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January 22, 2005

Denying Access by Non-State Actors to WMD

Versión en español: Impedir el acceso a las armas de destrucción masiva

Intelligence reports suggest that a number of terrorist groups are actively seeking the capability to carry out attacks using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons (CBRN or WMD). In order to succeed, however, they must first obtain the necessary materials and transport them to the site of the proposed attack. A key step in preventing such attacks, therefore, is to deny these groups access to these materials.

Over the years three key international treaties have been put in place to try and prevent the proliferation of WMD. These are, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The principal aim of these treaties is to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to achieve the total elimination of biological and chemical weapons. The vast majority of countries have ratified all three of these treaties and, while not perfect, they are generally considered to be effective instruments in the global campaign to limit the proliferation of WMD.

These treaties, as negotiated and adopted, however, were primarily aimed at the activities of states and not specifically designed to address the problem of the use of WMD by groups or individuals within a state. While the CWC, for example, has an intrusive and effective verification regime its declaration and inspection requirements are primarily targeted at the activities of states. Routine verification under this treaty is restricted to what was judged, at the time of the treaty negotiations, to be military significant types and quantities of toxic chemicals. The types and quantities of these chemicals likely to be sought and used by non-state actors, on the other hand, may be very different. Despite such limitations, all three treaties have the potential to deal effectively with the problem of non-state actors but in order for them to do so their member states need to take a number of measures.

The first of these is the question of universality. Some states remain outside one or more of these treaties and are consequently not bound by their provisions. Such states pose a potential danger in that they could become, whether intentionally or otherwise, a safe haven for non-state actors seeking to obtain or produce WMD. Recognising this, the member states of the CWC, in 2003, adopted an action plan to encourage the remaining non-member states to join. This has met with some success and membership now stands at 167 states. A small number of key states, particularly in the Middle East, however, remain outside the treaty and so further efforts will be required if universality is to be achieved. The situation with the BWC, which with a membership of 153 states has the lowest membership of the three treaties, is less encouraging. Failure, at the 6th Revue Conference in 2001, after many years of negotiation, to agree on a protocol to strengthen the treaty has had a negative impact on progress towards increasing its effectiveness. The situation with the NPT is complicated by the fact that the treaty only provides for the original five nuclear weapons powers to be signatories to the treaty while retaining a nuclear weapons capability. This restriction means that India, Israel and Pakistan, all of which have a nuclear weapons capability, are unlikely to join the NPT and for a similar reason the DRPK is unlikely to rejoin. Some mechanism, therefore, needs to be found to ensure that these four states at least comply with the non-proliferation provisions of the NPT.

Achieving universality, however, will not be sufficient to ensure that these treaties are effective in dealing with the problem of non-state actors. With respect to the CWC it is also important that the requirement for those states that possess stockpiles of chemical weapons to destroy them by 2012, at the latest, is also met. At present some 6.5 million chemical weapons, in the six possessor states, still await destruction. While their destruction is the responsibility of the individual possessor states there is a significant risk that, without additional support from other member states, this timeline will not be met. The continued existence of these stockpiles of weapons poses a threat to all nations.

Effective implementation of all three treaties, particularly with respect to the activities of non-state actors, also depends on each member state putting in place comprehensive national implementing legislation. Although the enacting of such national legislation is a requirement of all three treaties compliance with this obligation, particularly with respect to the BWC and CWC is far from satisfactory. Almost 30 years after it entered into force less than half of the member states of the BWC have enacted domestic legislation that fully meets their obligations under the treaty. The situation with the CWC, after 7 years, is even worse. Despite the adoption, in 2003, of an action plan to encourage member states to enact the necessary legislation only 32% of the member states were judged by the Organisation to have comprehensive implementing legislation in place by the end of 2004.

The enactment of effective national legislation or regulation is, with out question, the key to preventing WMD falling in the hands of non-state actors. A fact recognised by the United Nations Security Council, which unanimously adopted a resolution, in April 2004, requiring all member states of the UN to put in place appropriate legislation to limit the access of non-state actors to WMD and related materials (UNSCR 1540). This resolution applies equally to both member states and non-member of the BWC, CWC and NPT.

With the collaboration ofSafe Democracy Foundation
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