Contents: Keynotes, Panels, Sessions
- About the Summit
- The Madrid Agenda
- Related Links
- Document Library
- Media Room
March 10, 2005
Moderator: Christopher Dickey
Panellists: Rolf Ekeus, John Colston, Eugene Habiger, Sergei Ordzhonikidze
Respondents: Mahmoud Barakat, Jonathan Schell
Complete audio of the conference
- Stopping the Spread of WMDs
- Audio Archive (English) [1h. 19m., 18 MB, MP3]
Transcription / Transcripción
Note: […] Means not audible or missing content from the original tapes because of the recording
Nota: […] Significa no audible o que falta contenido en la cinta original debido a la grabación
Moderator Christopher Dickey
Good afternoon or good morning, I guess. I’d like to –one looses track in Madrid actually– I’d like to welcome you all here. Our discussion about stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the relationship between weapons of mass destruction and the threat of terrorism.
We have a very distinguished and interesting panel here today. I am Christopher Dickey; I’m not the most interesting person here. Beside me is Rolf Ekeus, who has certainly been at the centre of the weapons of mass destruction issue for a long time. I think he was probably most in the headlines when he was running UNSCOM and inspecting Iraq for weapons of mass destruction in the first half of the 1990’s, what turned out to be a very successful mission in the end. He is now among other things the Chairman of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which has always of course kept the world focused on the issues and dangers surrounding weapons of mass destruction.
Here we have General Eugene Habiger, retired from the United States Air Force, where he was among other things the Commander-in-Chief of the US Strategic Command. He is man who was directly involved with the question of nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction used by one state against another and in defence of the United States for many years. I think he had a lot of very [...] insight into the real risks that are involved with weapons of mass destruction, not just the theoretical ones.
We also have John Colston, who is the Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Operations at NATO. Again, a man who his hands on the issues, if not the button, dealing with weapons of mass destruction.
And we have –I don’t think he’s got a name card– but we have Sergei –oh, Sergei, this is a tough one– Sergei Ordzhonikidze. Is that right, Sergei? Thank you. Who’s Undersecretary General of the United Nations, Secretary General of the Conference on Disarmament.
There are two respondents. We have Jonathan Schell, who writes for the Nation including the provocatively column titled Letter from ground zero, and is one of the greatest authorities we have in American journalism on issues of disarmament and weapons of mass destruction.
And we have Mahmoud Barakat, of the Department of Safeguard and Physical Protection of the Atomic Energy Authority of Egypt, which is not a nuclear power and as far as I know doesn’t want to be, but has certainly done some interesting research on nuclear weapons.
I think what we really want to do today is look at practical considerations when we talk about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. We want to look at what the real threat is. Not just the sort of Tom Clancy, and the pulp fiction threat. I’ve written some of that pulp fiction myself. But what really are the dangers that are posed today, and what really can be done to address those dangers. So we want to try to hew as closely as possible to the practical here, not just the theoretical or the alarmist. And I thought probably the best way to begin would be with Rolf, who has certainly had a lot of practical experience in evaluating the different levels of threat that are attached to the different kinds of weapons of mass destruction, because it’s not all just nukes.
I would ask to quickly go through the list of weapons of mass destruction, that I’m sure you’re very aware about. But how they relate to the terrorist mind, and how accessible they are. And obviously if you take in order of destructive and danger: Nuclear weapons are leading on the food chain, they are followed by biological weapons, after that chemical weapons and in fourth place what I would call radiological weapons. Obviously, including, as you do, attacks on civilian facilities, which is part of the radiological weapon.
But if you look at accessibility, which is the risk element, I can say that nuclear weapons are leading there, to be very difficult to access. Very difficult for a terrorist to handle and bring in to his operation. Second in a row: Biological weapons. Third, and also difficult if I may say so: Chemical weapons. There we have today possible options for terrorist networks. Then finally radiological weapons, which I would say, clearly are accessible. My judgement is today: chemical weapons constitute the greatest threat, in a terrorist context, weighing the risk and weighing the accessibility. Chemical weapons have a limited use as terrorist or mass destruction weapon. But if they are in areas confined and closed, they can have a terrible affect. Keep in mind: subways or closed railway stations, closed sports arenas, and also in the tunnels. We know about this accident with these Europeans in the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Not with chemical weapons but it had a terrible affect, which shows in confined…
We also know that terrorists have been using chemical weapons for […] pure terrorist action in Japan by the On Shiriku group. And in spite of very hasty, very, very quick work, one or two scientists involved, it still created quite serious damage. Death, destruction, panic. And one can only say that if these terrorists had been a little slower, a little more careful, it would have been a major catastrophe. And as I say chemical weapons are not difficult to get hold of.
Radiological weapons: it is clear it’s quite easy because of course you have the radioactive waste easily accessible and if you bring that together with explosives there is potential. The downside for a terrorist is that if you bring radiological weapons into a public place or into an airplane […] that you will be probably radiated yourself. That is why in the Conference on Disarmament in the 80’s we disposed of the radiological weapons because it wasn’t practical.
Nowadays we have learned that terrorists are frequently suicide actors. And a terrorist may be radioactive-sick but he can also blow himself up in the context of radiological weapons. So certainly they are accessible. But also the spread and consequences are less harmful. I see Peter Zimmerman in the room because he is an expert in these things and he may correct me, and that would be interesting to hear.
And finally biological weapons: the science is available now, the art of science, peer reviews, high science… According to the ethics of science it has to be transparent, it has to be accessible. The difficulty here for a terrorist and why I put it up in the high difficulty range is the mechanics to get is spread and to get is deployed and used. I still think there are some formidable difficulties to get access. But the consequences of biological terrorist actions are really difficult to imagine.
I will talk just a bit about the nuclear proliferation issue. There are two approaches, fundamentally, when we try to limit the nuclear threat. The normative approach - international treaties. And the other is of course the operational steps to limit the access to nuclear weapons. I will just list the […] summit control regime that we hope that Sergei will be able to bring to us through the Conference on Disarmament. We may hear more about it. It is very important to halt all production of [.] material. We have the comprehensive test ban, which is still not enforced fully; we are waiting on an American ratification, and it looks long down the line.
And we have of course the centre of everything here the NPT - the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty. I would like there to be two important steps taken in context of that. One is that the nuclear weapons states, partners to the treaty, once again must reconfirm to accomplish their responsibilities, to accomplish a total elimination leading to disarmament, which they have undertaken in that full treaty. Article 6 and the Preamble read together gives that. And that is extremely important to halt all other types of proliferation we have on the agenda. And the second, and that is my own invention. I know I will have trouble but I will present is anyhow. I think that it’s important and essential that we now add a protocol to NPT where all State parties sign up on an undertaking to not make use of their provision which contains a cop-out (that you have a right to leave the treaty), which is a most devastating component. We know how North Korea has used it, and we know how others are playing with the opportunity. I’m sure all will not sign up. Some will say: we will keep the option. But it would be good to identify those who would be prepared to sign that treaty, and say “we will never acquire nuclear weapons.”
Finally the PSI, which is very important. And that brings me just to the ‘operational’ and I know Eugene Habinger will talk more about that. Tactical nuclear weapons are still a major headache. We know that President Gorbachev and President Bush Sr. made a unilateral, but parallel, undertaking to take tactical nuclear weapons off their delivery devices, and store them. The problem is however that we don’t know… the tactical weapon is the weapon that the terrorist can maybe master. He cannot master strategic weapons […] but the tactical weapons are what we have to keep in mind.
So finally, in sum: nuclear proliferation is the biggest threat, and the international community has to give a response to that.
Eugene, I wanted to follow up on something the Rolf was saying. He’s talking about weapons proliferation and he’s talking about terrorism. Is there a real coincidence there? Do those two issues really come together? Do terrorists need big thermo-nuclear bombs? Do they need missiles? Or are they looking for something else? If you could just address that in the context of your other remarks, I would appreciate it.
We were tasked to look at two basic questions. First: how great is the risk of using weapons of mass destruction? I would characterize that risk as being severe. The next question: can we avert it? And my answer to that is no. And let me walk you through my logic.
First, we have, within the context of this conference focused on, and appropriately so, some of the most recent events in terrorist activities- here in Madrid, in the United States. But the roots of the use of weapons of mass destruction go back 20 years ago. 1984 for example, we had two major terrorist attacks in the world.
First: the United States Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, in which over 300 marines were killed with a truck bomb that went through a checkpoint. And I hope that we all still have on our radar screens the horrific bombing of Air India flight 182 out of Montreal by Sikhs in retaliation for the storming of the temple in India.
Japan: ten years ago this month, you had a horrific religious attack that killed only 12 people, and I say only 12 people, but injured 6,000. I would submit that it’s not a matter of ‘if’, it’s a matter of ‘when’ that we continue to see the use of weapons of mass destruction again.
But lets talk about the new dimension today, as we go into the 21st century. And there are three elements that I would like to address very quickly. First: population centers. In the military we talk about target-rich environments – lots of targets. In the world today, for example, with the development of mega-cities. There are increasing population centers in which we have tens of millions of people. The greater Tokyo area has over 33 million people.
We have a total of 5 mega-cities that have between 17 and 19 million people: Mexico City, New York, Shanghai, Bombay, Sao Paulo. Those are all what I would call target rich environments, where you could, with relative ease, kill hundreds of thousands of people. And that should be a major concern to us all.
We are a mobile, global group. We move around a lot. On any given day, for example, about 1.3 million come into the United States from offshore. On any given day, about 30,000 Conex containers - those metal containers that come in on container ships - come into the United States. That is difficult to deal with. And we have economic choke points, with virtually every country now. We are highly reliant on overseas imports. In the United States, for example, we have 9 major ports that bring in over 90 percent of our trade. If you were to take one of those out with weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological or radiological device, you could easily bring down the economy of the United States, at least in the near-term.
Next: technology. We can communicate now. E-mail allows terrorist to communicate very, very easily. Cell phones, as you all know. And, of course, weapons of mass destruction. You can go on the Internet and you can find the blueprints for a very primitive nuclear weapon.
And finally, the new dimensions, the transnational characteristics of terrorist groups today. That is a relatively new phenomenon and one which we need to address. But my bottom line here is that weapons of mass destruction can now kill millions of people with relative ease. It is our fate in the 21st century, that technology will increasingly place in the hands of smaller and smaller numbers of people, the capacity to harm larger and larger numbers of people.
If I were to give an example: If I were the military advisor to President Kim in North Korea, I would say: “President Kim, don’t worry about a nuclear program. If you were to launch a missile against Japan or the United States, there would be a return address label on that weapon. Because there are systems now in place that can record in tens of seconds and tens of meters, exactly where that missile was fired. You want to bring South Korea to its knees? Let’s go out and militarise some anthrax spores.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, getting back to this population centre issue: 40 percent of the population of South Korea –that’s about 18 million people– live within 60 to 70 kilometres within the centre of downtown Seoul. You drive a dump-truck or a pickup truck around the city and the anthrax spores fly out the back of the truck; within 5 to 7 days you’ve just brought down the economy and the medical system of the entire country. These are sobering thoughts.
Beyond the things we’ve been talking about -biological, chemical and nuclear- I would submit that we need to keep on our radar screens this issue of the Internet and information warfare. The first documented instance of the use of the Internet as a weapon of mass destruction or a terrorist weapon was back in 1997 with the Sri Lankan terrorists literally brought down, in all the Sri Lankan embassies around the world, their servers through viruses and worms. That is a potential and it is something we really don’t think that much about.
Prevention. I think it’s very important that we all understand that we’re not in the risk-avoidance mode when it comes to the use of weapons of mass destruction. We’re in the risk management mode. There’s just not enough resource to be able to take care of every conceivable scenario, and you can’t totally guard against a single-point failure of an individual.
Defence against the use of weapons of mass destruction. First: you must be layered. You must go to the source. And to do that, unprecedented international cooperation is required. So the implications are very simply stated as this: first, I think we have entered into an age of asymmetric warfare -whether you’re talking about terrorist against a major power or any nation, or perhaps a north Korea against South Korea, where you don’t have to go force on force. You can use weapons of mass destruction in a much more unique way. We’re in a new era of priorities. We have to prioritise limited resources against a monumental problem.
And getting back to your point, Chris, very quickly: the primary constraint against building a nuclear device –and there’s a big difference between a device and a weapon– is getting your hands on fissile material. And the more you have out there, either through proliferation or just through theft –and of course the more nations that have nuclear material the probability of getting one’s hands on nuclear material is easier. And that is a very, very real concern and why I have worked very hard to continue the United States, at least, down the path of non-proliferation.
I think that sets us up very nicely too for Sergei to talk about the role of disarmament in fighting terror. Sometimes it seems a little out of synch when we’re talking about asymmetric war and we’re talking about people with pick-up trucks full of anthrax, and nuclear devices that you can put together in your garage perhaps… The question comes up: why are we spending so much time on nuclear disarmament and reduce the number of state players in the world of weapons of mass destruction.
As we heard through our discussions here of course we need multilateral action. That is very critical in addressing the threats posed by terrorism. This also applies to the issues of weapons of mass destruction. And the United Nations plays, therefore, a central and important role in collective efforts to address these threats. As you know the Security Council resolution 1540 and 1556 had been adopted in 2004. They feel a legal vacuum -and that is very important– they feel a legal vacuum with respect to curbing the access of non-state entities to weapons of mass destructions and their components.
Why is it that important? As you know the United Nations has so far at a different […] failed to come to an agreed conclusion of the definition of terrorism. For example in the Security Council resolution -and they did a marvelous job– 1540, it had been decided that all states shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-state actors that attempt to develop and manufacture, transport or transfer use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
And as you know these resolutions have been adopted under chapter 7. That means they have obligatory nature. […] That is also important. They can be enforced. Importantly the resolution also recognises that some states may require assistance in implementing the detailed provisions of the resolution, and invited states in a position to do so, to give such assistance, which is also an important of the joint work against terrorism. The work of this committee, which is called 1540 Committee, needs the full support of the international community.
Speaking about another Security Council resolution: 1556. I would like to emphasise that it makes more concrete the international legal definition of terrorism, as I mentioned before. The Security Council approved concrete measures to enhance the efficacy of national, regional and multilateral mechanisms, with the United Nations playing an important role there. Of particular relevance is the call for states to deny safe-haven and bring to justice, on the basis of the principle to extradite or persecute all these terrorists. And that is the important principle: to extradite or persecute.
We must also keep in mind the importance of a wider arms control and disarmament effort. If we are to limit the risk of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction -that Mr. Ekeus was referring to- or the materials or expertise to build them, we need to enhance collective efforts on the three levels. First: we need to strengthen international instruments and mechanisms that reduce the demand for weapons of mass destruction. As you know, there are twelve conventions that had been adopted by the United Nations. They work perfectly well. But what is lacking is the enforcement mechanism. And second thing: we need to work towards restricting further the potential supply of weapons, materials and expertise. And that is also; we are referring to in political context before. And third: we need to enhance, on multilateral mechanisms as well as national levels, our capacity to detect and intercept illegally trafficked materials, which is an increased danger for the international community, specifically with the development of new technology.
As to the problems that I want to specifically comment about: of course the existence of large stockpiles of nuclear and radiological materials, included highly enriched uranium, increases the risk of such materials falling into the hands of non-state actors. Experts have suggested that the detonation of a simple nuclear device in a major city could result in tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of deaths. Over the past decade, more than two hundred incidents of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials have been documented which gives a clear indication of the scope of potential threat.
What concerns chemical weapons: In this area, states have lagged behind in the destruction of chemical weapons, unfortunately. As scheduled by the Chemical Weapons Convention: if the current pace of destruction continues, the agreed extended deadline of 2012 for the destruction of chemical weapons agents will not be met. And that poses a very serious threat.
Another issue I would like to mention is the emergence of trafficker’s networks dealing in components, for example for nuclear programs accelerates the dangers of weapons of mass destruction falling in the hands of terrorists.
And of course the financial aspect of financing these illegal transactions. We are lagging behind in tracing down these financially important aspects. Attempts the address the problem of terrorist financing has been inadequate.
What are the reasons? Many states have insufficient anti-money laundering laws and limited technical capacity in enforcement of existing legislation. At the same time the evasion techniques of terrorists are highly developed, and developing each day. And many terrorists’ funds have legal origins, which makes them harder to regulate.
In conclusion: what I would like to highlight is the available role that exists in multilateral mechanisms that may play in our collective efforts. In this respect I believe stronger political support for the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament is important. I’m talking as the Secretary General of that Conference. The Conference is the world’s only multilateral negotiating body on disarmament matters. And progress on the agenda before it could contribute significantly to the international community’s fights against terrorism. Cessation of nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament, prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices as well as new weapons of mass destruction including radiological weapons are among the issues before the conference that are of particular relevance to the international anti-terrorism efforts. Enabled to fulfill its role, the Conference on Disarmament could make a particularly valuable contribution to the international community’s collective anti-terrorism efforts.
I’d now like to call on John Colston, who’s with NATO. Do you all get nervous listening to this stuff, about how we all may be blown to smithereens, poisoned with poison gasses or catch some dreadful disease that’s going to wipe out hundred of thousands of people? It makes me nervous. It makes me nervous all the time. I was talking to a terrorism expert the other day that works in Washington, and somehow the subject of New York came up. I said I was going there, and he said, “Oh, I wouldn’t go to New York. I get really nervous when I go to New York.” And I’m hoping there’s some way we can overcome this kind of nervousness by overcoming the threat. And I’m hoping NATO’s doing something to help us out in that project. So John, tell us how we can be safer.
Thank you for the challenge. Both Sergei’s representing the United Nations, and myself representing NATO, have a particular responsibility to answer the questions that you pose about how we should be responding to these risks and challenges. I think Rolf and Eugene have very capably described the nature of the risks that we face, so I don’t want to go over that ground two much again. Let me just make two points.
Firstly, the nature of the terrorist actions that we’ve seen, the nature of the obscene attacks here in Madrid, just a year ago, the nature of a whole range of terrorist activities, some of which Eugene mentioned, emphasises the fact that we must now expect that terrorist actors are not going to be deterred from taking action by the potential scale of fatalities that may result from such action. That suggests that attacks using weapons of mass destruction are now a possibility of which we must take account.
Second point: even if we were to assess that the probability of the use of chemical, biological, radiological agents by terrorists was relatively low, we still would have to assess that it was a significant risk. The consequences in terms of loss of life, economic disruption and social upheaval demand it. So the consequences are so great that even if we were to assess that the likelihood is low, we would have to take it seriously.
How can the international community respond to these risks? And how can an organisation such as NATO support those efforts? NATO is a political as well as a military alliance but it is its comprehensive military capabilities which distinguish it from other international players. But we recognise that we cannot act alone. The response has to be multilateral. It has to be multi-faceted. It has to be multi-layered. Accordingly, NATO cooperates actively with a range of international institutions: the United Nations, of course; the European Union; and quite specifically the IAEA; the OPCW; and Interpol. […] Intelligence exchange which goes on between NATO allies to address a whole range of sensitive issues in terms of what we believe the terrorist community is capable and willing of doing.
Having identified the risks, we need a response. Let me describe briefly how NATO approaches this. First is our political and diplomatic agenda. And we continue to emphasise the importance of the full range of political non-proliferation instruments.
Second, our efforts to control the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction, especially to terrorists. And this can take very practical forms. We’re working with Russia in particular to provide transparency on our respective procedures to safeguard non-strategic weapons. Nuclear experts from NATO and Russia took part a first exercise in Mamansk last August designed to understand the Russian Federation’s response to a simulated attempted theft of a tactical nuclear weapon. We intend to continue such exercises in the future. And we also, as allies, contribute significantly to international programs to safeguard nuclear programs in Russia and other former nuclear weapons states.
Thirdly we’re actively engaged in both operations and technological developments designed to enhance our ability to deter and disrupt terrorist activity. Our maritime surveillance and escort operation, an active endeavour in the Mediterranean, is one example of this. And it can actively help to support the proliferation security initiative, which Rolf has mentioned. Our operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan can help to avoid conditions in which terrorism can flourish. We can develop and we are engaged in developing technology, which enables a better response to protection against weapons of mass destruction, to missiles attacks and so on. Finally we have to prepare our forces to be able to respond and support civilian agencies in the event of terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction. The anthrax crisis in the U.S. in 2001 showed how the potential use of pathogens by non-state actors can produce considerable economic disruption and destruction. And we […] practical work in hand to examine how best to respond to that.
In conclusion: it’s clear the potential use of WMD agents by terrorists is a real danger. All international organisations must cooperate in their response. This is not a war. This is not a conflict that can be won be military means. But the military and military alliances must be prepared to play their part in supporting the international community.
Mahmoud, you’re the first respondent. I’d like you to sort of take on some of these presentations and see if you think that they’re taking us closer to solutions or they are just continuing to describe the problem. What do you make of all this Mahmoud?
I would like to comment on the some points raised by Ekeus concerning the nuclear weapons. I agree with him totally, because it is a fact that nuclear weapons are very difficult for terrorists. But terrorists are greeds. If we have a first-class terrorist then he has many solutions to go through. Firstly, it has been declared by General Lebed of Russia, Minister of Defence of Russia a few years ago, that one hundred small bombs called rucksack bombs, one hundred pieces disappeared after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and they did not find it until now. Although this information has not been confirmed yet we have to await that something is there for sale. And you know everything can be obtained if you have the proper amount of money.
The second way: nuclear materials are now the most important element in the formation of small bombs, primitive bombs. There is no need for a terrorist to make a sophisticated bomb of that type used on Hiroshima or Nagasaki or something like that. But there are many grades. The least grades, which we call primitive bombs, can be formed by just dropping half to the other half and not oversimplifying. These thoughts are there.
Then you get a primitive bomb. So the situation needs to be… there are no facts -facts that could be treated. We should go after every possibility and study it and continue and get the possible ways of stopping it. In our case we have the system of illicit trafficking in which nuclear materials are caught at the borders of the European countries, between the countries previously called the Eastern block and the Western block. Now there are no blocks. And nuclear materials are caught at the borders: sometimes one hundred grams, sometimes a gram scale, sometimes a half-kilogram and so forth. We should await that somebody is going to collect these things somehow.
The solution for all this is to increase the illicit trafficking system, combating with illicit trafficking, reinforcing the measures at the borders and not allow people to move easily like we when we get here, passing through customs easily. Everything should be destined. The other step is the physical protection. Each country should be obliged to be aware of their stored nuclear material, and it should be asked about it. The system of safeguards of the IAEA is doing that now. But it is not sufficient, because neither the accuracy of the coverage is all over the world with equal strength. Then I read a few days ago that there is a project for an international convention that obliges states to be aware and to be careful to guard its nuclear materials. I don’t know if it’s going on or not but it is a good idea that could be brought forward.
When I listen to this panel what I feel I’m hearing is an abundance of danger, and perhaps a scarcity of means to deal with it. I won’t rehearse the particulars of those dangers. But I know that one person who comes to mind is Freddy Clay who was once in the Reagan administration said that the moment when another nuclear weapon, the third in history, since Nagasaki, is used, we will be in a new historical era and that will bring greater change in the world than the end of the Cold War did.
And really it’s almost inconceivable to try to imagine, before such an event (perhaps with an anthrax or smallpox attack it might be somewhat less but of that order), what the response of the world as a whole to such a shock to its very being. I imagine that people in cities all over the world would be asking themselves: “are we next?” I wonder if whether we might have mass evacuations of cities? What would the reaction be? We can scarcely conceive it.
But when we come to solutions I’m hearing phrases like ‘management’, ‘reducing risk’, and I’m all in favor of all of those, and I applaud the efforts of all those who are making those efforts. But honestly, I have to ask myself if we’re not just sleepwalking into an abyss. And whether the brand architecture of the international community’s response to this almost unimaginable danger that we’ve been hearing about this morning really measures up or even begins to measure up to the kind danger that we’re actually in.
I see this danger of the terrorist use of a weapon of mass destruction as really the latest chapter in a much longer story. One that goes back certainly to 1945. And we have that danger which for a long time was chiefly thought of as a nuclear danger. It’s been constant but now it’s taken a new shape. And this is one of the new shapes, not replacing the old ones, but rather adding to them. I think of it being the lowest pool in a cascade. And the pool just above that surely would be the proliferation of these weapons to States. Because unquestionably, especially if we consider the network of AQCon of Pakistan who opened what Mohammed al Baradei - who was perhaps at one time going to be on this panel - called a ‘nuclear Wallmart’. We can see that proliferation is a primary cause of the availability of this material around the world.
But I think there’s another pool above the proliferation pool and that’s the pool of possession of nuclear weapons and in some cases other weapons of mass destruction. But it’s certainly the open possession of nuclear weapons by many countries. And I want to ask the following question and put it to the panel: Are we serious about stopping either proliferation or the diversion and use of these weapons by terrorists groups if at the same time we insist on holding on to them ourselves? And when I say ‘ourselves’, I’m talking about all of the nuclear powers, not just […] North Korea. Is the lecture on abstinence given by the drunkard very persuasive? That’s one question.
But it’s more that a moral or a fairness or an ethical question. I think it goes straight to the heart of the practical issues that we face. Because as I look back over history, or the history of the nuclear question at least, what I see is a steel chain of cause and effect between possession and proliferation. And after all at one time or another every possessor was a proliferation. And by the way, that holds even true for the United States. You might say that proliferation assumes an existing member of the species and only starts with the second, but actually it was fear that Hitler would get the nuclear weapon that caused the United States to do so. So in a certain sense Hitler’s imaginary or virtual arsenal was the cause of the American proliferation. So that law really holds true. And then of course we can run through the chain: the Soviet Union responded to the United States; England and France jumped in joining the United States; China fearing Russia and the United States; India fearing China; Pakistan fearing India; North Korea now fearing the United States and of course Iran which very much fears the United States which once feared the Iraqi program and so forth.
There’s this very, very tight linkage. I think of it, speaking again of the nuclear business, as a kind of atomic archipelago. That’s like something that grows under water, and then every once in a while a new island pops up above the sea. And the latest of these islands, which is not with us, thank God, yet would be the use by terrorist groups of these weapons. But if you don’t see the coral reef beneath the sea you’re hardly going to be able to understand why islands keep popping up.
My question and my worry is sharpened when I look at the record of non-proliferation, in which I would include proliferation potentially to terrorist groups. Because while the United States was ransacking the empty warehouses of Iraq, North Korea was quietly crossing the finish line. Or so they say. And the U.S. government at least seems to agree with them. And now we have, and I think we should discuss it, Iran entering the picture. And I’m not sure at all that any of the combinations of policies on the table now, whether it’s the European ‘carrots’ or the American ‘sticks’, are once again stepping up to the true dimensions of this policy.
So once again I have to ask: if you don’t have the kind of resolve, the deep political will on the part of the nuclear possessors that would lead them to put their own arsenals on the table, are they really going to act with the kind of seriousness that will measure up to the dimensions of this problem? I assure you that if they entered in to the kind of commitment that Rolf Ekeus has recommended and that is set forth under Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, I assure you if they were heading in that direction they would get very serious about proliferation. So it seems to me, that if we’re talking about terrorism we have to talk about proliferation and if we’re talking about proliferation we have to talk about possession. That’s my view of the matter. Thank you.
It seems that there’s been a lot of “would of, could of, should of” in this discussion. “It would be really disastrous if the terrorists got a bomb. And they could do it. And we should do something about it.” But I don’t feel like we’re moving ahead with a lot of concrete action. I agree with Jonathan on that. Partly because of proliferation and resistance to that, and partly just because we know so little. I have one question that I’d like to pose to Eugene: Why haven’t we seen a weapon of mass destruction used effectively to date by any terrorist organisation? We’ve seen bits and pieces. We’ve seen the incident ten years ago. We’ve seen some attempts, but we haven’t seen anything like, thank God, the kind of disaster we’re discussing. But it’s something we’ve been warning about for a long time, saying it was just about inevitable. So why haven’t we seen it? Maybe somewhere in the answer to that question is an answer to how we can prevent these things from happening in the future.
Good question. And if you were to talk to some of the senior intelligence in both Europe and the United States, they would tell you that there have been success stories [stopping it] out there. They just don’t talk about it. And let me give you an example. This is somewhat dated data, but I think it’s relevant. 5 years ago the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy revealed the following: that there had been 23 attempts to steal nuclear bomb making material fissile material. Those 23 attempts failed. How many succeeded? During the Cold War, in the Pentagon, we had a slogan that we used to have on the wall that said: “We have never successfully found anything the Soviets have hidden.”
Delegate from the floor
There seems to be consensus that an attack cannot be avoided. The fear of an attack puts us all in an insecure mode, which they want to achieve. Other ways out: we’re not talking about tsunami. We’re not talking about earthquake. We’re talking about devices we have developed, we have produced, and we have a responsibility to control them. Who do we control them against? There are different levels of course. I want to be optimistic and show what we can do. Look at the […] report. This report has several recommendations regarding weapons of mass destruction. Eleven or twelve. If you look at the different categories... You start at biological: a verification agency is politically not viable. If you look at the nuclear fissile treaty: not viable right now. […] No chance. […] Additional protocols, safeguards […] I don’t see it.
But these are all political decisions. We have to take our decision makers and we as constituencies, and advisors to decision-makers have to move in this direction because we have a clear print. We have recommendations of a high level panel, which has the chance to be implemented, and some of them might be taken to the high level meeting in September. And there is a chance to adopt it there. But what can we do in these months to help them? […] I don’t really have a question because nobody offered an answer when they had the floor.
What we can do: we have the NPT review conference coming up in two months. That’s a very important event. Because we know the NPT has been a proven pillar of nuclear non-proliferation ever since it’s entered into force. Now where do we stand? The agreements of the last NPT review conference […] are not accepted anymore. The big question at the next NPT will be: how do we consolidate the two opinions: The right to peaceful use of nuclear material, and nuclear disarmament? Huge discussion. By the way I’m also Austrian representative to the International Atomic Agency. So I found the discussion there on Article 3 and 6 to the NPT of course. Now I read that the link is not accepted. So we have a number of States that insist that they have a right to nuclear energy, a right to the full fuel cycle. Why should they accept a very reasonable rational suggestion by the panel to have an agency that controls supply of fissile material? If the other part of the equation does not come and consult... Why should they accept… Why don’t we do something positive? Why don’t we do something in these two months to consolidate these two important issues?
This is exactly the question that Mohamed al-Baradei has been asking and that a lot of people would like to see addressed.
It’s a very important question. The conference on disarmament over the last 8 years has not produced a single disarmament document, which is a big problem. The problem because of the lack of political will, and the difference of interest of groups of states. Some states would like to have nuclear disarmament. Other states would like to have non-proliferation. Still other states would like to have disarmament in outer space. So there is no coherent policy among the Member States of the United Nations and particularly in the conference on disarmament. And that is very paradoxical.
Because if we look back 8 years ago, during the height of the Cold War, there had been a flourish of disarmament initiatives. And in fact all the important multilateral treaties had been agreed upon at that time. And when the situation completely changed we don’t have to worry […]. We don’t have Cold War. There is no disarmament. And that creates a big issue. In fact if we look what is going on: according to the World Bank, the world spends over 800 billion dollars for arms each year. That is an enormous sum. How can we deal with this situation? When in comparison to that sum, there is only 15 billions dollars spent on development. And why I am speaking about disarmament and development? Because when we spend much more money for development we are dealing with the root causes of terrorism, which we should not neglect, which is not the basis of terrorism, but we should never neglect that.
So we need political will of the member states to join efforts like we witnessed. And I know in my previous national capacity, there is enormous… and very efficient work of the specialised agencies of the main member states, in particular nuclear member states that had been very preventative of the nuclear accident and that one of my colleagues previously referred to. We don’t speak about these successes. We alluded to some declarations of some people that something had been lost. But if something had been lost something had been surfaced. These things had been surfaced… never had been surfaced anything at all. When there is a will there is always a way. And I hope there would be a will in the near future.
Well let’s hope there is a will to do something before the NPT conference. That would be a step in the right direction.
Delegate from the floor
My question is: Mr. Schell, you brought up the incident in Pakistan with the sale of nuclear information… My question would be: how much of a threat… and also in the United States with the top-secret documents disappearing from New Mexico… My question is: how much of a threat is that? And what are the means to stop something like that from happening, from information getting out to people who want that information, you know, terrorists, things like that?
I think I’d defer to some of my other panellists who are more expert in detail on that question. But I will just make a very quick comment on the previous discussion. There always comes a point in the discussion when people say “well there are all kinds of great things to do, and we’ve figured it all, but we lack the political will.” That moment always comes. And the Canberra Commission report was mentioned. A marvellous commission, Rolf Ekeus was on it. It has wonderful recommendations from the short term to the very longest term. Maps it all out. Great. But it doesn’t happen. Why?
Now I have one suggestion to make about why and it goes back to what I said before. It’s very hard to have a will to stop an activity that you are performing yourself. And I think that the will to stop proliferation is fatally undermined by the great powers’ desire to hold on to their own weapons of mass destruction namely the nuclear on an indefinite basis. They’ve said it in a million documents that they’re committed to getting rid of them but they don’t mean it! And the minute they did mean it I think that the will would flood into the world and proliferation would become a readily solvable problem.
Well, as Jonathan is well aware, probably everybody in this room knows, there is an argument on the other side. There is an argument that has been that the possession of nuclear weapons by a few, very stable, very risk-averse powers that has prevented proliferation. Many people would say that the reason why Germany and Japan did not acquire nuclear weapons despite the fact they had the money, the technocracy, the technology, they faced the threat, they were right on the border of warfare, was because they were part of an extended deterrent provided by the United States.
And people who think like that, and I have to confess I’m one of them, then say, well is there something in the current period, some way of extending deterrents to states like Iran so they do not fear attacks? And the problem for people like me is that: o.k. fine, if that is conceivable, it doesn’t work for the non-state agent and there I go into such murky waters that I’m even tempted to think that Jonathan Schell could be right.
Delegate from the floor
Partially in response to that question, I’m Gerald Post, Chair of the Committee on the Psychology of Terrorism. One item missing from the discussion –we’ve talked what terrorists could do, what our vulnerability is– but what has been missing is: what would they do? What would they have an incentive to do and what would they have a disincentive to do? And in fact our analysis is, and one of the items coming out of our report was that for the large majority of terrorists it would be quite counterproductive to use these weapons. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a small number within them… But I believe there’s been an uncritical anxiety about this issue, which is not taking into account that terrorists are anxious to call attention to their cause. For most terrorists the use of such weapons would be highly counterproductive. I’d like to ask of the panel: as you’ve been addressing this issue, the degree to which you consider why terrorists would have an incentive to use these weapons?
I think that’s a very interesting question and it brings us back to the point that you made Christopher about why haven’t we seen the use of WMD. And I’ll offer a personal view there. Partly it may be luck, partly it may be because we have taken some of the correct action to prevent such a possibility, but it may also be because as our last questioner has said, the use of WMD would involve such factors for the terrorist, which would be counterproductive.
That leads me to conclude that the use of WMD is not the most likely form of terrorist activity when we have seen the immense political, economic, military impact, which terrorist actors can achieve without resort to WMD then that creates a kind of threshold. However the risks are such that we have to take account of it.
I want to come back to this point on possession because I think it’s an important one. I don’t for one moment want to diminish the importance of proliferation activities to which certainly all of the nations within the Alliance are fully committed. But I do want to try and put it in context, and I do want to try and bring us back to the theme of the summit, which is terrorism. We’re talking about weapons of mass destruction. We’re talking about chemical, biological and nuclear. As far as biological is concerned, none of the NATO allies have had offensive biological capability since 1972. As far as chemical is concerned, the one remaining ally that has chemical stockpiles is committed to get rid of them. As far as nuclear is concerned, the focus has been non-strategic nuclear weapons. The number of types of weapons in Europe has diminished from about a dozen to one. The number of warheads has diminished by about 85 percent. That’s the direction that we’re taking.
Although I don’t accept the conclusion, I can accept the intellectual case that the possession of weapons of mass destruction by a state might be taken as a justification by another state for the development or possession of weapons of mass destruction. I cannot accept that premise in relations to terrorism, and one has, I think, to distinguish quite carefully between state and non-state actors in that respect. Would terrorists be deterred from using biological agents because Western powers didn’t posses biological agents? Well Western powers don’t posses offensive biological agents. That connection simply doesn’t work. And ultimately the possession by… if I own a knife it doesn’t justify a terrorist using a knife to take another human life. I just don’t accept that equation as far as terrorism is concerned.
The lack of awareness of the nuclear issue… It has fallen off the agenda… Nuclear threat by Iran’s enemies… I think it is a much more subtle development of security system in the Gulf, which engages both Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and United States and Europeans. I know that Europeans are thinking in those terms. But the possession is in no way helping to solve these problems. To the contrary it is undermining the non-proliferation of this.
Delegate from the floor
My name is Ramen. I am from India. I used to head the counter-terrorism division of India’s External […] Agency. And I was also a member of the national security advisory board for the Government of India. I want to put a scenario and put it to Mr. Colston, and I expect a reply from him: as we all know, 70 percent of the hijackings are carried out by terrorists that claim they have a weapon. And later on you find that their claim was incorrect, they did not have a weapon. So the instructions in the case of hijackings are that if somebody comes to the cockpits and claims they have a weapon, don’t try to verify if he has a weapon. Act as if his claim is correct.
Supposing tomorrow that a terrorist organisation claims it has managed to get hold of a dirty weapon, and it has […] that tomorrow if our demands are not conceded we will explode the dirty bomb. That would create mass hysteria, mass panic and mass intimidation. Have you thought of a strategy to have a satisfactory response to such a scenario?
It simply brings me back to the point that we have to be as prepared as we can. I’ve not gone into the detail of the military measures, which NATO has developed particularly over the last 5 years to be able to improve our ability to work together to respond to the consequences of an attack. But we have developed multinational capabilities. We have developed military forces, which are designed to be able to deal with the consequences of an attack.
With respect I’m not going to follow the questioner down the route of how one might try to prevent such circumstances taking place in the future. But clearly, the possession of the range of military capabilities which would allow the international community to intervene is one element of this, but it is only one element of it, and in circumstances such as those which you have described, a response by NATO, or any military alliance, or any military power would only be one and indeed one relatively small part of the jigsaw which the international community would need to employ in reply.
I think we have time for one more brief question.
Delegate from the floor
[...] from the UK. I want to ask the panel is whether we’re giving the right message? What I hear the Chairman mentioned is a message of being afraid, and being very vulnerable. Isn’t that an encouragement to terrorists to get the weapons of mass destruction? Shouldn’t our message be that we are not afraid, and even if they do succeed in attacking us, they will not destroy our economy, we will deal with it and we will not be defeated?
I mean the matter… fear…Just to face the facts, the reality. Don’t be afraid of the truth. And I would say it’s important also in the sense that it has been an element of neglect over so many years. We now have to encourage our […] policy makers to really start actively to address this and the public has to demand that from their leaders. And it is a sorry story we have told about neglect. But there are also good things going on. And we should encourage that. The fear is a call for action, and that is more important in the balance than the terrorists...
Excellent question. I think the kinds of things you’ve heard today are realistic. You might not want to hear them. But if you look at the official words that come out of London, or Madrid or Washington D.C.; they have much more soothing effects, much more confident. And that’s o.k. That’s the way it ought to be done. But there’s a fine line between saying “come on, bring it on, we’re ready to take it on,” and being somewhat subtle.
I want to thank all the panellists and everybody in the audience for coming today. I think if there’s a central message here it’s that the world is doing what it can to address what is in many ways a very new threat. We’re trying to address the old threats that have been with us for a long time as several of the panellists have pointed out by working for non-proliferation maybe not working as hard as we should and not getting as much done as needs to be done at the same time we’re still trying to evaluate the reality of the terrorist threat.
I think that the most frightening line in the 9/11 report is one where it says: the greatest weapons that the terrorists had was their imagination. To keep the terrorist threat in perspective, what one needs to do it not only think what could be done if terrorists get weapons of mass destruction, but what they are willing to do even without those weapons. After all, the weapon of mass destruction that was used on September 11th was box cutters. That always helps keep this in perspective.
If I could just note Gerald Post’s intervention: maybe terrorists don’t want to reap mass destruction. But I think after 9/11, and after what happened here a year ago, we have to conclude that there are certain players that definitely want to see a lot of people die. And they’re the people that we have to address, one way or another - probably through better intelligence. And in the meantime we have to make sure that every avenue that they can pursue to get weapons of mass destruction is cut off to them, if that’s at all possible. And one way to do that is to keep pushing ahead with non-proliferation and with multilateral agreements that limit that possibility.
So thank you very much for coming.