US National Response to Weapons of Mass Destruction, Essay Example

Published: 2022-10-04
US National Response to Weapons of Mass Destruction, Essay Example
Type of paper:  Article review
Categories:  National security
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1741 words
15 min read

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the hands of terrorists and hostile nations represent one of the biggest security challenges facing the US and other states as well such as Iraq. WMDs can help adversaries to inflict massive damage on their targets, their military forces, allies, and friends. The United States administration employs vast capitals annually on the collection and study of intelligence, even though the American foreign policy history is full of misunderstandings and mistakes which are influenced by intelligence fiascos. In "Reports, Politics, and Intelligence Failures: The Case of Iraq", Robert Jervis studies psychology and politics of two of the most remarkable intelligence fiascos in Iraq's recent memories: the claim that Iraq had functional WMD programs in 2002, and the mistaken belief that the Iran government was stable and secular in 1978. This essay is a review of Jervis's article on the issue of intelligence failure through his analysis of various reports and the question of US national reaction to WMD.

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Purpose of The Article

This article demonstrates how the Iraq war marked the first involvement of secret intelligence in public to justify the US going to war. After no WMD were discovered, most adherents squarely blamed the United States intelligence, terming it as an intelligence failure. From then, this term has turned out to be a controversial issue in national security debates with several reports made on the work of intelligence and US response to WMD. Jervis reviews the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities report concerning WMD, the UK's Butler Report, and the account on the United States Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessment on Iraq, as well as research flawed by excessive hindsight and political bias. Neither the contemporary intelligence nor the investigations on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction followed decent social science cultures. According to the author, the report's comparative approaches were not applicable, contrary evidence was disregarded, there were no verifications of alternative propositions, and validation bias was widespread. The case of Iraq with basis on a review of the intelligence community's performance, holds its grounds on analysis of both declassified and classified reports, though the author uses declassified evidence to support his assumption.

Importance of Investigating the Article's Subject

It is important to review this article approach to matters of intelligence failure since the author presents a striking demonstration of an intelligence agency in confusion. The author helps us in understanding the "scarcity of resources" dedicated to Iran in the late 1970s. Two analysts had been assigned by the CIA to evaluate Iranian politics while others played a role in studying its economy, accompanied by a small, fruitless station in Tehran. But then, the group believed that Iran's growing opposition could not threaten Shah's government. But as the author notes, the expert's main sign of trouble could happen if the predicament was severe. The analysts depended on what ended up being a worthless metric in his case on intelligence failures in Iraq brought by the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate stating that Iraq was collecting WMD. Jervis evaluates the accounts provided for the errors - possibly the most substantial researched intelligence gap since Pearl Harbor - and finds them defective.


Jervis uses the method of reviewing other reports to discovers the adverse flaws of intelligence and further accounts that researchers were giving in to political pressure and updating the White House on whatever information they needed. Proponents of this reports claim that "the main mistakes were grouped by the failure to share information, lack of effective management in the government, and groupthink" (p. 26). Policy implementations, not excluding the new establishment of a Director of National Intelligence, had the obligation of finding a solution to the situation. Jervis's article applies both important reports released or produced after the beginning of the military action as well as pre-war documents. The pre-war reports, consists of the central unclassified British and US evaluations of Iraq's WMD programs, and the reports on the last era before their 1998 departure, as well as the period between November 2002 and February 2003. Jervis also effectively touches on the reports regarding several facets of Iraqi's weapons of mass destruction activities, Secretary Powell's address to the United Nations, and the United States statement policy on combating WMD.


The author found out that, following Iraq's defeat during the attack on Kuwait in 1990, the United States led U.N. coalition was capable of compelling Iraq to agree to a monitoring regime and inspection, with the aim of ensuring that Iraq dismantled its weapons of mass destruction programs and failed to take an action that would lead to its reconstitution. The strategy of enacting the essential UN solutions was the Special Commission on Iraq. The inspection regime went on till 1998, even though it comprised of Iraqis efforts at deception and denial, confrontations, and interruptions. Jervis also found out that the UK and US assessment of Iraqi's nonconventional arms heavily depended on unreliable human intelligence sources that did not go through proper vetting, in certain circumstances, have since confirmed to be fabrications. In his reports on failures of intelligence, Jervis gives several instances of analysis failures: a case where analysis was founded on prior findings without taking note of their doubts, failure to contest main conventions concerning the presence of WMD programs, and a lack of imagination to create other ideas. These examples demonstrate some of the shortcomings of intelligence.

The case of Iraq as presented by Jervis gives a clear instance of intelligence politicization. The Pentagon's Office of Special Plans was mainly created to generate evaluations with a basis on the postulation that Iraq possessed nonconventional weapons and was better than other assessments of community intelligence which opposed that assumption. In this article, the real failure does not lie in the National Intelligence Estimate contents, but the foregone conclusion through its presentations. This assurance provided policymakers with limited reasons to stop. Even though they stopped, and probed the matter, Jervis still doubts that the intelligence community would have considerably reviewed its investigation. His assumption holds that the tragedy is practically inevitable by one dominant factor: the intelligence community's explanations of Saddam's behavior and motives; however wrong it ended up being, it was entirely possible. In short, according to the author, there are barriers to intelligence agencies' ability to understand the world and safeguard people's safety.

How the Article Advances Knowledge

Jervis contributes to the understanding of US national response to WMD through an analysis of intelligence failure. For Jervis, the subject of weapons of mass destruction is a complicated matter which stems from several factors including intelligence failure. Intelligence, irrespective of the particular devotion of extremely intellectual personnel, following skills, and unlimited budgets, continues being at the bottom of "informed speculation." Those who place intelligence failure on an event without being aware of the full intricacy of the intelligence work, are doing damage. It is possible to see the missed signs following an attack. Hence, Jervis claims that we have to admit that intelligence shortcomings are unavoidable. Undeniably, with the problematic condition of intelligence activities, when it gets to dealing with matters of WMD, it would be more astonishing if failures in intelligence responses did not occur.

The article opposes the debate politicized by the CIA report, created to bring into line with what the Bush government wanted to hear. He claims that this report conforms to common sense though several independent investigations rejected it and by the whole intelligence community when WMD was not available after the war. The politicization charge has limited careful deliberations. Some other issues, the article notes, clarify the disaster. Jervice contributes to the knowledge of intelligence by giving an instance of the ferocious interagency battle raged on the importance of aluminum tubes that Iraq was importing. The CIA assumed that for years, they were meant to supplement uranium, thus part of Iraq's imaginary weapons of mass destruction effort. Other administration units, such as the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, maintained that the tubes were not appropriate for this purpose - which happened to be the issue. Jervis makes psychological, political, and physical remarks far from the CIA's analysts. He claims that "aluminum-tube evaluation as well as other tentatively correctable mistakes such as the CIA's dependence on the insignificant information directed to it by the Iraqi rebel - the Curveball - were not the main problems" (p. 24). "We might want to assume that bad processes explain bad outcomes and that fixing the intelligence machine will provide solutions to the problems" states Jervis (p. 20) but that is not always the case.

Jervis also shows how the quality of intelligence analysis also faces criticisms. The failure to find weapons storage has been a specific factor for criticism. Controversies also center around certain judgments-in the US regarding Iraq's motives for seeking high-strength aluminum pipes. Additionally, members of parliament and congress, and possible political rivals, as well as other observers criticize the application of intelligence by the government. Charges have consisted of extortion of political pressure, selective use of knowledge, and outright distortion to influence the content of intelligence estimates to offer support to the decisions of going to war with Iraq.


In Jervis's assessment, neither the prescriptions nor the explanations are satisfactory. The inferences drawn by intelligence are entirely possible given the available information. His article has errors since he concludes from inadequate consideration to the manner in which data ought to be collected and analyzed, a governing philosophy which was futile in its investigations on the weaknesses and exploring alternatives, and a lack of self-awareness on the factors which resulted to the findings. Evaluating the inherent tensions between the aims and methods of intelligence policymakers and personnel from a unique insider's perspective, Jervis vehemently analyzes new suggestions for improving the intelligence community's performance and discusses ways of improving future analysis.

The WMD commission revealed that information sharing or cooperation between agencies was inefficient, particularly concerning reports which questioned the information's credibility, when the declaration involved in the dynamic WMD programs in Iraq turned into being the main case for the US government's impetus for warfare. If several agencies accessed these reports, they would have asked more. Nevertheless, bureaucracy and security protocols were the main barriers. There is minimal sharing of information between law enforcement agencies and the US intelligence, perceived to be holding different roles, that might have contributed to withholding of valuable information on WMD.


Jervis 1, R. (2006). Reports, politics, and intelligence failures: The case of Iraq. Journal of Strategic Studies, 29(1), 3-52.DOI: 10.1080/01402390600566282

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