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Ted Whiteside: head of NATO's WMD Centre

Ted Whiteside has headed NATO's Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre since its creation in autumn 2000. He joined NATO's Political Affairs Division in September 1999 as deputy head of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Cooperative Security Section, having served in the Canadian Delegation to NATO and the Canadian Embassy in Bonn.

( © NATO)

NATO Review: What is the WMD Centre and why was it set up?

Ted Whiteside: The WMD Centre is an interdisciplinary team in the Political Affairs Division of NATO. It was established in order to support the work of committees and working groups dealing with proliferation issues. The WMD Centre draws its mandate directly from the Alliance's 1999 Washington Summit and the WMD Initiative. There are basically six broad objectives. These are: to ensure a more vigorous debate at NATO leading to strengthened common understanding among Allies on WMD issues and how to respond to them; to improve the quality and quantity of intelligence and information sharing among Allies on proliferation issues; to support the development of a publicinformation strategy by Allies to increase awareness of proliferation issues and Allies' efforts to support non-proliferation efforts; to enhance military readiness to operate in a WMD environment and to counter WMD threats; to exchange information concerning national programmes for bilateral WMD destruction and assistance - specifically how to help Russia destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons; and to enhance the possibilities for Allies to assist one another in the protection of their civil populations against WMD risks. As you see from these objectives, the Alliance has a very active programme of work regarding WMD risks and threats, and the Centre is the focal point for support to these efforts.

NR: How does the WMD Centre function? How many NATO staff and how many national experts work there?

TW: There are three international staff and seven national experts. The seven national experts bring with them a very wide experience. We have expertise in chemical weapons, biological agents, ballistic missiles, knowledge and experience in force protection, intelligence, and political aspects of arms control and non-proliferation regimes. We support a number of NATO committees. The two principal ones are the Senior Politico-Military Group on Proliferation and the Senior Defence Group on Proliferation. In addition, the WMD Centre actively supports the Senior Political Committee in its work dealing with theatre missile defence, cooperation with Russia and issues related to the Alliance's response to terrorism following the 11 September 2001 attacks against the United States.

NR: How has the WMD Centre's agenda changed since 11 September?

TW: In the wake of 11 September, there is clearly an increased awareness of the potential use of weapons of mass destruction by non-state actors. As a result of this increased awareness, the Centre has adapted its work programme to the evolving demands of the Committees we support. That said, there is a great deal of continuity in the work of a committee such as the Senior Defence Group on Proliferation - in terms of what it has been doing over recent years to enhance military readiness to operate in a WMD environment. Many of the practical steps that have been taken by Allies with respect to force protection, detection, identification and medical counter-measures can be adapted to the risks associated with the potential use of weapons of mass destruction by non-state actors. We are therefore seeking to build upon existing work and initiatives. Although our agenda has not changed markedly, there is clearly a different emphasis on the risks associated with biological agents. Indeed, we will have to get to know more about the potential use of biological, chemical and radiological devices by non-state actors and to build this in as an important part of our thinking. In addition, we need to review how best to work together to protect civilian populations against these risks.

NR: Media appear obsessed about bioterrorism as a result of the spate of anthrax letters in the United States. How serious a threat is this form of warfare?

TW: The potential use of biological agents by non-state actors is a significant problem. Non-state actors have shown the potential to create and use some of these weapons. One of the principal characteristics of biological agents that may make their use attractive to non-state actors is their toxicity. Potential use of such agents by terrorist or criminal elements would be extremely disruptive. These agents are insidious, diff icult to trace and extremely resource-intensive to counter, both in terms of medical counter measures and law enforcement. Dual-use technology and the widespread expertise associated with modern biological industries exacerbate the difficulties associated with countering this type of proliferation. Although the use and possession of biological weapons have been prohibited since the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Biological and Toxin Weapons, it remains extremely diff icult to implement suitable verification measures. Unlike conventional arms-control regimes where it is possible to count specific objects, such as tanks and artillery pieces, and establish verification benchmarks, this option is not readily available in the case of biological agents. It remains important to pursue efforts to ensure that the 1972 Convention is an effective instrument to counter the growing threat of biological weapons.

NR: What other threats appear most dangerous to you at present?

TW: There are risks related to biological and chemical agents, toxic industrial chemicals, as well as radiological devices. Beyond that, ballistic-missile proliferation remains an issue of serious concern to the Alliance. In this area, the Alliance remains strongly committed to the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Zangger and Nuclear Suppliers Groups as important elements in our efforts to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means for their delivery.

NR: Is there an emerging Alliance view on proliferation? On missile defence?

TW: The Alliance has recognised since the early 1990s that it is important to strengthen efforts against proliferation. The principal goal remains that of preventing proliferation from taking place, or, should it take place, to reverse it through diplomatic means. Hand in hand with such an approach goes the important role of ensuring an appropriate defence posture against the possible use of weapons of mass destruction. The Alliance's defence posture must have the capability to address appropriately and effectively the threats that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery can pose. It is critical to maintain the flexibility and effectiveness of Alliance forces despite the presence, the threat or the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. In this context, the Alliance draws upon a mix of means to address the challenges of proliferation, including deterrence and offensive and defensive means, and enhancing the effectiveness of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, as well as diplomatic and counter-proliferation measures.

NR: Russia has displayed interest in cooperation with NATO on tactical missile defence. What direction could this take?

TW: There have been a number of close and intensive consultations with Russia on missile defence. These consultations will continue in the future and are likely to head in two or three generic areas. Firstly, we can discuss the nature of ballistic-missile development in the world, our understanding of the problem, its scope and the range of efforts to counter it. Secondly, we can discuss concepts, such as a common understanding of the meaning of missile defence, how it can be integrated into the overall concept of Extended Air Defence, how it works in terms of communications and command and control, and what it presupposes in terms of training. And we can also explore potential industrial cooperation that could eventually take place between NATO and Russia on systems that are currently being developed.

NR: Are there any plans to expand WMD Centre activities to include Partner countries?

TW: Partners have already had some consultations with the Alliance on proliferation. There have been specific, indepth bilateral talks with Russia and Ukraine. There have been general discussions within the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and, as in the past, disarmament experts' meetings will continue to take place with Partners. We hope to see this expanded within committee work, so that we can increasingly address the challenges associated with proliferation with all Partners. Contacts and consultations have also begun with Mediterranean Dialogue countries. More work is ongoing to strengthen and deepen all of these consultations.

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