A coalition of countries fighting the spread of nonconventional weapons identified new project areas and expanded its geographical focus over the past year to address emerging threats, the U.S. representative to the group said Dec. 20.
The Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction also improved coordination among its members and with international organizations, Bonnie Jenkins, coordinator for U.S. threat reduction programs and the 2012 chair of the partnership, said in an interview in her State Department office. The United States has handed off leadership of the group to the United Kingdom for 2013.
The Global Partnership began in 2002 as an initiative by the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—to prevent terrorists from acquiring or developing nonconventional weapons. The eight countries pledged $20 billion over 10 years, with half of the money coming from the United States. During that period, the partnership focused primarily on large projects in Russia and other former Soviet states, including the dismantlement of nuclear submarines and the destruction of chemical weapons.
The coalition, now 25 countries, is developing an identity that is broader than the G-8, Jenkins said. Nevertheless, the country holding the rotating annual presidency of the G-8 also chairs the partnership for the year.
During the G-8 May 2011 summit in France, the group agreed to extend the original 10-year mandate of the partnership and expand the scope of the work to include nuclear and radiological security, biosecurity, further opportunities in civilian research for scientists with weapons expertise, and assistance to countries in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1540. Adopted in 2004, Resolution 1540 requires all countries to enact legislation to prevent the proliferation of nonconventional weapons and their means of delivery.
The partnership countries also expressed an interested in working in regions beyond the former Soviet Union and funded projects in 2012 in countries including Brazil, Libya, and Nigeria.
The United States pledged another $10 billion to support the coalition’s work from 2012 to 2022, although the funding is subject to congressional approval. Other participating countries said they would continue to support the partnership financially, but did not set an overall funding level as they did in 2002.
In the interview, Jenkins said that the 2011 decisions to expand the mandate and to work in new regions were important because the “threat keeps evolving” and the concerns of the 1990s and early 2000s are “not the same as those faced today.”
During discussions among the G-8 about the extension of the partnership, Germany expressed concern that continuing to fund the coalition could be difficult due to the global economic recession and that, with smaller projects planned for the future, it would be more difficult to determine if the funds were used effectively. (See ACT, June 2011.)
A Canadian official, however, told Arms Control Today in a Jan. 8 e-mail that he felt that the concerns in 2011 over extending the partnership had “largely abated” during the past year because countries are continuing to provide funds for new projects that are achieving “measurable results.” While chairing the partnership in 2010, Canada pledged to work toward the extension.
German officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The expanded mandate meant that the partnership needed in 2012 to provide a platform to inform countries of the opportunities that exist for projects addressing the new priorities, Jenkins said, noting that some countries did not have much experience funding projects in these areas. To accomplish this information exchange, she oversaw a change in the format of the partnership’s meetings, including increasing the number of days that the members met and inviting international organizations to participate. The attendance of these organizations also helps ensure that the partnership is complementing their work and not duplicating it, she said.
In the past year, there was increased involvement by partnership countries that are not G-8 members, Jenkins said. Prior to 2012, such countries typically were invited to two of the four meetings held each year. Now they participate in each meeting, the 2012 yearly report on the Global Partnership’s activities said. The report is written by the country that chairs the group and agreed to by the other participating countries.
In 2012 the partnership established five subgroups to work on specific issues. Three of them—focusing on biosecurity, membership expansion, and so-called centers of excellence, which assist states in meeting international obligations to prevent proliferation threats—began meeting last year. Two additional subgroups, on chemical security and nuclear and radiological security, were approved last October and are to begin meeting this year, the report said.
With the partnership’s expanded mandate and broader geographical focus, improving coordination among its members was one of the primary U.S. goals during Washington’s chairmanship, Jenkins said. The biosecurity subgroup oversaw two “flagship” programs, which represent a new form of coordination and collaboration with international organizations, she said.
Although all Global Partnership decisions are made by consensus, flagship projects involve a number of countries working together and are designed to foster “collective decision-making,” Jenkins said. The partner countries’ funding limitations have created a need to find “new and innovative ways to address” threats, and the flagship projects are a way to meet that need, she said.
One of the flagship projects, support for post-eradication efforts for rinderpest virus, a deadly disease that affects cattle and similar species, “highlighted collaboration” between partnership members and international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health, the 2012 report said. Rinderpest was eradicated in 2011, but remaining stockpiles of the virus must be destroyed or safely stored in laboratories. Although it does not infect humans, introduction of the disease into communities that rely on cattle has caused famines in the past.
Jenkins said this type of biosecurity is a priority for the United States because it is necessary to bridge the “divide between heath and security.” She said that bringing together health and security officials to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats is vital because it is not always immediately clear whether outbreaks of disease are natural or intentional.
Further Expansion Planned
Increasing the number of member countries in the Global Partnership was another focal point for the United States, Jenkins said. The subgroup on membership expansion identified 18 countries to target as potential new members; several of these countries are considering membership and could join the group in 2013, Jenkins said.
Adherence to the principles established when the Global Partnership was formed in 2002, which include commitments to six actions to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and related materials, remains the first criterion for membership, she said. In 2012 the subgroup also looked for countries that are regional leaders or have expertise in areas related to the group’s nonproliferation efforts, Jenkins said. A financial commitment is not a prerequisite for joining, she said.
In particular, Jenkins said, incorporating more perspectives from underrepresented regions is important for the expanding focus of the initiative. Until Mexico attended a meeting in Stockholm last August, the partnership had never had a Latin American participant, she said, noting the importance of Mexico’s perspective as an observer during a meeting focused on work in that region. Mexico joined as a full member in December.
She added that in her view the partnership could continue to expand but should remain “an action-oriented initiative.”
Supporting Nuclear Security
Jenkins said the Global Partnership has a “synergy” with the biennial nuclear security summit process that began in Washington in 2010, where national leaders endorsed President Barack Obama’s goal of securing all nuclear material in four years. Promoting the goals of the summit process will be a U.S. priority for the subgroup on nuclear and radiological security, she said.
The 2012 report said that the subgroup in this area could “raise the profile” of nuclear security efforts and help provide funding and technical assistance for projects that are within the summits’ priorities, including protecting nuclear materials and facilities, improving countries’ capabilities to prevent nuclear smuggling, and enhancing national export control systems.
Some experts have identified the partnership as a possible high-level forum to continue advancing the goals of the nuclear security summit once that process ends. Officials from the United States and other countries have said that the 2014 summit in the Netherlands could be the last. (See ACT, December 2012.)
Jenkins said no decision had been made on that point. She said the role of the nuclear security summit process probably would have to be filled by several organizations, one of which could be the Global Partnership.