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U.S. vulnerable to security threats during war

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Political scientists with expertise in military strategy, international security, and the causes and consequences of war analyzed U.S. operations in Iraq and weighed the potential aftermath in a Center for International Studies forum on March 21.

Participants in the forum titled "War with Iraq: Conduct and Consequences" were Stephen Van Evera, associate director of the Center for International Studies (CIS); Owen Cote Jr., associate director of the Security Studies Program; Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science; and Daryl Press, assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College.

In discussing the global context in which the Iraq war is unfolding, the speakers noted tensions within the Middle East as well as those arising from North Korea's nuclear program, and they highlighted the persistent menace of terrorism on U.S. soil.

The United States currently faces security challenges which it is not meeting, particularly in preparing for the possible use of chemical or biological weapons here, warned Cote. "These weapons are not like nuclear weapons; these are ubiquitous, impossible to prevent either in Iraq or here. We still don't know the source of the 2001 anthrax attack. But the civilian populace can be protected some. Homeland security should work on a civilian warning system. For example, every building should have a type of smoke detector that can warn when something is in the air," he said.

Van Evera endorsed Cote's view of the United States as "woefully underprepared--a wide open, fat, lolling target" for terrorism. The Iraq war will "distract our intelligence and weaken our war against Al Qaeda, and the threat from Al Qaeda is very large. This is a very skilled, ambitious force with unlimited murder on its mind," he said.

Van Evera noted that Al Qaeda fervently hopes to see American bungle its mission in occupying a post-war Iraq. "History says that occupiers often do bungle," Van Evera said. "We must find international partners and get the U.S. flag off this occupation."

Christiansen focused on the role that North Korea's nuclear program may have in America's timing of the war in Iraq. The U.S. must have "teeth in its negotiations with North Korea, and the Iraq war may do that." Describing elements of U.S.-North Korea negotiations, he said, "We want those fuel rods removed and the nuclear production facilities destroyed. The North Koreans want security, economic aid and trade openings. Nobody wants to invade North Korea and occupy it."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 2, 2003.

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