The focus of WMD Threat Reduction Programs has been on the FSU, particularly Russia, given the environmental and security challenges caused by chemical weapons and fissile materials stocks, decommissioned nuclear submarines or orphaned radiological sources. Nunn Lugar programs and G8 Kananaskis commitments have started to address these issues and progress is underway. But, today, the WMD threat is more global. Threat Reduction Programs need to be re-examined in their concept and substance with a much stronger focus on illicit trafficking and clandestine networks. A new era of international cooperation should be developed promoting the idea of WMD good governance under the authority of UNSC resolution 1540. Risk prevention, promotion of safety and security cultures and regional ownership will be the prerequisites to a much needed strengthening of WMD threat reduction programs.        

From sources to illicit trafficking: better anticipating clandestine networks 

One of the many lessons drawn from the Iranian and DPRK nuclear crises is the extent to which the international community had underestimated the magnitude of illicit trafficking in proliferation-sensitive materials, equipment and know-how. We knew something problematic was occurring, we thought we could control it, but we did not. We did not anticipate or deal with the emergence of clandestine illicit networks involving public-private partnerships. A new generation of sub-state proliferation has now established itself at regional and trans-regional level. It is time to look beyond Russia to address a more global trans-regional threat. There is a clear recognition by the international community that the Middle East, Central and South Asia, as well as Africa, will need further attention in order to promote a safety and security culture.  

From global threat to risk prevention: creating true CBRN safety and security cultures

WMD trafficking is a growing concern despite very few seizures of illicit CBRN materials or illegal technology transfer. Absence of evidence, however, is not evidence of absence. The links between WMD proliferation, organized crime and terrorism are still marginal but will only increase as global illicit trafficking is booming. Abu Mus’ab-al Suri, a suspected al-Qaeda member, declared about 9/11…if I had been consulted about this operation, I would have advised them to select aircraft on international flights and to have put weapons of mass destruction aboard them. Attacking America with weapons of mass destruction was – and still is – a difficult and complicated matter, but it is still a possibility in the end, if Allah permits us”. The discovery in 2003 of Chemical/Biological manuals in Jemaah Islamiyah safe-house (Philippines) and the 2007 bombings in Southern Thailand combining acid and IEDs show, if needed, that the intention is there. For all the attention that has been paid to nuclear terrorism, not enough has been given to radiological and bio-violence. Those threats have different backgrounds. They require distinctive answers. A shift of interest is needed both by intelligence services and by the academic world to analyze and anticipate those new realities.

Addressing the evolving types of threats of the use of WMD is only one part of the equation. Risks from dual-use technology and materials also need to be anticipated in a more realistic way. New challenges like energy, health or even climate change (concentration of population in very dense urban areas) will come into play when assessing WMD issues. Countries that will rely more and more on civil nuclear energy or biotechnology development, for instance countries in the Persian Gulf and ASEAN, will need to develop a true safety and security culture. The possibility to leave options open, a strategy displayed by Iran with its nuclear program, should be as limited as possible. The possibility to manipulate natural or accidental health crises for terrorism purposes should be controlled. Dual-use CBRN risks must be tackled before they become a threat. This requires moving away from analyzing proliferators’ intentions towards developing a broad CBRN good governance attitude. We are pretty much starting from scratch. 

Rehabilitating third country assistance: from Nunn-Lugar to good governance programmes
No one will deny the primary role of diplomacy, including through sanctions, to address WMD proliferation. But everyone will recognize the limits of “universalization”, the increasing risks of “cheating in” or “opting out” of key treaties and the paralyzing linkage that some nations make between non-proliferation and disarmament issues. There is no easy fix as the recent NPT Prepcom showed. The current work done by the international community to support efficient multilateralism is essential and must continue.

Those diplomatic efforts are, however, doomed to fail if not accompanied by a true “capacity building” approach that will create a web of CBRN governance. Cooperative threat reduction programs, like the one started by the US in the beginning of the 90’s and complemented since then by the G8 Kananaskis commitments need to be re-examined in their concept and features. Expanding to regions where economic development may increase WMD risks should very much be an immediate priority if the international community is serious about the globalization of the threat. 

This will require a comprehensive shift of focus from sources of proliferation (removal, storage, physical protection) to trafficking. Export control, border monitoring, brokering, illicit financing and monitoring of relevant scientists and engineers will become the main challenge requiring a totally different approach from the one that has been followed so far. Iraqi and Pakistani WMD networks have shown to what extent the failure of export control, the absence of international brokering regulations and the complexity of financial and trade systems have facilitated air/sea/land illicit trafficking. Law enforcement, exchange of information and industry outreach are too often the missing links. National commitments to establish appropriate controls and adopt legislative measures to prevent the proliferation of WMD, as required by UNSC resolution 1540, have been slow and disappointing. Many nations think they are not concerned by WMD threats or risks since they do not produce such weapons. Many nations think that non-proliferation programs are only in the interest of developed countries. Perceptions need to be changed. Policy awareness and regional ownership must be developed. On the other hand, technologically advanced states need to more fully appreciate how many developing countries lack the human and technical resources to implement national laws mandated under 1540.       

Recommendations for future Threats Reduction Programs

Without being exhaustive, here are a few recommendations reflecting a much needed change for the next generation of threat reduction programs:

  1. Lessons learned from the FSU experience underline the importance of defining a legal framework where tax issues, access to sites, visas and contracting arrangements are clearly defined; 
  2. Regional support from international organizations (ASEAN/ARF, GCC/Arab League…) may bring additional buy-in and long term sustainability. Delicate balances must be established between what is asked and offered by regional organizations and the sensitivities of national authorities about interference;
  3. Complete MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) encompassing the full range of possible projects (export control, illicit trafficking, illicit financing, CBRN safety and security training, emergency planning) should be reviewed with national authorities. Direct and frequent contacts with agencies and ministries in charge of the projects and their implementation are essential; 
  4. International coordination with other donors and new beneficiaries is paramount to the success of Threat Reduction Programs. The G8 Global Partnership has developed a true expertise in the field of assistance. Its scope should be extended to include countries willing to become safety and security centres of excellence in their regions. The 1540 Committee’s mandate should be, consequently, expanded to make the UN the corner stone of future WMD assistance programs.       

Little attention has been paid to threat reduction programs beyond the FSU. It is now up to international donors to convince future recipients that developing national CBRN regulations and capacities should be priorities in their own interests. This is a challenging but essential task.

Bruno Dupré has been detached by France to the EU Commission, in October 2006, to support the implementation of the EU Strategy against WMD in close coordination with the Council. Before that he was the Head of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Bureau at the French Ministry of Defense. He holds a Ph.D in law and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University. He wrote this analysis for the Carnegie Endowment. The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the positions of France or the EU.