Review Panel on Future Directions for Defense Threat Reduction Agency Missions and Capabilities to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction

  • The Honorable Robert G. Joseph
| March 2008

In August 2007, the Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) asked the Honorable Ashton B. Carter and the Honorable Robert G. Joseph to co-chair a Review Panel on Future Directions for DTRA Missions and Capabilities to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The Panel conducted an independent review of, and provided recommendations on, potential future directions for DTRA, as part of the broader Department of Defense and U.S. Government efforts to combat WMD.

The full text of the final report is available in the document attached below.


WMD in the hands of hostile states or terrorists constitute the preeminent threat to the United States, our allies and friends. While the WMD danger may not be as immediate, on a day-to-day basis, as the other threats now facing U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is likely to be far closer than commonly realized, with political, military, economic and social consequences more devastating than any the United States has had to face to date.

In 2002, the President issued a comprehensive National Strategy to Combat WMD - supplemented subsequently by national strategies against biological and terrorist threats - but DOD and the U.S. Government as a whole have not fully implemented them. Performance has fallen short in all three pillars of the National Strategy to Combat WMD: prevention; protection; and response. As used in this report, "prevention, protection and response" have the same meaning as the three pillars of nonproliferation, counterproliferation and consequence management in the National Strategy to Combat WMD. Thus: prevention encompasses measures to prevent, dissuade or impede proliferation of WMD; protection, measures to deter, defend against and defeat WMD; and consequence management, measures to reduce to the extent possible the consequences of WMD use by hostile states or terrorists.

The three pillars of the National Strategy for Combating WMD in turn require three types of activities from DOD:

  1. First, DOD must be capable of prevailing in all WMD threat environments. Even if the enemy employs WMD, the U.S. military must be able to achieve all military objectives in all phases of the war plans in all theaters of operation. This leads to a requirement for such counters as protective equipment and missile defense, specific courses of action to fight through a WMD attack by an opponent, and effective capabilities to detect, interdict, and defeat the threat of terrorist use of WMD.
  2. Second, DOD must maintain a credible nuclear force to deter WMD use by hostile states, leading to a requirement for flexible, safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces maintained by appropriately trained and skilled personnel.
  3. Third, DOD must play an active part in government-wide efforts to prevent and protect against WMD proliferation and WMD terrorism, support threat reduction and arms control, and assist in response to WMD attacks if they occur.

Within DOD, these three activities are spread across Combatant Commands (COCOMs) (including Strategic Command [STRATCOM]), the Joint Staff, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), and the Military Services. The Review Panel found that, while there is awareness within the Department leadership of the importance of combating WMD, its component activities are not well defined, nor are the roles and responsibilities of the various DOD components for accomplishing them. The third type of activity involves the U.S. Government as a whole, extending across the interagency community from, in particular, the White House to the Departments of State, Energy, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and the Intelligence Community. Here too, the Panel finds that roles and responsibilities are not well defined, and in particular DOD's role is not well defined. It is within this context that DTRA's unique capabilities are brought to bear. While DTRA supports all of the DOD components and the interagency community involved in combating WMD, no one takes responsibility for building and supporting DTRA's capabilities.

Given the breadth of combating WMD missions, and the existing gaps in their implementation, the Review Panel focused not just on DTRA, but also on broader DOD and U.S. Government efforts in the area. In fact, these are to a notable extent coterminous, because DTRA offers a unique asset to DOD and the entire U.S. Government for combating WMD. It alone in the U.S. Government has a mandate for combat support, operations, and research and development which extends to all three pillars of the National Strategy and all three WMD threats - chemical, biological and nuclear.

Although DTRA has performed well, especially in recent years, it has not been given the means required to meet all of its current responsibilities, let alone to realize its full potential for the U.S. Government in combating WMD. DOD has experienced major budget growth since the attacks of 9/11, but DTRA's funding levels during that period have been only slightly over the inflation rate. Moreover, legislative and regulatory restrictions on the Agency's budget seriously hinder optimal allocation of its limited resources.

DTRA's funding limitations reflect - and reinforce - a broader issue. The Agency, and combating WMD missions in general, need powerful advocates within DOD who recognize the importance of these missions and of DTRA's unique potential to support them. In view of the range and cross-cutting nature of DTRA's mandate, the STRATCOM Commander, the Under Secretary of Defense for AT&L, and the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy should all be strong advocates for the Agency to gain the necessary financial resources and attention from DOD and U.S. Government senior leadership. These multiple advocates are all required; no one of them should defer the responsibility to another.

This report recommends a significant expansion of DTRA's contributions to the combating WMD missions across the spectrum of prevention, protection and response. The Review Panel's recommendations are numerous and wide-ranging. First, they cover DOD missions to combat WMD: deterrence and countering WMD in the hands of adversary states or terrorists, which are unique to DOD; as well as the broader U.S. Government efforts in which DOD does - or should - play a strong role. Second, they focus on the budgetary and organizational changes which should be made within DOD and the interagency community, for DTRA and DOD as a whole best to meet their combating WMD responsibilities.

The Review Panel would welcome it if other DOD or U.S. Government entities were willing to take on more activities associated with combating WMD, and other missions that DTRA is now performing; security and elimination of Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) is one example. However, the Panel has not been able to identify current DTRA mission areas that would be satisfactorily performed by others. Instead, we have found that, until now, only DTRA has shown the requisite willingness and ability, consistently and across the board. At the same time, we believe there are additional efficiencies to be found in several areas (for example, in nonproliferation assistance and medical countermeasures) from closer cooperation between DTRA and other U.S. Government agencies.

In light of the requirements for devoting significantly increased DOD resources to combating WMD and for establishing clear priorities among mission requirements, as well as the possibility of strong contributions from other DOD entities to the mission, the Review Panel recommends that DOD develop a new, more detailed combating WMD strategic plan for the entire Department, to include - but not be limited to - DTRA. The plan should address the missions of direct responsibility and importance for DOD, including its role in interagency efforts, across all three pillars of the National Strategy to Combat WMD.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Carter, Ashton B., and Robert G. Joseph, et al.. “Review Panel on Future Directions for Defense Threat Reduction Agency Missions and Capabilities to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.” , March 2008.