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September 9, 2005—Rand Corp. recently gathered four elder statesmen of defense to ask for their thoughts on future threats and military transformation. They were Harold Brown, defense secretary for President Carter; Frank Carlucci, national security advisor and defense secretary for President Reagan; Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor for Presidents Nixon and George H.W. Bush; and Robert McNamara, defense secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnso.

A just released issue of Rand Review showed that the four men voiced a central theme: Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is one of the two most critical national security issues facing the US. The other? The nation’s deteriorating fiscal condition.

They did not cite the Global War on Terror. All agreed, though, that it dominates thinking within the Pentagon. Brown characterized the war on terrorism as a “civil war within Islam,” which “limits what we can do militarily.”

All four agreed that the solution rests primarily with diplomacy. Scowcroft said, “We have not really gotten our arms very well around how to integrate our military and our diplomacy for this kind of world.”

The immediate WMD concerns are North Korea and Iran, but they are not the only ones, according to the senior statesmen.

McNamara does not doubt that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons. Furthermore, he said, “I’m not sure anything we do will persuade them to give them up.” He believes that if the US attacks, North Korea’s massive array of artillery could decimate Seoul and US forces nearby. “It is inconceivable to me that we have a military option,” said McNamara.

Instead, he said, the solution to problems with both North Korea and Iran is “to put more weight on diplomacy.”

Scowcroft pointed out that Iran legally could enrich uranium all day long—for peaceful purposes. “Once you have the fissile material, making a weapon is a much simpler process,” he said. Scowcroft went on to say that other countries pose a problem. One is Brazil, he said, which, with its abundant supply of uranium ore sees “money in enriching uranium.”

Like the others, Brown would energize the International Atomic Energy Agency with authority to control fissionable material and would focus heavily on diplomacy. One approach, he said, is to persuade nations that their overall security would be better without nukes. “Now, that takes diplomacy,” said Brown. And, he added, it’s a “big, big question” with Iran, let alone North Korea.