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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
October 2006
Edition Date: 
Sunday, October 1, 2006
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Iran, EU Struggle to Start Nuclear Talks

Paul Kerr

As September drew to a close, European and Iranian negotiators were attempting to reach an agreement regarding ground rules for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The permanent five members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany and Italy, agreed Sept. 19 to give Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, until early October to reach an agreement with his Iranian interlocutors.

Solana met several times during September with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, but was unable to strike an accord over which would come first, the beginning of the negotiations or the suspension of Tehran’s gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program.

Iran faces possible UN Security Council sanctions because of its failure to comply with an Aug. 31 council deadline requiring it to suspend its enrichment program. Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium, used for fuel in civil nuclear reactors, as well as highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

A package of incentives and disincentives offered to Iran in June by China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States requires Iran to enact such a suspension before negotiations can begin. Tehran has indicted that it is willing to consider suspending the program but continues to resist doing so before beginning negotiations.

A European diplomat told Arms Control Today Sept. 25 that both the United States and Iran will have to be flexible regarding the timing of a suspension announcement, adding that “some sort of face-saving” measure would be necessary. Although U.S. and European officials would not speak publicly of a specific deadline, the diplomat confirmed press reports that the relevant countries had agreed that Iran had to respond satisfactorily by early October. These countries now include Italy, which was not a party to the initial offer, but has since taken a more prominent role.

Security Council members have been discussing a resolution that could implement sanctions, but they apparently have not yet reached consensus on the matter.

Resolution 1696, which the Security Council adopted in July, requires Iran to suspend its enrichment program, and calls on it to undertake other measures, such as fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) investigation of its nuclear programs, in order to build confidence that its nuclear program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes. According to the resolution, the council intends to adopt “appropriate measures” short of military force if Iran refuses to comply. No such measures will be adopted if Iran cooperates. (See ACT, September 2006.)

But an Aug. 31 report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei requested by the Security Council resolution indicates that Iran has neither suspended its enrichment work nor provided the agency with significant cooperation on outstanding issues of concern.

Elements of a Deal?

Tehran’s lack of compliance was foreshadowed by its Aug. 22 response to the June proposal. Iran’s 21-page response, a copy of which was made public in September, describes the proposal as containing “useful foundations” for “long-term cooperation” but does not explicitly accept the conditions for beginning negotiations.

Iran further said in the response that it wants clarification of what it describes as “ambiguities” regarding some of the package’s provisions. For example, Tehran wants its interlocutors to clarify the scope of any potential nuclear cooperation agreements, as well as provide “irreversible and irrevocable guarantees” that any such agreements will be carried out.

The June package contains several proposals for providing Iran with nuclear energy, including part ownership of a Russian enrichment facility, a five-year “buffer stock” of enriched uranium stored under IAEA supervision, and multilateral ventures to provide a light-water nuclear power reactor. Additionally, the proposal includes measures for economic cooperation with and technology transfers to Iran.

In Iran’s response, however, it says it cannot rely on international fuel-supply assurances and still plans to enrich uranium on its own territory. Tehran did reiterate, however, that it is willing to do so “through consortium with other countries.” Although the June package was designed to persuade Tehran to end its enrichment program, it does allow for a final agreement to include a provision that would permit Iran to have an enrichment facility on its own territory at some point in the future.

Iran’s response also suggests a willingness to meet some of the demands described in both the Security Council resolution and the June proposal.

The six countries have insisted that, before beginning negotiations, Iran, in addition to suspending its enrichment program, would have to “commit to addressing all the outstanding concerns of the IAEA” and resume implementing its additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement.

Additional protocols provide the agency with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs, including by inspections of facilities that have not been declared to the IAEA. They supplement mandatory IAEA safeguards agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed but not ratified its additional protocol. Tehran had been implementing the agreement but stopped doing so in February after the IAEA board referred its nuclear file to the Security Council.

In its response, Tehran says it will “facilitate the necessary working conditions” to resolve the IAEA’s outstanding questions regarding its nuclear program. Iran also expresses a willingness to implement its additional protocol “voluntarily.” However, it attaches several conditions to that offer and does not say that it will ratify the protocol—another Security Council demand.

As for suspending its enrichment activities, Tehran’s reply states that it is “ready to discuss” suspending its enrichment activities during “the course of negotiations.”

The country is also apparently open to considering other methods to reassure the international community that its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. The response suggests that Iran may take actions that go beyond its safeguards requirements, although it provides little detail. It also says that Tehran is willing to “guarantee in an appropriate manner” that it will not withdraw from the IAEA or NPT.

The response, however, says that this offer is contingent on the other parties’ participation in “simultaneous mutual confidence-building” measures on security matters. These measures include a commitment to persuade Israel to sign the NPT and to support the pursuit of a regional nuclear-weapon-free zone. Iran also wants the six countries to prevent “all hostile and restrictive acts,” including economic sanctions and “any kind of military action or threat” against Iran. The June package vaguely addressed security issues, saying that the parties would “support a new conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues.”

Reflecting a long-standing Iranian concern, the reply repeatedly states that Iran does not want Security Council involvement in resolving the nuclear issue. It also indicates that Tehran will end its cooperation and “choose a different course of action” if “parties with adventurous inclinations” pursue action against Iran through the Security Council.

Iran also articulated other demands such as lifting economic and trade sanctions. Furthermore, Tehran wants a “limitation” on the negotiations’ duration. The country has previously complained that its previous talks with the Europeans dragged on without producing satisfactory results. Iran had suspended its enrichment program in late 2004 before beginning negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Those talks ended when Iran took several steps to renew enrichment-related activities beginning in August 2005 after terming the European offer inadequate. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Diplomatic Discussions

There have been indications that the two sides could reach a compromise that would allow negotiations to begin. Other potential participants may be willing to accept a compromise under which Tehran would agree to suspend its programs at the beginning of negotiations rather than as a precondition.

French President Jacques Chirac, for example, discussed a possible compromise in an interview with USA Today published Sept. 19. He indicated that Paris could support an agreement where the United States would join negotiations with Iran after Tehran announced a suspension. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley further indicated during a Sept. 18 press briefing that the United States could agree to such an arrangement. Chirac also said that the two sides could reach an agreement regarding the talks’ duration prior to the negotiations.

Perhaps significantly, Iranian and U.S. officials have suggested that negotiations, should they begin, could include issues other than Tehran’s nuclear program. Asked during a Sept. 15 Washington event whether the United States would consider discussing such concerns as security guarantees and bilateral relations, Department of State Counselor Philip Zelikow replied that “all those kinds of issues could be discussed” if Iran meets the conditions for beginning the negotiations.

For his part, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with The Washington Post published Sept. 24 that “it is possible to talk about everything.”

Whither Sanctions?

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph told reporters Sept. 6 that Iran is moving ahead “very aggressively” with its enrichment program, adding that “it is now essential that we move to adopt sanctions.”

However, Security Council members, including key members China and Russia, have continued to balk at taking punitive measures against Tehran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Vremya Novosti Sept. 11 that “sanctions are possible” but cautioned that such measures will only serve to drive Iran and the Security Council “into a corner.” Similarly, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Sept. 5 that sanctions could “prove counterproductive,” Reuters reported.

Chirac also displayed a lack of enthusiasm for sanctions during a Sept. 18 radio interview, stating that although the Security Council may need to impose such measures, he did not believe them to be “very effective.”

Rice told reporters Sept. 11 that the UN may adopt several resolutions that would impose increasingly severe sanctions on Iran. However, the council does not appear to have agreed on specific measures.

U.S. officials have publicly discussed a variety of potential sanctions that would likely target Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs initially, as well as individuals involved in those programs. Such measures could include efforts to impede Iran’s ability to acquire relevant materials and spend revenues derived from oil sales.

Additionally, the Bush administration is continuing its unilateral efforts to persuade other governments and private institutions to refrain from doing business with Tehran. The Department of the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey, stated during a Sept. 8 speech in Washington that some European financial institutions have already curtailed their dealings with Iran because of the government’s position on its nuclear program.

Levey and other senior Treasury Department officials also traveled to other countries to further such efforts. U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations John Bolton told reporters Sept. 18 that U.S. officials are talking with “governments and financial institutions about the risks of transactions with front companies set up by the government of Iran to help finance” the country’s nuclear and missile programs.

The European diplomat said that Washington would likely continue to push such measures even if negotiations were to begin. But a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Sept. 25 that the United States may reconsider such actions “if Iran is negotiating in good faith.”


IAEA Says Illicit Nuclear Material Trade Down

Sonia Luthra

Illicit trafficking of nuclear materials decreased slightly last year from 2004 levels, according to an Aug. 21 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report. A broader category of activity involving unlawful or unauthorized nuclear, radioactive, and radioactively contaminated materials also decreased last year for the first time since 2002.

The Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) details the possession, acquisition, transfer, and disposal of nuclear and other types of radioactive materials, including material that can be used to make nuclear weapons such as highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium. Ninety-one states gave voluntary information to the IAEA, 10 more than participated in 2004.

Incidents involving nuclear materials—substances containing uranium, plutonium, or thorium—have decreased slightly to 18 incidents per year from 20 incidents reported in 2004. This is still much higher, however, than the seven incidents reported in 2003 and nine in 2002. (See ACT, November 2005.)

Two cases involving HEU occurred last year in Japan and the United States. Both instances involved such small quantities of HEU that they were considered of “little concern” as a potential terrorism threat, according to the report. They did, however, show security vulnerabilities at facilities handling HEU. Since 1993, 16 reported incidents have involved either HEU or plutonium.

Since 1993, the IAEA has documented 827 confirmed incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activity involving nuclear, radioactive, and radioactively contaminated materials. Of these, 103 incidents were reported in 2005, a decrease from the 128 incidents reported in 2004 but still significantly higher than the average of less than 50 incidents in the 1990s. The majority of dangerous incidents involving these materials involved illegal disposal.


News Analysis: IAEA Limits Leave Iran Intel Gaps

Paul Kerr

As negotiators seek to start talks to ease concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran’s February decision to limit the access of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors is contributing to additional doubts about its nuclear intentions and capabilities.

When the IAEA referred Iran’s case to the UN Security Council in February, Tehran retaliated by halting its voluntary implementation of the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the agency. Iran has signed the protocol, which augments the IAEA’s authority to investigate possible clandestine nuclear programs, but has not ratified it.

The resulting vacuum of information raises concerns that the international community could either underestimate or overestimate the progress of Tehran’s gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. It is particularly important as U.S. officials spar among themselves and with foreign officials over the potential threat posed by the program, which could produce either civilian nuclear fuel or fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

In order to promote Iranian transparency, the Security Council in July adopted Resolution 1696, which calls on Tehran to act in accordance with its additional protocol. Iran has not complied.

Without Tehran’s implementation of its protocol, inspectors find their access limited to the terms of the country’s standard safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Such agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes. But inspectors have considerably less access to nuclear-related sites and information without an additional protocol in effect.

Nor has Iran so far heeded the Security Council’s call for cooperation that extends even beyond the terms of its additional protocol. The agency has said that its inspectors need greater access to facilities and personnel than is granted by Iran’s additional protocol. Tehran has previously provided some of this cooperation but not enough to resolve some ambiguities surrounding its nuclear program.

In a Sept. 18 statement to the IAEA General Conference, agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said that the agency has accounted for “all the nuclear material declared by Iran” but added that it has not been “able to make progress on resolving” the outstanding questions regarding Iran’s nuclear activities.

This lack of full Iranian cooperation means that the IAEA “cannot make any further progress in its efforts to provide assurances” that Tehran is not pursuing undeclared nuclear activities, ElBaradei said, calling the situation “a matter of serious concern.”

Although Iran has provided the agency with the required access to declared nuclear facilities and materials, it has somewhat hindered the inspectors’ work by, for example, declining to give access to certain records of its operating centrifuge facility. The IAEA inspectors’ decreased access to Iranian nuclear-related facilities in recent months also appears to be impeding the agency’s understanding of several other aspects of Tehran’s centrifuge program. For instance, the agency is unable to monitor Iran’s advanced centrifuge research because the country is no longer granting access to the relevant workshops.

Wayne White, a former top Middle East intelligence analyst at the Department of State, expressed concern in a Sept. 27 interview with Arms Control Today that Tehran could already be taking advantage of the IAEA’s lack of access by moving some, though not all, components related to its nuclear program.

Grappling With Uncertainty

Echoing knowledgeable current and former U.S. officials, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte told National Public Radio Sept. 1 that U.S. intelligence about Iran is limited, calling the country a “hard target.”

Providing an example of the uncertainty regarding Tehran’s nuclear program, Negroponte said that the United States does not know “whether there’s a secret military program and to what extent that program has made progress.” U.S. officials have previously told Arms Control Today that Iran likely does not have an advanced, secret enrichment program. (See ACT, September 2005.)

White cautioned that the information vacuum could cause analysts to underestimate capabilities, noting that this had happened in the case of Iraq prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. By the same token, however, he agreed that the IAEA’s restricted ability to investigate Tehran’s nuclear program could also allow unsubstantiated reports of clandestine Iranian nuclear activities to go unchallenged and influence perceptions that the country is pursuing nuclear weapons.

The departure of UN weapons inspectors from Iraq in 1998 deprived the international community of a critical tool for verifying what later proved to be inaccurate human and technical intelligence reports that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. A European diplomat interviewed Sept. 25 argued, however, that the international community had learned a lesson from the Iraq intelligence debacle, describing the ongoing process of evaluating intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program as “rigorous and conservative.”

As was the case prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, policymakers have responded differently to the ambiguity surrounding the potential Iranian nuclear threat, with some arguing for caution and others suggesting more vigorous action.

For example, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argued during a Sept. 11 interview with Vremya Novosti that Tehran may not be pursuing a nuclear weapon, adding that policymakers making “panicky forecasts…would do well to remember about patience which can bring about a negotiated solution.”

On the other hand, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations John Bolton told CNN Sept. 19 that “uncertainty about the exact state of Iran’s nuclear program” warrants treating Tehran’s “clear effort to get a nuclear-weapon capability as very serious.”

Similarly, Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, argued during a Sept. 6 press briefing that Iran needs to be stopped before it acquires the ability to produce fissile material, rather than an actual nuclear weapon. Asked about possible timelines for Iranian nuclear weapons acquisition, he said that once Tehran is “able to operate….cascades over a sustained period of time,” it will “be able to acquire a nuclear weapon” without being detected.

Disagreement regarding the potential Iranian nuclear threat also manifested itself in a public dispute between the IAEA and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. IAEA officials criticized the panel’s Aug. 23 committee report, which the Democratic committee staff did not endorse, for containing inaccuracies regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

A Sept. 12 letter from IAEA Director of External Relations and Policy Coordination Vilmos Cserveny to committee Chairman Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) points out that the report contains “some erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information.” It cites several examples, including a photograph caption that falsely states that Iran is currently producing “weapons grade” enriched uranium.

How Long Until an Iranian Bomb?

In the interview, Negroponte reiterated U.S. estimates that Tehran will have the “capability” to produce a nuclear weapon “five to 10 years from now,” unless circumstances change. A Department of National Intelligence spokesperson said that the intelligence community is evaluating this assessment as part of its work on a new National Intelligence Estimate, Newsweek reported Sept. 25.

By contrast, Israeli government estimates suggest that Iran could master the enrichment process within six to 12 months and produce enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a nuclear weapon in as little as three years, according to a knowledgeable Western official.

Asked about differences between the two government’s estimates, Negroponte said that both countries “basically operate from the same knowledge base” but that Israel will “sometimes…give you the worst-case assessment.”

Some U.S. officials have also argued for less-optimistic timelines. For example, Bolton said that the international community should not “assume that the intelligence estimates that put [ Tehran’s ability to acquire nuclear weapons] off for many years are necessarily going to be right.”

Additionally, Joseph told the House International Relations Committee in March that several “wildcards,” including potential assistance from foreign entities, could “accelerate” the intelligence community’s notional timeline.

Modest Progress for Iran, Less for the IAEA

Meanwhile, an Aug. 31 report from ElBaradei indicates that Iran appears to be making modest progress on its enrichment program in defiance of Resolution 1696.

According to the report, Tehran has continued to test centrifuges at its pilot facility by feeding uranium hexafluoride into individual centrifuges “for short periods of time.” Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. They can produce low-enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear reactors, and HEU, which can be used in certain types of nuclear reactors and as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Iran also tested a 164-centrifuge cascade with uranium hexafluoride at the pilot facility for two days in early June and again between June 23 and July 8. Iran introduced additional feedstock into the cascade on Aug. 24.

Tehran is continuing work on installing a second 164-centrifuge cascade, the report adds. Iran also has told the agency that it expects to be able to run the cascade without uranium hexafluoride in September. ElBaradei has previously reported that Iran is working on a third similarly sized cascade, but the report does not mention it.

All of these cascades are in the pilot centrifuge facility, but Iran is also constructing a larger commercial facility.

Tehran told the agency in June that it has enriched uranium to 5 percent uranium-235. The IAEA is still evaluating this claim. Since then, Iran has produced uranium enriched to “various levels,” the report says. The country had previously tested the cascade in March and April and produced small quantities of uranium enriched to slightly lower levels of uranium-235.

Tehran also began a new “campaign” to convert 160 metric tons of lightly processed uranium ore to uranium hexafluoride, the report says, adding that Iran anticipates completing this task by January 2007. It produced about 26 metric tons of feedstock between June 6 and Aug. 25. During its last conversion campaign, which took place between August 2005 and April of this year, Tehran produced approximately 118 metric tons of the material.

Iran also told the IAEA that it is conducting research on “different types of centrifuge machines,” without using nuclear material. The agency had asked Iran to clarify statements from officials such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Tehran had been conducting such research. The IAEA has long been concerned that the country, which currently uses P-1 centrifuges, has been conducting research on more-advanced P-2 centrifuges.

Additionally, the agency is asking Iran for information regarding HEU particles discovered when inspectors took environmental samples in August 2005 from a container located at a waste storage facility. The IAEA recently completed its analysis of the particles. According to the report, which does not mention the particles’ enrichment level, the agency has requested Iran to provide information about the “source of the contamination and the past use of the containers.”

The particles raise the possibility that Tehran may have either imported or produced undeclared enriched uranium. Iran has previously admitted that it enriched uranium secretly but only to very low levels.

The IAEA is also still attempting to determine the origin of other HEU particles previously discovered on equipment from an Iranian university but has apparently made no progress. A State Department official told Arms Control Today in June that Tehran probably did not produce that HEU. (See ACT, July/August 2006.)

ElBaradei reported that Iran is continuing work on a reactor moderated by heavy water despite the Security Council’s call for the country to “reconsider” the project.

The reactor has caused concern because weapons-grade plutonium, which is also used as a fissile material in nuclear weapons, can be obtained far more easily by reprocessing the spent reactor fuel from such a reactor than from more proliferation-resistant reactors. Iran has acknowledged conducting undeclared plutonium-separation experiments but says it will not engage in reprocessing.

According to the report, Tehran has recently provided the IAEA with additional information regarding its past plutonium experiments and also allowed inspectors to meet with relevant Iranian officials. These efforts, however, have not resolved the agency’s outstanding questions regarding the experiments.


Global Arms Exports Continued Upswing in 2005

Wade Boese

Government reports volunteered to the United Nations reveal that 2005 marked the highest volume of major conventional weapons exports in more than a dozen years. Yet, the figures, like those in previous years, do not take into account some arms transfers, a shortcoming that a UN-commissioned group of experts has proposed to rectify.

Beginning in 1992, the UN has urged all countries to provide annually to its Register of Conventional Arms data on their previous year’s exports and imports of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers. The purpose of such voluntary reporting is to help identify when countries are making weapons purchases that might pose threats to their neighbors or regional stability.

In a foreword to this year’s experts report to the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised the register as playing a “valuable role” in discouraging “excessive and destabilizing” arms accumulations. Argentine Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Roberto García Moritán, who chaired the 20-member experts group, extolled the register Aug. 23 as “an effective instrument to promote understanding between states and prevent surprises.”

Still, register submissions for 2005 reveal a robust global arms market. Indeed, the 28 countries claiming exports last year reported 11,987 cumulative weapons deliveries, one of the highest totals in the register’s history.

Atypically large exports by Turkey and Israel contributed to the abnormally high tally. Turkey reported exporting 3,040 122-millimeter rocket systems to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Israel shipped 2,422 81-millimeter mortars to Brazil.

Even if the Turkish and Israeli exports, as well as a Bulgarian transfer of 547 man-portable missile launchers to the United States for destruction, are excluded, the 2005 weapons export total stands as the highest mark in five years.

This wholly quantitative assessment of exports, however, offers an imperfect measure of the character and scale of worldwide arms deliveries by counting one mortar or missile the same as one tank, combat aircraft, or warship. In addition, such summations cannot provide insight into possible transactions rejected by arms suppliers. Nevertheless, raw numbers remain useful indicators of arms market trends and the most active weapons exporters and importers.

Foremost among the world’s arms suppliers, the United States carried out 160 more weapons exports than it did in 2004. All told, Washington sent 1,724 arms exports to 21 countries and Taiwan. Almost half of the U.S. deliveries (850 exports) were missiles and missile launchers. Washington also did brisk business in ACVs (511) and combat aircraft (98), including supplying the UAE with three dozen F-16E/Fs and Israel with 22 F-16Ds.

Russia, the chief competitor to the United States in arms deliveries, trailed by nearly 1,000 exports last year. Moscow shipped 744 weapons to 13 customers, including 12 attack helicopters to Sudan. Recent reports, including a Sept. 9 article in The Washington Post, have described a fresh round of Sudanese government helicopter attacks against villages in the war-torn Darfur region.

Moscow’s primary customers remain China and India, which together accounted for nearly two-thirds of Russia’s 2005 arms exports. India obtained two Russian combat aircraft and 273 missiles, while China acquired 196 Russian-made missiles. The United States is attempting to court India with new fighter jet sales and other military hardware.

Ukraine has emerged as a rising weapons supplier with 649 exports in 2005, up from 349 in 2004. Ukraine appears to be making some headway in challenging Russia for the arms business of former Soviet states and clients. Kiev transferred 192 weapons to countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc in comparison to 45 deliveries by Russia. Ukraine also made inroads into the traditionally Russian market of China with shipments of 363 air-to-air missiles to Beijing.

China halted its register participation in 1998 to protest the U.S. practice of reporting on U.S. arms transfers to Taiwan. Chinese officials contended the U.S. reporting helped burnish the international stature of Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade island that should be under the mainland’s control.

Aiming to facilitate China’s return to the register, the 2006 experts group, which included Department of State official William Malzahn, recommended that register reports should only include data on arms trade between UN member states, which Taiwan is not. This recommendation, as well as others made by the group, was reached by consensus and therefore has the endorsement of the United States. It must be approved by the UN General Assembly to take effect. Washington still plans to report publicly on its arms exports to Taiwan separate from the register.

The experts group, the sixth to assess the register’s operation, made other proposals aimed at augmenting reporting. Seeking to capture more naval arms trade, the experts called for lowering the warship reporting threshold from 750 metric tons to 500 metric tons. Most experts supported cutting the threshold further, but the Chinese government expert objected.

Consensus also could not be reached on expanding reporting to cover some other military systems, such as bridge-laying vehicles and troop transport and aerial-refueling planes.

The experts did agree on a standard reporting form for countries to volunteer information on their trade in small arms and light weapons, which are not covered by the register. Although a 2003 group of experts encouraged countries to report on such trade, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom were the only ones to do so for 2005.

By adopting a standard reporting form on small arms and light weapons, the experts hope to entice greater participation by countries, particularly in Africa, that have shunned the register because of charges that it neglects the predominant arms affecting their security. Small arms and light weapons range from pistols to machine guns to anti-tank missiles.

Even if governments do not carry out weapons transactions within the register’s categories, the UN urges capitals to make reports. As of mid-September, 68 of the 112 governments that have filed 2005 reports noted they had no exports or imports.

Although between 60 and 90 governments, including many prolific arms buyers in the Middle East, do not participate in the register in any given year, most key arms exporters submit annual reports. Malzahn asserted in an Aug. 23 speech that the register “has captured the vast majority” of the global weapons trade covered by its reporting categories. “By any measure, the register has been a resounding success, establishing a global norm of transparency and accountability in military matters and reinforcing civilian control of the military,” Malzahn stated.



Editor's Note

Miles A. Pomper

The fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks is a reminder of the dangers of a terrorist using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and the need to take all steps to prevent such an attack. But what if, despite our best efforts, such an attack took place? Would we be able to identify who did it and from where they obtained the fissile material or nuclear weapon itself?

In our cover story this month, William Dunlop and Harold Smith call for the United States to work with Russia on developing joint forensic teams to identify the perpetrators properly and inform the global response to such a catastrophe.

Biological weapons have usually been considered too technically complex for terrorists or lone hackers to develop or use. But Christopher F. Chyba writes that manipulations or synthesis of DNA will be increasingly available to the technically competent if they choose to make use of it. Chyba says that arms control efforts must catch up to these rapid technological changes.

The major forum for addressing these and other biological weapons challenges is the once-every-five-years Biological Weapons Convention review conference. In 2001 the event ended in acrimony. John Borrie writes that since then, a modest work program has helped to rebuild a measure of confidence in the BWC process. He says that, at this year’s review conference, states-parties may be able to move forward on improving practical implementation of BWC provisions but that these efforts may be too little, too late.

The job of curbing biological, chemical, and nuclear threats is one of the most important responsibilities of the president of the United States. In our book review this month, Spurgeon M. Keeny Jr. critiques a new history that examines how each of the U.S. presidents since World War II managed and shaped U.S. nuclear weapons and arms control policy.

Our news section includes articles looking at the gaps in intelligence information behind the current debate on Iran’s nuclear program, the controversy over Israel’s use of cluster munitions, and the surprising tensions over the signing of a treaty creating a Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone.


Who Did It? Using International Forensics to Detect and Deter Nuclear Terrorism

William Dunlop and Harold Smith

On February 2, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon has formed a nuclear forensics team tasked with identifying the attackers should the United States be hit with a nuclear bomb.[1] Adapting nuclear technology to the forensics of exploded nuclear weapons is an old but rapidly evolving field.

It dates back to at least 1949, when analysis of airborne debris, retrieved at high altitude off the coast of China, convinced President Harry Truman that the Soviet Union had exploded a nuclear device on the steppes of central Asia. The technology is neither new nor has it been particularly secret, but the formation of a national nuclear forensics team is newsworthy and a useful development. An international team, however, would be even better.

Although Washington has naturally focused on preventing a nuclear terrorism attack in the United States, a U.S. city is not necessarily the most likely target for nuclear terrorists. It is doubtful that a terrorist organization would be able to acquire a U.S. nuclear device and even more doubtful that it would acquire one on U.S. soil. Accordingly, if a terrorist organization does get its hands on a fission device, it is likely that it will do so on foreign territory. At that point, the terrorists will have an enormously valuable political weapon in their hands and will be loath to risk losing that asset. Given the risks associated with getting the device into the United States, the rational choice would be to deploy the device abroad against much softer targets. For Islamist terrorists, a major “Christian” capital such as London, Rome, or Moscow might offer a more suitable target.

Among these, Moscow perhaps presents the most compelling case for international cooperation on post-detonation nuclear forensics. Russia has the largest stockpile of poorly secured nuclear devices in the world. It also has porous borders and poor internal security, and it continues to be a potential source of contraband nuclear material and weapons, despite the best efforts of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. If terrorists obtained the nuclear material in Russia and set Moscow as their target, they would not have to risk transporting the weapon, stolen or makeshift, across international borders. Attacks by Chechen terrorists in Beslan and at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow offer ample proof that a willingness to commit mass murder for fanatical reasons rests within Russian borders, and a foreign source of operatives, particularly from the neighboring Islamic states to the south, is by no means inconceivable.[2] Moscow is also a predominately Christian city where local authorities routinely discriminate against Muslim minorities.

Furthermore, extremists might conclude that a nuclear blast in Moscow could inflict damage well beyond that directly stemming from the attack. The Soviet generation that came to power during the Cold War retained a memory of the United States as an ally in the Great Patriotic War. The present Russian generation has no such remembrance but seems to have retained the animosities and suspicions that were a part of the nuclear standoff. Hence, nuclear terrorists may well believe that they could cause another East-West cold war or even encourage Russia to retaliate against the United States. After all, the sinking of the Kursk was believed by some influential Russians to be the result of U.S. action.[3] How much more likely would be such a view if the Kremlin were destroyed? As long as the world is filled with suspicion and conflict, such reactions are to be expected and, more importantly, anticipated.[4] One has only to remember the early reactions and suspicions in the United States following the 1996 TWA Flight 800 airline disaster.[5]

Because the United States is the technological leader in nuclear forensics, its capability will certainly be offered and probably demanded no matter what foreign city is subjected to the devastation of a nuclear explosion. The entire world, not just Americans, will live in fear of a second or third nuclear explosion, and forensics could play a vital role in removing or at least narrowing that fear. Because of such worldwide dread, there will be an international aspect to nuclear forensics regardless of where the explosion takes place. It would be better to be prepared in advance for such contingencies than to delve into the arcane world of nuclear weapons and radiochemistry on the fly.

Nuclear Forensics

The force of a 10-kiloton nuclear explosion on the streets of Moscow and the radioactive debris that would be deposited locally and ejected into the atmosphere could provide, over a period of time extending from hours to weeks, insight into various aspects of the weapon employed. For example, the international seismic community, assuming a surface burst, would have estimates of the yield of the weaponwithin hours. That measurement could be confirmed by examining the resultant crater using airborne or space-borne photography or by knowing the distance at which windows withstood the force of the shock wave. Both would also be known within hours, and there would be little doubt that the explosion was nuclear: the mushroom cloud is the symbol of the age.

The radioactive debris can provide far deeper insight. Over a period of several weeks, laboratories throughout the world with access to the debris and the equipment and expertise to conduct the necessary measurements could address questions that would potentially shed light on the identity of the perpetrators. Among these would be whether the weapon was based on highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium. Other questions that could be answered include:

  1. If the weapon used HEU, scientists could determine the enrichment or share of the uranium-235 that it contained.

  2. If the weapon used plutonium, scientists could determine how much time the fuel had spent in a nuclear reactor to create the appropriate plutonium isotopes, the length of time since this isotope was separated from spent nuclear fuel, and various isotopic signatures that might provide other indications of the production and separation processes.

  3. The sophistication, or lack thereof, of the weapon. Scientists could make this judgment based on the efficiency of the plutonium or HEU fission and whether fusion reactions might have been employed to enhance the yield.

If the isotopic data obtained from the debris could be compared with similar data from plutonium or HEU stockpiles or weapons, it might be possible, under some conditions, to conclude that some of the fissile material did or did not come from a specific arsenal. It might even be possible, given enough time and access to actual weapons designs, to conclude whether a particular type of weapon had been employed.

Such determinations, if credibly obtained and distributed, could prove vital. If it were made clear, a priori, that the supplier of the nuclear material and/or weapon would be held responsible, nuclear forensics might deter potential suppliers. After an attack, nuclear forensics could be combined with other forensics methodologies and information tying involved individuals to places and events. Together this data could help establish the route from the supplier to the user and perhaps facilitate elimination of the supply chain. Furthermore, because the samples that might be collected are very small and have a mixture of isotopes with short, medium and long half-lives,[6] a significant amount of time, measured in days, is needed before the presence of some isotopes with longer half-lives can be measured with certainty. Hence, the time required to make some of these key determinations imposes a temporary moratorium on potentially catastrophic reactions by political leaders, who can legitimately inform their constituencies that appropriate action must wait until the evidence is clear.

Although the technical challenge to fielding an international nuclear forensics team is considerable and the benefits to the international community seem incontrovertible in an era of nuclear terrorism, the political and diplomatic obstacles are enormous, perhaps overwhelming. The world community may for the moment have to be satisfied with a few seemingly small steps that could be vital in setting the stage for an international undertaking of critical importance.

Access to Debris

Unlike the reactor accident in Chernobyl, where the debris drifted northward, the narrow plume of measurable, radioactive debris emanating from an explosion in Moscow would probably drift slowly to the east and would not cross the Russian border until it reached Kazakhstan approximately 24 hours later. Conceivably, the Russian government, if it chose, could deny access to the debris for that period of time, during which it could make its own measurements and determinations and could withhold the information. In all likelihood, such a policy would fail for several reasons:

  1. Russian scientific capability is widespread and sophisticated, particularly in Moscow and its environs. Unauthorized measurements by knowledgeable scientists in Russian laboratories would be eagerly sought and propagated by a hungry press.

  2. If the explosion were near the Kremlin, the U.S. embassy in Moscow would be damaged, perhaps severely, but there would be survivors who would be evacuated to the United States, possibly carrying samples of debris with them.

  3. Foreign experts might have access to the debris as it crossed into Kazakhstan approximately a day or so after the event. Certainly, the government of Kazakhstan would have access, and given the degree of nuclear testing that has been conducted in that country, one would have to presume that forensics expertise and equipment would be available.

  4. It might be possible for the United States or another country to fly over Russian soil to obtain airborne samples of the debris. It is uncertain whether the United States or any other country would mount such a politically risky operation.

  5. The Russian government would also have to worry that foreign governments might conduct clandestine operations on its soil.

Given these considerations, it would be foolish for Russia or any other targeted nation to deny foreign access to the debris. The interests of an attacked country would be better served by inviting international expertise to participate in a forensic examination.

Access to Stockpile Data

Foreign access to the debris is one thing; access to stockpile data for purposes of comparison is quite another. Even if Russia or another country were attacked, current diplomatic realities make it unlikely that a government would grant foreign experts access to relevant stockpile data. In the Russian case, one suspects that the Kremlin would choose to treat the problem as a Russian problem at least until the source were known to them, a period of time ranging from a week to an indefinite future. In the interim, if they so chose, Russia would be free to inform the international community of their suspicions.

Ideally, the nuclear powers, operating under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), would form an international team of nuclear forensics experts. The IAEA seems to be the better choice for a variety of reasons, including its sponsorship of an existing international working group dealing with the pre-detonation identification of nuclear materials.[7] Admittedly, on paper the CTBTO has the advantage of an established mission and an operational charter in some aspects of post-detonation nuclear forensics. It cannot perform many of these missions, however, until the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty enters into force, which will not happen in the foreseeable future.[8]

In either case, the forensics team would be similar to the UN Special Commission inspectors in Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the IAEA inspection teams that verified the dismantlement of the South African weapons program using weapons experts from a number of nuclear-weapon states. In theory, they would have immediate access, a posteriori, to the debris and access, a priori, to nuclear-weapon data. However, until the threat of nuclear terrorism is perceived far more starkly than it is today, the ideal case is not credible. Nuclear powers surround their databases with heavy secrecy and would be unlikely to share such data with an international team no matter what controls were placed on its members.

Nor is the secrecy unjustified. The United States and Russia know a great deal about nuclear weapons that could be of benefit to terrorists, particularly if the terrorists attempted to build a nuclear weapon from stolen material of unknown purity or from reactor-grade plutonium. The possibility that the weapons data provided to an international organization for an international forensics team might be leaked or otherwise compromised makes the sharing of data of this type unlikely. In short, the gap is still too wide to cross, and it will remain so until the threat of nuclear terrorism becomes much more feared than it is today.

Interim Steps

Nevertheless, smaller steps toward building a credible forensics team are possible and could proceed on two fronts. The first is to replace the international concept with a series of bilateral arrangements, beginning with one between the United States and Russia. The second is for each partner, individually and then jointly, to examine what data could be provided to a carefully chosen and controlled bilateral team. Much of the secrecy shrouding the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers is based on the fears of the Cold War. Such secrecy may have been important then but is not nearly so now in the face of the new nuclear age involving use of nuclear weapons by terrorists.

In this struggle, the two superpowers are close allies. Russia is deemed by many to be a likely source of fissile material. The United States, meanwhile, is judged to be a likely target, with Russia not too far behind. Such conditions can make allies of even the worst of antagonists. Furthermore, if the United States and Russia agreed to cooperate in this manner, it seems likely that the other recognized nuclear powers— France, the United Kingdom, and perhaps China—would follow. The threat of nuclear terrorism is, after all, international; the response should be the same.

For now, unfortunately, even a tightly controlled, Russian-U.S. bilateral forensics team may be a step too far. The experience of the CTR program, by which the United States assists Russia in dismantling many aspects of its nuclear arsenal, suggests that U.S. access to Russian nuclear weapons data will be extremely difficult to acquire. There are also many U.S. experts who would argue that Washington should be no more forthcoming in providing its data to such a forensics team for similar reasons. Given the potential difficulties, an even smaller step is possible and should be considered.

Building on the Experience of Cooperative Threat Reduction

The CTR experience has demonstrated that progress has only been made after the legal aspects of an endeavor have been resolved to the satisfaction of each country. This suggests that there is a necessary first step that could be taken now. This would not involve exchange of data, but it would put in place all the agreements, including characterization of the data, required to implement a joint forensics team at any point in time, including immediately after a nuclear explosion in any Russian or U.S. city or even anywhere in the world. In short, both governments could agree on the procedures, techniques, equipment, and even personnel that would be used should an attack occur.

The agreements could further ensure that the necessary arrangements are made for rapid transport of specialized technicians and equipment to the scene of the explosion to gather samples or other data. If a precisely defined team were formed, a three-fold advantage would ensue. First, a bilateral team whose capability was made known to all potential suppliers of contraband fissile material would have a deterrent effect as there would be a signature. The signature would admittedly not be as clear as that from a missile launch from an established country, but it would be a signature nonetheless. The deterrent effect would be further strengthened if there were a joint U.S.-Russian statement to the effect that the supplier would be held responsible.

Second, of all the successes the CTR program has achieved during the past decade, one of the most profound and unanticipated has been the close working relationship between a long-standing and unchanging team of experts from the Department of Energy laboratories and the Russian navy. As with most human relationships, a bond of trust has been formed over the years based on professionalism and sense of purpose. The same could be true of the suggested bilateral forensics team. Access to data is also likely to increase as the specter of nuclear terrorism continues to gain credibility. This would naturally cause suppliers to be less willing to arm terrorists.

Third, the unique nature and prestige of such a forensics team would hopefully impress more than suppliers. Political leaders and perhaps even the press would become aware of the existence of an authoritative source of accurate information on nuclear detonations. Public leaders would be more likely to forestall inflammatory pronouncements as the world waited the necessary time for accurate information from a unique and respected source, just as the United States did in the case of the bombing of TWA Flight 800.[9] Surely it would be to the benefit of all to wait a few days or a few weeks before taking extreme measures.


Although the arguments presented here have focused on the advantages and challenges of a U.S.-Russian nuclear forensics team in the face of an attack on Moscow, the symmetry of the situation is readily apparent. If a U.S. city were attacked, Washington would immediately seek to determine the origin of the weapon and its fissile material. The possibility of a Russian source would be high on the list, and there would be no better way to investigate this possibility than through the use of a highly credible bilateral team. Unlike most of the CTR program, where the asymmetry between the U.S. and Russian situations has been apparent and sometimes painful, nuclear forensics in the age of nuclear terrorism could be truly symmetric. The United States and Russia would be clearly seen as equal partners embarked on a project of immense importance, not just to the two countries but to the entire international community.

Although it is conceivable that a U.S.-Russian forensics team could be formed, even that it could be extended to the established nuclear powers of the United Kingdom, France, and China, it is unlikely that other nuclear-weapon states or, more importantly, aspiring nuclear states such as Iran and North Korea would allow access to their nuclear data. Such states might even provide fissile material or weapons to terrorists.

Of what value, then, is multilateral forensics? First, there is the simple process of elimination: there is value in knowing where the weapon did not originate. Second, an urban nuclear detonation would be so horrendous that concerted and cooperative action by the established nuclear-weapon states with regard to finding the source might open the seemingly closed doors of any nation to its nuclear secrets. Finally, the ancient Chinese proverb seems to apply: “the longest journey begins with a single step.”

All hope that the efforts to preclude a terrorist nuclear detonation are successful, but if such an event did occur, timely and credible data is needed on the likely source or sources of the fissile material or the nuclear device. A determination would help in restoring confidence to populations fearful of additional detonations and provide governments with evidence to pursue and find the perpetrators and eliminate further threats. The credibility of the nuclear forensic information would be significantly enhanced if provided or corroborated through a multinational or at least bilateral nuclear forensic team. Such cooperative activities could be fostered by approaches similar to the joint U.S.-Russian CTR programs of the past decade.

Post-Detonation Nuclear Forensics

As responsible governments want to locate nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists before they are detonated, they have tended to focus on improving methods to detect fissile material (pre-detonation) more than using forensic techniques to determine the products generated by fission (post-detonation). Pre-detonation technology includes x-ray machines that may show the presence of a nuclear device and gamma-ray detectors that indicate the presence of fissile material. In post-detonation forensics, the arcane field of radiochemistry plays the major role.

In the event of a nuclear explosion, radiochemists would seek to obtain minute quantities of debris from the nuclear device near ground zero and/or in the atmosphere. They would first separate the atoms into groups of chemically similar elements and then measure the radioactivity of each group. To do so, scientists often employ gamma-ray spectroscopy to measure the time of emission and the energy of each detectable gamma ray, electromagnetic radiation produced by radioactive decay.

The energy of the detected gamma ray is unique to each isotope of a specific element, thereby indicating its presence in the debris. Furthermore, the rate at which that isotope emits its signature gamma ray decays in time according to its unique half-life, thereby providing a second identifier of the isotope. By knowing the chemistry of elements that have been separated, the energy of the gamma rays of any radioactive atoms in that chemical group, and the rate at which the emission of the gamma rays at each particular energy level decays over time, scientists can obtain an accurate measurement of many of the isotopes of the chemical elements in the debris. Because there is always experimental uncertainty, particularly with small samples, all three processes (separation, energy measurement, and time dependence) may be used.

Three types of atoms are of particular interest in a forensic analysis:

  • Atoms of fissile material that did not undergo fission. Examining them allows scientists to identify the material used to make the device and, when compared to the number of fission fragments, to measure the efficiency or sophistication of the weapon.

  • New atoms created by fission and by other nuclear reactions within the fissile material. When scientists compare these, they can obtain considerable insight into the nuclear processes that were involved during the actual explosion.

  • Atoms of material near the fissioning core that were subjected to an intense bombardment of neutrons during the explosion and became radioactive as a consequence. These atoms provide insight into the components of the weapon and the energy of the neutrons that activated the components.

Post-detonation forensics are by no means limited to the steps noted above, nor does the description of even these steps do justice to the creativity and sophistication of instrumentation and techniques that have evolved since the beginning of the nuclear age and which continue to evolve and improve in the face of nuclear terrorism. The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Energy have substantial and continuing research and operational programs in the field.

—William Dunlop and Harold Smith


William Dunlop is a semi-retired senior scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL). He formally led LLNL’s Arms Control and International Non-Proliferation programs and during the 1990s was a scientific adviser to the U.S. delegation involved in negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Harold Smith is a distinguished visiting scholar and professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley. He served as assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs during the Clinton administration. The views reflected here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies of LLNL or the University of California.


1. William J. Broad, “New Team Plans to Identify Nuclear Attackers,” The New York Times, February 2, 2006.

2. See John B. Dunlop, The 2002 Dubrovka and 2004 Beslan Hostage Crises: A Critique of Russian Counter-Terrorism ( Stuttgart: Verlag, 2004).

3. See Mark Kramer, “The Sinking of the Kursk,” PONARS Policy Memo No. 145, September 2000.

4. Dr. Edward Walker of the University of California at Berkeley contributed greatly to these concepts.

5. TWA Flight 800 exploded at low altitude during takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 17, 1996. Initial suspicions were that it was attacked by a ground-to-air missile.

6. The half-life is the time required for half of the atoms in any given quantity of a radioactive isotope to decay, emitting some form of nuclear radiation.

7. Nuclear Forensics Support: International Atomic Energy Agency Nuclear Security Series No. 2, 2006.

8. To monitor and verify compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a global network of radionuclide monitoring stations is nearing completion. The network is already delivering data to a Vienna-based International Data Center, which is making the information available to signatories. Data derived from the stations could potentially provide information relevant for attributing the source of the material used in a nuclear detonation. The on-site inspection functions called for under the CTBT, however, will not be available for use until such time as the CTBT enters into force. Such inspections are primarily designed to determine whether a nuclear detonation has taken place.

9. Conclusive evidence that the explosion was caused by an internal malfunction rather than a ground-to-air missile was not available for many months, but the prestige of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was such that the United States decided not to take action until the NTSB had made its determination. By then, of course, retribution was moot.



On page 41 of Arms Control Today’s September 2006 issue, Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) should have been identified as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.



Cluster Munitions Under New Scrutiny

Wade Boese

Israeli military forces and Hezbollah militants ceased fighting in southern Lebanon Aug. 14, but unexploded Israeli ordnance there is still wounding and killing people. The casualties have raised questions about Israel’s use of cluster munitions and underscored some long-standing concerns about whether these arms constitute legitimate weapons.

Primarily intended to counter troop and armor concentrations, cluster munitions are bombs, shells, or rockets that can scatter up to hundreds of smaller submunitions over a relatively broad area. As with all bombs, these smaller bomblets can fail to detonate as intended, remaining unexploded and potentially lethal.

Israel used cluster munitions during its month-long invasion of Lebanon to destroy and evict Hezbollah militants based there. Israel launched the offensive in response to the July 12 cross-border raid and capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, a radical Shiite organization backed by Syria and Iran. The United States identifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

The fierce fighting, which also involved nearly 4,000 Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israel, resulted in at least 1,187 deaths in Lebanon, 43 Israeli civilian deaths, and 117 Israeli military deaths, according to a Sept. 12 report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) estimated a day before the ceasefire took effect that it had killed at least 530 people it identified as “terrorists.” Two days later, the IDF reported that it had conducted some 7,000 aerial strikes and 2,500 naval bombardments against targets in Lebanon.

As of Sept. 13, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported that 482 separate cluster bomb sites had been found in Lebanon, including in residential areas. UNMAS estimated that it would take up to 15 months to clear southern Lebanon of residual cluster bomblets, some of which have been identified as being of U.S. origin.

The unexploded ordnance, also referred to as explosive remnants of war (ERW), is exacting a human toll. A Sept. 18 UNMAS report attributed 79 injuries and 14 deaths to ERW. Leftover cluster munitions inflicted all the casualties, except for five of the injuries.

On Aug. 30, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland blasted Israel’s use of cluster munitions, which he said “have affected large areas, lots of homes, lots of farmland, lots of commercial businesses and shops.” He condemned as “shocking” and “completely immoral” the fact that an estimated 90 percent of the cluster munitions attacks occurred in the last 72 hours of fighting. “Either a terribly wrong decision was made or…one bombed first and started thinking afterwards,” he said.

Department of State spokesperson Patricia Peterson told Arms Control Today Sept. 14 that the department was “seeking more information on Israel’s alleged improper use” of U.S.-supplied cluster munitions against non-military targets. She said the department takes such allegations “very seriously.” Between 1982 and 1988, Washington suspended cluster bomb exports to Israel because of its possible inappropriate use of such weapons in Lebanon.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs repeatedly characterized Israeli military attacks as restrained and seeking to minimize civilian casualties. In an Aug. 15 statement, the ministry further accused Hezbollah of deliberately deploying and stockpiling its weapons in residential areas. “Had [Hezbollah] chosen to set up its arsenal away from populated areas, no civilians would have been hurt when Israel did what it obviously had to do,” the ministry stated.

Israel also argued that there is no prohibition against the use of cluster munitions. U.S. forces, for instance, employed cluster munitions during the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions.

Some U.S. lawmakers are not happy with current U.S. cluster munitions policy and would like to see stricter rules. In September, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) proposed an amendment to the fiscal year 2007 defense appropriations bill to bar the acquisition, use, or transfer of cluster munitions unless it was ensured that they “will not be used in or near any concentrated population of civilians.”

Feinstein and Leahy argued that cluster munitions too frequently kill indiscriminately and cause casualties long after conflicts end. “This is particularly and sadly true of children because bomblets are no bigger than a D battery and in some cases resemble a tennis ball,” Feinstein asserted Sept. 5. Leahy noted the following day that because of the “massive numbers of cluster munitions” used by the United States in Iraq, “civilians paid the price and continue to pay the price.”

Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.) argued against the measure Sept. 6. Calling the amendment “not acceptable,” Stevens said it “could severely hinder aviation and artillery capabilities and reduce the commander’s capability to wage war successfully.” The amendment was defeated 70-30.

Meanwhile, some governments are seeking to outlaw cluster munitions. Austria, the Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden are seeking negotiations to ban cluster munitions as part of the 1981 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). This framework agreement has five protocols that regulate or ban indiscriminate or “excessively injurious” arms.

Several CCW states-parties are already instituting their own measures to limit cluster munitions. Belgium has banned them, Norway has enacted a moratorium on use, and Germany has stopped procurement of new cluster munitions with plans to explore phasing existing systems out by 2015.

Still, prospects for adding a CCW cluster munitions protocol appear slim as decisions by the agreement’s 100 states-parties are made by consensus. A U.S. government official told Arms Control Today Sept. 14 that “none of the major countries are willing to proceed” toward a legally binding cluster munitions instrument. The official said current humanitarian law and an existing ERW protocol are sufficient in Washington’s view.

The CCW adopted its ERW protocol in 2003, and more than 20 countries have ratified the measure, which is set to enter into force Nov. 12. President George W. Bush submitted the protocol in June to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification, but lawmakers have yet to act. U.S. negotiators of the protocol previously told Arms Control Today that its obligations match existing U.S. practices. (See ACT, January/February 2004. )

The protocol establishes that the country occupying the territory where unexploded ordnance exists after a conflict ends is responsible for its cleanup. However, it calls on countries that leave behind unexploded or abandoned munitions to provide, “where feasible,” technical, financial, and material assistance to mark and clear the ERW. Israel is a CCW state-party, but it has not ratified the ERW protocol.

In his Sept. 12 report, Annan noted that although “IDF has provided some maps to [UN peacekeeping forces] regarding cluster strikes, they are not specific enough to be of use to operators on the ground.” The secretary-general stated that he “expected” Israel to provide more detailed information in the future.

The U.S. government is transferring up to $3.65 million in emergency funding to help mark and clear unexploded ordnance in Lebanon, according to a Sept. 26 update from the State Department’s office of weapons removal and abatement. Pending congressional approval, up to another $7 million might be shifted to this mission. Since 1998, Washington has provided $17 million for ERW and landmine clearance activities in Lebanon.



Israeli military forces and Hezbollah militants ceased fighting in southern Lebanon Aug. 14, but unexploded Israeli ordnance there is still wounding and killing people...

Central Asian States Renounce Nuclear Weapons

Sonia Luthra

Five former Soviet Central Asian states agreed Sept. 8 to forswear nuclear weapons within their territories permanently. However, breaking from typical practice, the treaty lacks the endorsement of three of the five official nuclear-weapon states. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have refused to lend their support, citing concerns that Russia might be able to deploy nuclear weapons in the zone.

In a Sept. 8 statement, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the event as a disarmament achievement but urged the Central Asian states to “engage with the nuclear-weapon states with a view to bridging the differences and ensuring the treaty’s effective implementation.” The treaty will enter into force after each of the Central Asian states ratifies it.

The Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (CANWFZ) will encompass Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It will join four other such treaties that encompass Latin America, parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. These pacts make it illegal for member states to manufacture, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Protocols to the treaty restrict the transport or use of nuclear weapons within the zone.

The treaty breaks new ground, however, in that each of the Central Asian states has also agreed to adhere to an additional protocol to their International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreements. Based on the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, such agreements give the agency greater ability to verify that non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) only use nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes.

In another new step, the CANWFZ also requires member-states to meet international standards for the physical protection of nuclear materials.

The Central Asian states have been seeking to construct the nuclear-weapon-free zone, the first in the Northern Hemisphere, for nearly 10 years. Talks began soon after Kazakhstan renounced nuclear weapons. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, newly independent Kazakhstan inherited more than 1,400 nuclear warheads, a larger arsenal than any of the NPT nuclear-weapon states except for Russia and the United States. In 1992, Kazakhstan voluntarily agreed to transfer these warheads to Russia and acceded to the NPT two years later. Another impetus for the CANWFZ was the health and environmental damage caused by nuclear test explosions in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era. None of the other Central Asian states has possessed nuclear weapons.

The Central Asian states agreed on a draft text of the treaty in September 2002 and a revised version in February 2005. But they held off on signing the pact in an attempt to gain support for relevant protocols from all of the NPT nuclear-weapon states. The most important of these are so-called negative security assurances. In an effort to buttress the nuclear-weapon-free zones, the nuclear-weapon states have often agreed that they will not use or threaten to use nuclear arms against states in the zones.

However, the five nuclear-weapon states have been inconsistent in their support for the Central Asian zone. China supported the zone from the beginning of negotiations. But France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have wavered in their support as they tussled for influence in the five Central Asian nations, all of which formerly belonged to the Soviet Union.

The United States, as well as the United Kingdom and France, were worried about a provision in the treaty providing for the possible expansion of the nuclear-weapon-free zone to neighboring states. This would mean, for instance, that Iran could apply to join the zone, perhaps complicating efforts to constrain the country’s nuclear program. The provision was removed from the treaty, thereby limiting the zone to the five signatories.

One sticking point was the transit of nuclear weapons within the zone. These concerns were allayed after the 2002 draft text included language allowing CANWFZ states to decide whether they would allow such transit.

The Central Asian states were not able to meet one final concern of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. These states objected to a provision in the zone treaty that would grant precedence to existing international treaties. In particular, they were concerned that if the Tashkent Collective Security Treaty signed with Russia took precedence, then Russia would retain the right to deploy nuclear weapons in the zone.

A Sept. 21 statement from the U.S. embassy in Kazakhstan expressed Washington’s concern that “provisions of other international treaties could take precedence over the provisions of this treaty, and thus obviate the central objective of creating a zone free of nuclear weapons.”

Russia and China praised the pact and sent official representatives to the treaty signing. But France, the United Kingdom, and the United States did not. A statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry Sept. 8 said the treaty would aid efforts to counter nuclear terrorism, saying that the nuclear-weapon-free zone would make a “substantial contribution” to the “prevention of nuclear materials and technology falling into the hands of non-state actors.”

The treaty’s signing at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, also marked the 15th anniversary of the closing of the nuclear testing site at Semipalatinsk. The Soviet Union conducted more than 450 underground and atmospheric nuclear tests at the site in a 40-year period before it was closed permanently in 1991 by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.


The Limits of Modest Progress: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Efforts to Strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention

John Borrie

Next month, Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) member states will gather for a review conference five years after a previous meeting dissolved amid acrimony. So far, the signs are that countries participating in November’s BWC review meeting will avoid a repeat of late 2001’s scarring experience. Since 2002, a modest work program has helped to rebuild a measure of confidence in the BWC process.

On the whole, states-parties have been able to move beyond political rhetoric and toward improving practical implementation of BWC provisions. The conference may take these efforts further still, but given the changes transforming the life sciences, these efforts may be too little and perhaps too late.

The BWC and the Draft Protocol

The BWC emerged from the Nixon administration’s recognition that a biological arms race was not in the United States’ strategic interest and that it should abolish its germ weapons program. The BWC was signed in 1972 with the United Kingdom, United States, and Soviet Union as depository states. Three years later, it entered into force.

However, a major shortcoming of the BWC was that, despite its comprehensive ban on biological weapons, it lacked mechanisms for ensuring confidence in compliance. Indeed, BWC member-states as diverse as the Soviet Union and South Africa carried on clandestine germ-warfare activities. Meanwhile, although successive five-year review meetings acknowledged the convention’s weaknesses, not until the 1990s did an agreement emerge to develop a regime to enhance confidence in compliance. A special BWC conference in 1994 set up an Ad Hoc Group to develop a legally binding instrument to strengthen the convention.

The Ad Hoc Group Negotiations

From the early stages of the Ad Hoc Group negotiations, the United States and Russia were ambivalent about the prospect of a verification instrument. Efforts at trilateral inspections of facilities potentially relevant to biological warfare programs among the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia in the early 1990s had encountered mixed success. Meanwhile, Iraqi deception and obfuscation seemed to be successfully impeding the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigation of Saddam Hussein’s biological warfare activities.[1]

This ambivalence about the value of a protocol hampered the creation of a robust instrument. Over time it became apparent to other Ad Hoc Group delegations that the United States was not prepared to provide the leadership it had displayed, for instance, in the Chemical Weapons Convention negotiations. Such leadership was necessary for creating a robust compliance regime in the face of continual resistance from countries with minimalist positions on verification, such as China and Cuba, India, Iran, and Pakistan, the hard-line members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM).[2] Russia, meanwhile, remained largely silent, apart from trying to establish basic definitions and “objective criteria” in the evolving protocol draft. If accepted, these would have undermined the convention by circumscribing the scope of its existing prohibitions.[3]

As the draft protocol text was fleshed out—at one stage, the rolling text was more than 300 pages long and contained thousands of brackets around passages of text not yet agreed— U.S. officials increasingly expressed their concerns about its compliance elements. These concerns became more strident as the chairman of the negotiations, Ambassador Tibor Tóth of Hungary, tried to push the Ad Hoc Group’s work toward completion before the fifth BWC review meeting in late 2001. Tóth released a composite text in late March 2001, choosing the compromise most likely to secure general agreement.

In public, the strongest U.S. reservations hinged on the draft protocol not being sufficiently robust and on the potential risks for industry proprietary commercial information. It was also clear, however, that U.S. concerns related to protecting national security-related biodefense activities from prying eyes.

Washington’s negotiating positions on aspects of the draft agreement such as the content of required declarations, routine visits to check these declarations, and investigations of alleged noncompliance with the BWC contributed to the dilution of the draft protocol’s verification provisions. Moreover, uncompromising U.S. rhetoric in the Ad Hoc Group format, often in response to provocation from NAM minimalists, exacerbated wider polarization in the negotiations. For instance, although the United States was a conscientious defender of informal export control regimes such as the Australia Group, which developing countries perceive as discriminatory, it was also publicly sceptical of modest proposals for assistance and cooperation measures. Hard-line NAM countries eagerly exploited this; they were no keener on a protocol than the United States appeared to be.

In July 2001, matters came to a head. The leader of the U.S. delegation, Donald Mahley, announced to the Ad Hoc Group negotiations that the United States rejected the draft protocol.[4] This rejection was not altogether unexpected as it followed months of diplomatic rumor about the interagency review underway in Washington as President George W. Bush’s policy team took up their posts. Nevertheless, the announcement triggered a blame game in the protocol negotiations along regional-group lines that swiftly led to its collapse.

2001 BWC Review Conference

Despite the bitterness generated by the failure of the protocol negotiations, it seemed that delegations at the review conference would cobble together an agreed outcome by the final day of December 7, including Ad Hoc Group follow-up plans. It still remained difficult to reflect the United States’ insistence on tough language in the final declaration on alleged BWC noncompliance by certain countries, but it looked like even this could be resolved through careful drafting.

That is, until John Bolton, then Bush’s undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, introduced a fresh demand. The United States, he said, could agree to annual meetings, starting in November 2002, “to consider and assess progress by states parties in implementing the new measures or mechanisms for effectively strengthening the BWC.”[5] In exchange, however, the conference would have to agree to terminate the Ad Hoc Group’s mandate. The message was clear: further work on a compliance regime was unacceptable to the United States and must stop.

Five years on, it is perhaps difficult to see the significance of Bolton’s eleventh-hour demand or why other members of the BWC, including those in the Western Group, reacted to it so strongly. After all, the draft protocol was widely regarded as less than optimal, even by its strongest supporters. Moreover, it probably would have been impossible to “re-boot” Ad Hoc Group negotiations and subsequently negotiate a better package. Was the United States not just doing everyone a favor by ending the charade of further Ad Hoc Group work?

It disturbed many that the United States had been instrumental in undermining elements of the draft protocol it then rejected for being too weak. It seemed to confirm the impression that the United States was not negotiating in good faith. Moreover, Western Group solidarity had held during the final Ad Hoc Group session’s blame game, despite the difficulty the new U.S. position posed for other Western Group members. Even Washington’s closest friends and allies felt betrayed that the new condition was announced without any consultation on the final day of the meeting. In addition, Bolton’s high-handed tone annoyed many of his European Union colleagues, which resulted in a subsequent emergency Western Group meeting melting down. With it, any last hope of rapprochement with the other regional groups evaporated.

Although the United States was often unhelpful in the Ad Hoc Group negotiations and formally rejected the draft protocol, it would be wrong to claim that it was solely or even largely to blame for the failure of efforts to strengthen the BWC through legally binding measures. In principle, protocol negotiations could have continued without the United States, which was, after all, exercising its sovereign national prerogative, not formally imposing it on others. That efforts did not continue reflected the reality that many countries had misgivings about a compliance regime that failed to capture the United States and its large biotechnology industry. The evident pleasure with which some NAM delegations sought to make the United States a scapegoat was hypocritical in view of their own efforts to prevent robust compliance measures during the Ad Hoc Group negotiations.

Nevertheless, the November 2001 review conference could have been a chance to leave behind this poisonous atmosphere if the United States had reclaimed a position of leadership by sharing its own positive vision for moving forward. Although this would not have tempered hard-line NAM criticism or guaranteed a review-meeting consensus, it would have mollified the majority of BWC moderates. It could also have served to isolate the minimalists. Instead, the United States delegation conveyed that any further BWC-related work would be under sufferance and that the Bush administration had no time for the views of others, even of close allies and other supporters.

Slight Return

In the absence of any other realistic options, the review meeting was suspended for a year, which left matters in limbo. In September 2002, the United States once again incurred widespread displeasure by proposing that the scheduled two-week resumption (November 11-22) be reduced to one half-day at which the decision would be made simply to convene another review meeting in 2006. Prospects appeared bleak for any kind of work to follow the resumed review meeting.

Instead, following intense shuttle diplomacy by Tóth, members achieved a modest consensus by the time the resumed review meeting wound up on November 15. The deal included holding annual one-week meetings in Geneva from 2003 until 2005. These would be supported by the work of additional two-week-long expert meetings to discuss a number of specific aspects of BWC implementation, including biological security, national penal legislation, international surveillance of disease, responses to suspicious outbreaks of disease or alleged use of biological weapons, and codes of conduct for scientists.[6] Any results or conclusions of these meetings were to be agreed upon by consensus and reported to this fall’s review conference. In effect, this ruled out formal consideration of resuming the protocol negotiations.

On the Comeback Trail

The good news is that this pragmatic approach has worked better than expected. So far, a cautiously positive mood has developed in the lead-up to November’s review meeting. At the preparatory meeting in April, for instance, states-parties were able to agree with relative ease on a provisional agenda and meeting rules.[7] Agreement was reached despite tensions between Iran and Western countries, the United States in particular, about Tehran’s nuclear activities, manifested by Iran’s somewhat mischievous insistence on wanting the upcoming review conference to focus again on the 2001 rejection of the draft protocol.

BWC president Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan overcame these and other difficulties with skillful nudging. Khan kept informal consultations under his control and ensured that members negotiated in the meeting chamber rather than behind closed doors in regional groups. This was important because it avoided the circling of regional-group wagons at the first sign of trouble and a divisive dynamic taking hold that would have set back prospects for the review meeting in November. Significantly, there were many points of commonality in various group statements, including those of the European Union, NAM, CANZ (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), and an emerging group of moderate Latin American countries.

Still, the rebuilding of trust has been on specific terms. For the majority of countries active in the BWC review process, the quandary remains whether to insist on verification steps that risk alienating the United States and some NAM countries or to pursue the pragmatic approach that has kept the process ticking since 2002. At a time when fears about biological warfare have resurfaced, the BWC has not been able to work on new collective, binding agreements or play a role beyond encouraging national adherence to the convention. It also has had little to say as concern has shifted from the 1990s’ focus on clandestine, state-run biowarfare programs to the contemporary emphasis on countering bioterrorism, a change in perception spearheaded by the United States.

Big Issues

November’s review meeting provisional agenda encompasses all of the BWC treaty provisions by means of an article-by-article review. In addition, there are many derivative issues ranging from enhancing confidence-building measures to allowing more civil society participation in any BWC follow-up work. Meanwhile, the life sciences themselves continue to transform. For example, new domains such as synthetic biology pose practical challenges to the effectiveness of traditional nonproliferation responses, and states need to consider what these advances mean for the BWC. Yet, states will not be able to address all of these issues in depth in just three weeks. Rather, an important indication of the BWC review process’s health will be its ability to make meaningful progress on some bellwether issues. These include:

  1. What to do in cases of alleged biological weapons use. At the 2001 review meeting, the United States accused Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Sudan, as well as the al Qaeda terrorist network, of violating BWC prohibitions.[8] Yet, the United States did not present evidence to support its accusations. Since then, the matter has not been addressed. In the absence of a broader verification protocol, there remains the UN secretary-general’s more limited investigation mechanism on weapons use.[9] A question mark, however, hangs over whether in practice this mechanism would be acceptable to some states, including China, Cuba, Iran, and the United States. Therefore, a priority for the BWC regime should be to ensure that a robust and credible means exists to investigate alleged violations of the convention, but this is unlikely in the current political atmosphere.

  2. The BWC in context: How does the convention fit with other multilateral activities to prevent biological weapons? The international community has launched a plethora of new initiatives since 2001, including UN Security Council Resolution 1540, the Proliferation Security Initiative, and activities involving the World Health Organization, Interpol, and other international organizations.[10] A recent report by the UN secretary-general underlined the need for coordination between these efforts.[11]

  3. What should the extent and shape of follow-up activities after the sixth review conference be? The United States has made it clear it will not agree to work on a verification mechanism or a BWC “organization” much more ambitious than the small unit currently attached to the UN Department for Disarmament Affairs. This aside, there appears to be considerable scope for practical next steps, provided these are focused and the case is persuasive, in particular to the United States.

Governments and other experts have suggested many ideas for follow-up to the review meeting. More proposals will undoubtedly emerge in coming months as policymakers focus their attention on preparing national positions for the review meeting and blocs such as the European Union and regional groups gather to coordinate views.

The most acceptable proposals are likely to be those focused on further improving national implementation of the BWC.[12] A Canadian proposal for an “accountability package” presented at the April preparatory meeting contains a number of concrete proposals, including specific steps on national implementation, enhanced confidence-building measures, strengthened national implementation support, and annual meetings “to consider the state of implementation of the convention and new developments relevant to its purpose.”[13] To this end, the package also outlines a proposal that has already found wide support in the BWC: to put the small secretariat unit on a more secure footing and to develop its capabilities.

Wider events also have a role to play. Continuing deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament, an inability by states to reach agreement on an outcome document at the July UN small arms review conference, and the expected difficulties at the Third Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in November will make many moderate countries keen to achieve a final document at the cost of ambitious proposals. Moreover, there is a general expectation among BWC delegations that although the United States has in general played a constructive role in the post-2002 follow-up process, it will continue to have firm positions that constrain ambitious plans.

Pakistan, which will chair the BWC review meeting, is hoping for success. April’s preparatory meeting showed that Khan understands the nuances of working with the so-called hard-liners, including Iran and Cuba, which took over as NAM coordinator in September, and he may have sufficient influence with his colleagues to help secure the necessary compromises.

Wild-card issues could have a great influence over the prospects of a successful review outcome. The “war on terror” has shifted orientation toward issues of bioterrorism as a number of new multilateral agreements on aspects of terrorism attest.[14] This has suited many BWC members. Dealing with terrorism is a more palatable focus in the current political environment than state noncompliance. However, a Middle East security situation that deteriorates further in the lead-up to the review meeting or a biological weapons attack could turn current expectations about the BWC process on their head.

Choosing a Way Forward

BWC delegations have not always shown they are aware of the distinction between the BWC political process and the norm against biological weapons, which surpasses contemporary preoccupations. Acrimony and shabby dealing have sometimes characterized the review process, and this has done little to strengthen the convention’s prohibitions. Consequently, November’s review meeting will be an important test for the BWC’s stewardship.

This November, pragmatism will almost certainly win out over ambitious proposals for verification steps. It is obvious to most BWC delegations that any hope of a return to negotiations on a verification protocol remains illusory for the moment. A crisis similar to 2001, however, is unlikely unless problems arise such as those that threatened the 2006 preparatory meeting. Khan seems conscious of this and has consulted intensively with a wide range of BWC delegations to try to avoid any nasty surprises, although these could still emerge.

The U.S. attitude will be pivotal. Moderates in the BWC context seem to realize that members will have to tailor proposals for follow-up work on strengthening the convention or its implementation to what Washington is prepared to live with, as Canada has tried to do in its “accountability package” proposal. This means emphasis on the specific and incremental. Less likely is substantial progress to clarify and enhance a robust investigation mechanism for cases of alleged noncompliance, although such a mechanism would seem rather important in view of the historical prominence of noncompliance concerns, such as those voiced by the United States in 2001.

A BWC review conference that produces a final document including specific and meaningful follow-up steps to strengthen its implementation would help to put to rest many rifts of the last decade. Whether it will orient the convention’s membership toward effectively responding to current and future challenges is another matter entirely. These challenges include responding to the implications of new advances in the life sciences and clarifying whether so-called nonlethal biochemical incapacitant weapons are banned, such as those used by Russian Special Forces in the 2002 Moscow theatre siege.[15] These kinds of problems that threaten the norm created against hostile use of the life sciences are not going away, and the BWC must tackle them at some point or lose credibility and relevance.

For U.S. policymakers, there is also a broader issue to consider. In the long run, the United States cannot have its cake and eat it too. For the last five years, the BWC process has operated in a kind of oxygen tent, effectively quarantined from decisively responding to important issues that may impinge on the convention’s effectiveness. This has largely been at the behest of the United States, which has often been severely critical about the efficiency of the BWC process. But Washington has taken a tough line against alleged violators of the convention’s prohibitions. In 2003, for example, it invaded Iraq partly on the justification Saddam Hussein had a hidden biological weapons program. Meanwhile, its own biodefense activities, including building highly classified facilities to research biological weapons, are raising legitimate international concern that the United States is violating the BWC.[16]

Since 2002, most states active in the BWC process have cooperated fully with Washington’s expectations. By continuing to resist the development of measures that would enhance transparency about its activities and overall confidence in compliance with the BWC over the longer run, however, the United States could fatally undermine general acceptance that biological weapons are barbaric and must remain banned. In other words, U.S. policymakers need to recognize that their current policies could have unintended and negative consequences for national security, reversing the foresight of a previous administration that biological weapons are not in the greater interest of the United States or of the world.

With skill and a little flexibility, Washington’s biodefense concerns can be squared with multilateral cooperation in effective ways. A welcome first step would be to entrust the BWC process with follow-up work and view the sixth review conference more in terms of its potential for shared benefit than as an irksome drag. This would signal that the BWC has returned from the political wilderness, and it would resemble the leadership the United States has often shown the world in enhancing collective security in the past.


John Borrie has followed the Biological Weapons Convention process for almost a decade. Formerly an arms control negotiator for the New Zealand government, he leads a project entitled “Disarmament as Humanitarian Action: Making Multilateral Negotiations Work” at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva. The views expressed in this paper are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the United Nations or UNIDIR, its staff members, or sponsors.


1. Despite trenchant criticism of UNSCOM’s efforts and those of its successor, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, U.S. efforts after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to find biological weapons or infrastructure were no more successful.

2. The NAM is an international organization of 115 members representing the interests and priorities of developing countries. China and Mexico are not formal members of the NAM but often associate themselves with NAM positions in the BWC context.

3. See BWC Articles I and III. For the text of the BWC and most official documents of the review process, see http://www.unog.ch/bwc.

4. Statement by the United States to the Ad Hoc Group of Biological Weapons Convention States Parties, July 25, 2001.

5. Jenni Rissanen, “Left in Limbo: Review Conference Suspended on Edge of Collapse,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 62 (January/February 2002).

6. For details of this mandate, see BWC/CONF.V17 (2002).

7. BWC/CONF.V/PC/1 (May 2006).

8. Statement of United States to the Fifth Review Conference of the BWC, November 19, 2001.

9. Articles VI and VII of the BWC outline procedures for referral to the UN Security Council to investigate breaches of the BWC, including alleged use of biological weapons. In turn, various General Assembly resolutions and UN Security Council Resolution 620 created a way for these allegations to be forwarded from the Security Council to the UN secretary-general for investigation. See BWC/MSP/MX/INF.3 (2004).

10. Resolution 1540 enhances the UN Security Council’s institutional role in coordinating nonproliferation efforts against weapons of mass destruction (S/RES/1540 (2004)). The U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) stresses practical cooperation by PSI voluntary partners in physical interdiction efforts against weapons of mass destruction. See Piers D. Millett, “The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in Context: From Monolith to Keystone,” Disarmament Forum, No. 3 (2006).

11. “Uniting Against Terrorism: Recommendations for a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy—Report of the United Nations Secretary-General,” A/60/825 (April 2006).

12. Sims, “Towards the BWC Review Conference: Diplomacy Still in the Doldrums,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 82 (Spring 2006), pp. 8-16.

13. BWC/CONF.VI/PC/INF.1 (April 2006).

14. These include the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, agreed in New York on April 13, 2005.

15. See David P. Fidler. “The Meaning of Moscow: “Non-Lethal” Weapons and International Law in the Early 21st Century,” International Review of the Red Cross Vol. 87, No. 859 (September 2005), pp. 525-552.

16. “The Secretive Fight Against Bioterror,” The Washington Post, July 30, 2006, p. A1.


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