance must be induced by the continuing sense that the limits imposed on military capabilities are consistent with the security requirements of the participants and that they are being generally observed."

How can states be sure that others are in general compliance with agreed norms? Although most attention in Washington, DC, has been geared toward the success or failure of sanctions and improved ways to implement and target costly sanctions, the participants in the Brookings study identified other, less punitive aspects of global cooperation: "a strong normative base, inclusiveness, non-discrimination, transparency, regime management, and [lastly] sanctions." A normative base should be founded upon "fair and accepted procedures, applied equally...and reflect minimum, substantive standards of fairness and equity." In turn, this requires a type of inclusiveness that rewards the developing world for their continued compliance: "Without an effort to accommodate the concerns of the 'have not' countries, it would be impossible to create the norms that an effective regime requires." In practical terms, this means that high technology with dual-use applications will be traded and shared with developing countries, once those same countries prove through the treaty verification system that the technologies are not being used for illicit military purposes. This is essential because all WMD are based upon technologies with extensive civil and commercial applications that are instrumental to the improvement of living standards in underdeveloped nations. Nuclear energy plants and their components, and the production of fissile material by their operations, are the most obvious example of a dual-use technology. However, this dilemma applies to other areas: the same components and technologies that go into civil or commercial satellites and their associated space launchers could be utilized for offensive missile programs to deliver WMD, while chemical and biological "precursors" for chem-bio weapons are also utilized peacefully in the chemical industry and the bio-tech industry worldwide. Therefore, in the absence of fair, equitable procedures that guarantee the flow of new technologies and systems to the Third World, cooperative security would be impossible politically. Currently there are charges by most of the developing world that the export control policies of Western states are unfair, because their "technology denial" regimes are legally separate from global treaties and are implemented by national, rather than international, bureaucracies and institutions (for instance, by the US Commerce Department and Defense Department).

Due to the complications associated with dual-use technologies and also the ever-present political disputes over interpretation of treaty requirements, effective regime management must be based upon new institutional structures with broad mandates to enforce provisions, monitor compliance, conduct inspections, interpret the meaning of treaty provisions as well as the legality of member states' national policies, settle disputes between different regime members, change rules and procedures as required by technological advances (in either outlawed weaponry or in cooperative verification technology), and to suggest treaty amendments as gaps are discovered in the original legal provisions. The key is that such institutions must be politically legitimate, legally authoritative, operationally effective, technically competent, financially stable, and adaptable.8

Cooperative security can be sought bilaterally, multilaterally, or even globally depending on the threat at hand and the activities that must be monitored and constrained. Cooperative arrangements may therefore be regional rather than global and, in fact, may be more politically viable and technically verifiable if they involve fewer states that share commonalities such as borders, similar resource bases, similar relative military capabilities, and similar internal developmental or political problems.9

Finally, the key to nonproliferation and cooperative security is transparency in military and commercial activities. Transparency not only ensures the proper use of technology but also gives clues about the intentions of the state producing or receiving that technology. Experts that favor cooperative approaches to security believe that recent advances in publicly available monitoring technologies (such as imaging satellites) should be seen as new means to verify mutual security pacts rather than as "force multipliers" in war. In this view, the spread of information technologies in space and on the ground will allow both global treaty IGOs and individual member states to verify that all treaty members are adhering to standards of equity and peaceful development as outlined in treaties. The RMA is therefore seen as a revolution in the ability to monitor both the intentions and the concrete military activities of states that have agreed to forgo unilateral policy options. Additionally, these capabilities are now being increasingly used in peacekeeping or peace enforcement operations in which state control may have dissolved and outside parties have intervened to stop atrocities and stem the disruptive regional effects of state breakdown.

In sum, the nonproliferation/cooperative approach does not officially separate states into categories of friends, allies, and enemies, but treats all actors as equal partners in the quest for mutual security. Security is increasingly defined as a collective good that cannot be divided. This is due largely to the globalization of social and economic trends; the diffusion of new technologies with dual-use applications; and, in some cases, because the breakdown of state control and the dissolution of some states into warring camps of substate groups (Yugoslavia, Indonesia) has led to humanitarian catastrophes that challenge traditional notions of sovereignty. The nonproliferation/cooperative security viewpoint believes that security is best pursued with other states rather than against them, even in those cases where the states in question have starkly different value systems and ideological goals.

The Nature of the Problem
The current reality is that few analysts or policymakers stray far off the path of either approach, and both sides are largely talking past each other.10 As each school of policy options continues its post-Cold War evolution and development in the form of new technologies (treaty verification networks versus allied military networks), new political organizations (global IGOs versus national security bureaucracies), and new legal frameworks (collective disarmament treaties versus selective export control regimes) there is a growing imbalance and conflict between them that is becoming almost impossible for the US government to reconcile consistently and rationally.

In turn, both of these approaches are undergoing similar changes as it becomes clear that threats from nation-states building up WMD constitute just one segment of post-Cold War dangers. Some expert groups are now arguing that concrete economic and strategic interests are being affected by unstable states in major regions, including instabilities caused by underdevelopment and resource competition. Increasingly, decision makers and experts are realizing that threat assessments must be balanced by an appreciation of intrastate warfare, low-intensity conflicts and, in some cases, the dissolution of states in response to conflicting societal or political divisions (e.g., the former Yugoslavia, parts of Indonesia). In this view, security is increasingly defined at the individual level rather than the state level—in terms of universal democratic, economic, and humanitarian values—and the policy options for dealing with these threats are inherently cooperative in nature, involving higher institutions such as the United Nations. The goals of US national security are therefore expanding to include intervention in internal affairs by coalitions of like-minded states for humanitarian ends (as well as counterterrorist ends). This potentially contradicts a basic tenet of both the counterproliferation and nonproliferation approaches: that the primary threats will continue to be from traditional military buildups and cross-border aggression by nation-states with hegemonic intentions against their neighbors. Both counterproliferation and nonproliferation adherents are being forced to consider and accept the importance of intrastate and transnational actors in contemporary world politics.

The goal of SNS is to directly address these growing gaps and inconsistencies through a hard look at the assumptions and methods of both sides, with the ultimate goal of finding some common ground for integration of approaches, thereby allowing a truly comprehensive US national security policy.


1 On the conventional side, the Air Force has recently successfully tested (with very little press) the "global hawk" unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—a stealthy, automated system that could perform intelligence, reconnaissance, and cruise-missile bombing missions around the globe. The test involved a flight from US territory to the South American equatorial regions and back. Smaller UAVs, such as the "Predator," could be launched from forward bases or ships for missions with both intelligence and strike purposes. On the nuclear side, command and control software (including targeting software) have been improved at Strategic Command in Omaha for the purpose of rapid retargeting and flexible nuclear attack options in regional threat environments; guidance software for nuclear-armed Minuteman III ICBMs has been dramatically improved for better accuracy; and the extremely accurate W-87 warheads/reentry vehicles on the Peacekeeper missiles will probably be switched to the MM III arsenal once the Peacekeeper is retired. The Department of Energy is pushing several new warhead programs for better penetration of deep underground targets with less radioactive fallout, as well as bombs designed solely to generate strong electromagnetic pulses to take out the opponent's communication and intelligence networks. However, Congress has not yet gone ahead with these programs, in part because it would signal once and for all the death of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

2 See http://www.peterson.af.mil/usspace/LRP/cover.htm.

3 Examples of the RMA and commercial/civil/military connection: commercial Ikonos photo-imaging satellites now offer both .5-meter and 1-meter resolution, with sales to government agencies as well as NGOs and commercial firms. Urban planning, environmental monitoring (such as forest fires, pollution), and military targeting are all examples of uses for these new imaging products. The Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network is an example of a system originally built for strictly military use that is now utilized by both civil agencies (NASA, NOAA), commercial firms, and individuals for timing, navigation, and positioning. For instance, global financial services, banks, and cellular telephone companies are all using GPS to "time" the electronic transmission of bits of information between different earth-bound locations. Oil companies use it for navigation, while disaster-relief agencies use GPS for both navigation and location estimates. Individuals can now buy advanced hiking/walking sticks that have GPS devices built in. Originally, however, the GPS system's major goal was to support the counterforce, war-fighting mission of the new MX/Peacekeeper ICBM and Trident SLBMs to make these missiles and reentry vehicles more accurate so as to better deter a Soviet attack and "win" a nuclear war in case of deterrence failure. Additionally, every one of the 24 GPS satellites houses a "piggybacked" sensor, installed by the Air Force, to monitor rays given off by above-ground nuclear explosions anywhere on the globe and transmit the information in near-real time to NORAD in Colorado—originally for the purpose of coordinating missile strikes in a nuclear war (to see which of our ICBM sites had already been hit and which of the enemys had already been hit by our strikes), but now these piggybacked sensors are used indirectly for more cooperative ends: to help verify the nuclear CTBT. Other nations are now exploiting GPS for military as well as commercial ends: India's latest intermediate range nuclear missile for use against China (Agni-II) utilizes GPS signals to increase its accuracy. For a broad but detailed overview of the nexus among commercial, civil, and military space systems, see Linda Haller (Space Commission staff member) and Melvin Sakazaki (System Planning Corporation), Commercial Space and United States National Security, prepared for the Commission to Assess US National Security Space Management and Organization (Rumsfeld Commission).

4 The Pentagon is now trying to integrate not only the C3I networks of the four services but also nuclear and conventional operations through the construction of a "Global Command and Control System."

5 In the realm of outer space, commercial systems have quicker development times than systems managed by the Pentagon bureaucracy because they are less prone to delays, cost overruns, and design failures, which are often caused by conflicting bureaucratic and political demands among military services and among congressional committees. They are also far cheaper to lease on an "as needed" basis. In the illustrative example of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the four services found themselves with separate and inefficient information networks, and they had an urgent need to integrate communications and intelligence so as to effectively coordinate military operations between them. Commercial satellite networks were therefore leased for communications, imaging (French satellites were used to take photographs), and weather prediction. At one point in the war, this resulted in the odd event of Iraq and the United States leasing separate communications channels from the same commercial telephone satellite.

6 For example, the United Arab Emirates are now ready to buy the most advanced version of the F-16 from US contractors—a version so advanced that the US Air Force and Navy have yet to buy it for themselves. Another pertinent example is the Israeli Arrow missile defense system, which was codeveloped with the US Ballistic Missile Defense Organization for use against Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi missiles.

7 Edited by Janne E. Nolan, 1994.

8 As one example, the CTBT has its own implementing organization, the CTBTO, which is constructing (with computer technology and software supplied by the US Department of Defense) a global "International Monitoring System" that will supply both raw data and expert analyses by CTBTO personnel to all member states—24 hours a day, seven days a week—from four types of sensors that monitor "nuclear explosive events" with proven technology. The CTBTO is seen as impartial and fair because the executive body that makes political decisions has states representing all major regions, all members were involved in negotiation of the treaty text, all regions are involved in testing and construction of the verification system, all member states have equal access to data, the data given by member states is protected against sale or theft, and all members have equal obligations not to conduct nuclear tests. The CTBTO's counterpart for the CWC, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has a legal treaty mandate not only to share inspection data with all concerned members but also an obligation to facilitate fair trade in chemical precursors between developed and developing nations. It has a similar political decision-making body (executive council) and a team of lawyers to interpret legal provisions and mediate disputes.

9 This is the view of Israel on the issue of a fissile material production cap or on control of missiles and conventional arms. (However, Israel has agreed to the global CTBT—and in fact has been an important founding member—because the CTBT has regional commissions to decide disputes and interpret provisions and because the CTBT has narrow goals: the banning of nuclear explosions.) As another instance of cooperative security at the regional level, conventional weapons are not viewed as something to be globally outlawed for moral or military reasons. There are few conventional systems with global reach (unlike missiles armed with WMD), and few conventional weapons have the destructive power of WMD, with the result that conventional arms control is seen (thus far) in purely regional terms. For instance, the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) applies to the former Warsaw Pact and the NATO states alone because the limited intent was to decrease fears of preemptive attack (and limit the damage if attacks took place) only between the front-line Cold War states, which were relatively equal in military resources and technology. In fact, conventional armaments are often seen as stabilizing factors if they can protect states without increasing the fear of offensive attacks against the opponent. Cooperative security for conventional armaments often is translated not into disarmament pacts but rather into arms control pacts, where the goal is to monitor war games; curb buildups of lightning strike forces with long ranges such as tanks, planes, and artillery; and structure the placement of forces in such a way that a dominant offensive capability is not created at any one place along a border. In stark contrast chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are cooperatively outlawed on a global basis through universal disarmament pacts because they are seen as particularly odious in a moral sense due to indiscriminate effects on noncombatants, because they can theoretically be delivered globally via missiles, and because their potential damage spans entire ecosystems across multiple regions.

10 Notable exceptions include analysts whom I would call "regional realists": geopolitical analysts who oppose portions of both the global counterproliferation agenda (such as missile defense) and the global cooperative treaty agenda (such as the NPT) because of their negative effects on, or ineffectiveness toward, concrete US strategic interests at the regional level. Examples include several RAND analysts as well as Strategy for Peace Conference 2001 Middle East panel Chair Dr. Geoffrey Kemp.