the domains where proliferation remains a concern.
What’s different is that each year lessons learned are
applied from the training scenarios to make follow-on
training more complex and more realistic.”
Abrahamson added that while there was no cer-
tainty the participating nation list would continue to
expand, the trend indicates that “more nations are
endorsing the PSI initiative.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings
Institution, a Washington think tank, said that WMDs
had indeed seemed to have fallen out of public interest
in the years since the Bush administration, but remain a
“We get obsessed with a given problem, then we sort
of forget about it,” O’Hanlon said. “This is sort of the
case with biological weapons. We had the anthrax scare
in 2001, we thought a bit about biological weapons and
advanced pathogens, we’ve had a lot of breakouts of nat-
urally occurring viruses since then like West Nile, avian
flu and, obviously, Ebola, but we haven’t really been able
to whip ourselves into the same hysteria as 2001.”
While hysteria is not exactly the answer, the concern
should certainly be greater in 2016, as biological tech-
nology has advanced since 2001, O’Hanlon noted.
“The threat is undoubtedly greater,” he said. “We
don’t talk about it.”
And then there are nuclear weapons, the fear that
never goes away. While technology has not really
advanced much in the last decade or so in this area,
there are reasons to have greater concerns about nukes,
O’Hanlon said, due to a “big proliferation” on the part of
both Pakistan and North Korea. And that does not even
factor in Russia’s recent behavior, he added.
“In some sense, Russia has put nuclear politics and
nuclear brinksmanship back on the table in terms of
international interactions in major states,” O’Hanlon said.
There is less concern that terrorist groups will get
their hands on a WMD, he noted.
“We’ve gotten a little less paranoid about al-Qaida
or ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria],” he said.
“There was a moment back in the early 2000s when the
Bush administration thought a nuclear weapon might
be sitting in lower Manhattan about to go off. We hav-
en’t really seen that kind of debate, at least publicly.”
So who is the biggest threat when it comes to
WMDs? North Korea probably tops the list due to their
frequent nuclear tests and rhetoric, O’Hanlon argued.
“In some ways, they may be more dangerous than
Middle Eastern [threats],” he said, noting that for
some reason Republicans have not criticized President
Barack Obama more for the North Korean situation
due to the fact that the state has tested a nuclear
weapon four times during his presidency, and probably
expanded its arsenal by about 10 bombs or so.
So can exercises like Deep Sabre and the U.S. Navy
really do much about this proliferation? O’Hanlon said
it would be difficult, to say the least.
“It’s very hard for a navy to do
anything to control the spread of
weapons,” he said. “Certainly, you
can control or try to track and
preempt delivery vehicles if you’re
worried about a ship actually being
the way a nuclear weapon is delivered. But the detectors are short
range, and nuclear weapons do not
give off a long-range signature. And
if they’re covered in lead, you’ve got
to be extremely close.”
That said, these exercises have
their uses, he argued.
“It’s not like anyone thinks that
if the Navy gets good enough at
this kind of operation, that we can
stop Pakistani and North Korean
nuclear programs,” he said. “It
might improve our odds to stop
shipments to terrorist groups, so if
North Korea somehow is trying to
export materials, and had reason to
suspect a given ship,” it could conceivably be stopped, he added. n
A U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Safety Security Team Maritime Law Enforcement
Force Protection member clears the main deck of USNS Henry J. Kaiser
during an exercise at sea off Hawaii for Fortune Guard 2014, which was
designed to build regional weapons of mass destruction counterproliferation
capacity and long-term commitment to the Proliferation Security Initiative in
the Indo-Asia-Pacific. The recent “Deep Sabre” tabletop exercise in Singapore
included participants from 21 nations.