Reports are surfacing of a new tragedy in Syria. Chemical weapons are allegedly being deployed by the Syrian army in a bid to cause mass destruction of the remaining rebel forces. The threat of chemical weapon attacks is alarming, if proven to be accurate. The BBC reported that more than 1,000 people, many of them children, have been suffocated by new chemical attacks in a bid to bring down the rebel forces.
Chemical Weapons might be the worst threat for the rebels and might lead them to put down their arms, although it seems unlikely. The rebel forces still retain the ability to respond with more impactful and less violent action. Today’s greatest threat of mass destruction or civil destruction comes from cyber attacks. Cyber war could bring down a country’s ability to function. Since 9/11 the US has been fighting a war against technology invasions, perhaps as strongly as any rebel force.
Presidential Policy Directive 20 was issued in October 2012 and the public was informed about it in a release made by the infamous Edward Snowden. The Policy Directive states: “OECO can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance U.S. national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging.” The Directive outlined US cyber-war policy called “Offensive Cyber Effect Operations,” otherwise known as OCEO. Today the US does not appear to have the tools available to execute a full OCEO operation but it is clear that the potential exists and the goal is to increase strength in this area.
The world has evolved its war strategies through the decades. Chemical attacks and Cyber attacks would be devastating but there are other threats of mass destruction that innocent people have had to consider.
Since the late 1800s’s and especially post 1945, the threat to US values and business stability did not come from war: It came from the fear of Communism. The idea that the trade unions could dictate business terms and that intellectuals could celebrate socialist values was unbearable. Senator Joe McCarthy’s programs in the 1940’s and 1950’s destroyed the lives of thousands of left-leaning intellectuals.
McCarthy lost support in the 1960’s and the new fear was soon recognized in 1961 when President John F Kennedy gave a speech. He declared that the US would defend itself, even to the point of nuclear war. As a direct result of this speech, an initiative was passed to encourage local governments to build public and private nuclear bomb shelters. Thousands were erected, although their actual number – and potential effectiveness – is unclear. The response to the speech was a widespread belief that there was nothing more dangerous than a nuclear attack.
President Jimmy Carter’s State of the Union address in 1980 made many mentions of the dangers facing the world at that time. International terrorism and military aggression by the Russians were the themes of his speech. At the same time, 50 Americans were being held hostage in Iran and hostage-taking was an overwhelming fear and reality.
Communism, nuclear attack, terrorism, hostage taking, chemical weapons and cyber attacks; these threats and other forms of mass destruction are part of our history. It is not something we want to offer our children but we may not have a choice.
An Op/Ed by Vicky Judah