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former IAEA Director-General

Quick-Reaction Force Contract Awarded
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Jeff Abramson

On Sept. 11, the Department of State awarded a contract for a private force that would be able to deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours to assess dangers posed by explosive remnants of war (ERW). The force could then be tasked to clear and destroy such hazards over a period of up to three months.

According to a Sept. 29 press release, the quick-reaction force (QRF) aligns with the State Department’s goal of dealing “with all explosive remnants of war, whether they are surplus, abandoned, hazardous, or residual conventional weapons, rather than one specific type of weapon or munitions.”

Despite strong international efforts focused on cluster munitions over the past two years, Washington has stressed the importance of taking a broader approach. In a February white paper, the State Department argued that “[t]he campaign to ban cluster munitions has endeavored to elevate a single type of munition to infamy rather than addressing the continuing need to clean up all explosive remnants of war, the vast majority of which are not cluster munitions.”

Earlier this year, more than 100 countries agreed to support the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which will open for signature in December. The convention provides guidelines for clearance and bans future use of all but a very narrow range of cluster munitions. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

The United States and many countries that together possess the majority of the world’s cluster stockpiles have so far opted not to support the Convention on Cluster Munitions. They are instead participating in a discussion within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). In November, CCW states-parties may reach agreement on a cluster munitions-specific protocol that includes clearance guidelines but much less restrictive prohibitions on future use of the weapons.

The CCW already has a general ERW provision (Protocol V), which delineates cleanup responsibilities and suggests best practices for explosive weapons storage, risk education, and management, but no limitations on usage. The Senate provided its advice and consent on CCW Protocol V in September. (See ACT, October 2008.)

State Department officials stressed the civilian and humanitarian nature of the QRF in a meeting with Arms Control Today Oct. 6. They described the primary advantage of the force as the ability to respond rapidly, but said it would otherwise be similar to existing programs within the department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, which is funding and will oversee the force.

Plans to create the force were announced Jan. 16 at a CCW meeting and followed up with a solicitation of bids from private contractors that opened April 29 and closed June 13. (See ACT, March and June 2008.)

The QRF will only deploy to countries that request it. The exact size of any deployment will depend on the situation, according to the officials. As an example, the force could have been requested and sent to Georgia earlier this year after hostilities between Georgia and Russia left insecure weapon depots, unexploded cluster munitions, and other remnants of war. In other situations, the QRF may only provide an assessment, leaving host countries and other international organizations a blueprint for how to proceed.

The State Department announced the selection of DynCorp International to operate the QRF in its September press release. The contract is valued at $2.4 million per year and may be continued one year at a time for four additional years. A State Department official indicated in an e-mail Oct. 14 to Arms Control Today that the force should be operational in mid-November.