Proliferation and development - exposing the link

Safeguards to prevent proliferation of dangerous weapons, materials and know-how have been breached. Rita Grossman-Vermaas looks at how governments and international organizations can plug the gaps.

In January 2004, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist regarded as the founder of Pakistan's uranium enrichment programme, was arrested. For more than a decade, he had clandestinely orchestrated a proliferation network that had sold nuclear technology to numerous customers including North Korea, Iran and Libya.

Pakistani nuclear scientist, AQ Khan. Although a national hero in his homeland, Khan's work also included secretly supplying nuclear technology to countries such as Iran and Libya (© AP / Reporters )

The AQ Khan network highlighted how easily weapons of mass destruction (WMD) knowledge and technologies can be procured. Even with export control regimes, a 'nuclear globalized private sector' could operate.

The Khan network case is a warning that traditional nuclear non-proliferation safeguards are insufficient in the face of increased diffusion of advanced technology - and the rise of rogue, non-state actors. The same applies to biological and chemical weapons proliferation.

Khan's illicit nuclear procurement network is not unique. Iran and India are thought to remain active in the nuclear black market. Several others have engaged in illicit technology transfer, diversion and/or covert activity to develop a nuclear capability. These cases, along with press reports of nuclear smuggling from some former Soviet Union states, demonstrate that proliferation is spreading both geographically and from the state to sub-state level.

So who is involved in this proliferation? The past decade reveals that "states at risk" can contribute to WMD proliferation, even if unwittingly. Such states include those already known or suspected of involvement in proliferation, and unstable states where illicit or subversive groups can easily operate. Advanced democracies - where businesses have sometimes inadvertently provided the necessary technology and equipment to proliferators - are an additional challenge.

The gap between hard security (proliferation) and soft security (international development and capacity building) objectives is rarely bridged effectively

Meanwhile, existing non-proliferation, capacity building and global development norms, treaties, and national strategies are a patchwork of measures. They often operate in near isolation. Would-be proliferators can exploit this lack of mutual support across national and functional boundaries.

In short, the gap between hard security (proliferation) and soft security (international development and capacity building) objectives is rarely bridged effectively. So an immediate challenge is to coordinate better the existing tools to limit states' ability to proliferate.

Security Council Resolution 1540

To help close this major gap, the United Nations (UN) Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1540 in April 2004. The resolution set out a global baseline of anti-proliferation measures and mandated all states to promptly enforce them. Resolution 1540 requires states to "criminalize proliferation, enact strict export controls, and secure all sensitive materials within their borders". The resolution also includes 12 points requiring all states to:

  • "adopt and enforce appropriate effective laws which prohibit any non-state actor to manufacture, acquire, possess, develop, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery";
  • develop and maintain "effective physical protection measures";
  • "border controls and law enforcement efforts" to address illicit trafficking; and
  • enact "national export and trans-shipment controls."

This Resolution imposed a requirement for supply-side measures against proliferation on every nation in the world.

Impediments to implementation

Resolution 1540 marked the most significant opportunity yet to provide states at risk with the capacity to conform to global non-proliferation norms. It was introduced with great fanfare in 2004 and the US Bush administration called it a critical component of its security agenda.

But neither the United States nor the international community have moved the Resolution on from being a multifaceted directive to an effective non-proliferation instrument.

Although the resolution places the burden on states to offer and request assistance, it also created a committee to act as a clearing house for reports submitted by UN member states. The 1540 Committee has backing from the Security Council and eight outside experts. But the enormity of its tasks greatly exceeds its capacity for achieving universal compliance with the Resolution's objectives. The strain on its resources is complicated by the absence of reporting from many states, reflecting either a lack of capacity or willingness to report.

For many countries, the threat of WMD falls low on national agendas. Other more immediate challenges such as political stability, poverty, mortality rates and infrastructure gain more attention and resources. Some states even argue against the Resolution's legitimacy, making compliance enforcement - without meeting appropriate capacity-building priorities - a challenge.

Full adherence will only be achieved when all states realize that 1540 implementation is in their best interests, either directly or indirectly. To make this happen, the crucial first step is to identify which states' domestic development priorities would also help the resolution's implementation. The committee has started looking into this through conducting successful outreach to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations and individual states with the expertise to provide implementation assistance.

"Whole of government" responses to complex problems are not easy. National agencies are often instructed to focus their activities on limited areas. This can lead to a myopic mindset.

But several NATO nations, as well as Sweden and Australia, have begun to integrate their defence, development and diplomatic policies to engage weak, failing and war-ravaged countries, with varying levels of success.

Most individual governments, however, still struggle to define a strategic approach and find resources to address perceived threats. These can include terrorism, fragile states, or violent conflict.

Bridging the divide between development and security concerns requires a long-term political and financial commitment. Better policy integration, coordination and increased links could free up resources to address the challenges facing the developing world.

For example, a slightly increased budget for "rule of law" objectives could achieve a legal framework for export controls and criminalization of proliferant behaviour. Similarly, certain security sector reform measures could encompass additional counter-proliferation training. Even so, ultimately there is little doubt that additional resources will be necessary.

Nunn-Lugar: A case study in the non-proliferation-development toolkit

The collaborative non-proliferation programmes between the United States and Russia show how hard and soft security tools have been mixed, albeit unintentionally. When US Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar authored the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, the primary focus was on securing and destroying nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles in the former Soviet Union.

The effort was initially led by the US Department of Defense. But as the US Congress began to realize the breadth of the challenge, it created a patchwork of initiatives across multiple agencies not only to deal with "loose" weapons and materials, but also to develop ways to harness scientific talent for economic development.

On a rather ad hoc basis, US threat reduction programmes evolved into broader, multi-department attempts to keep WMD, its materials and the necessary know-how out of the hands of hostile states and terrorist groups.

There has been considerable success on the hard security side of this agenda. But a formal link between institution/capacity building and sustainability of these non-proliferation efforts is only belatedly coming into play.

NATO's experience in defence and dialogue could make it a structure

which links non-proliferation

and capacity-building

For example, US programmes to promote economic development remain separate from ongoing non-proliferation activities. This is despite the US government's efforts to redirect weapons scientists, requiring civilian employment opportunities.

New models providing incentives to the private sector to invest in, for example, bioscientific expertise in the former Soviet Union could help transform weapons knowledge into valuable research for global health challenges. At the same time, it would take bioscientists "off the market" for potential proliferators.

Capitalizing on US, G8 and other non-proliferation and economic investments in is key to downsizing the WMD complex. Coordination of activities and information is a key element, increasingly so as non-proliferation programmes extend beyond the former Soviet Union.

The value of collaborative non-proliferation has been recognized. But the importance of capacity building and economic development has been undervalued and misunderstood.

Global implementation of 1540 requires "collaborative non-proliferation" tools to be sharpened, applied and fully exploited. Gaining the necessary political will to do this will require recognition of the nexus between international non-proliferation objectives and the vulnerabilities associated with states at risk.

Inadequate, non-existent or non-enforced export controls, are just some examples of vulnerabilities associated with a weak state. These are ripe for exploitation by proliferators - as demonstrated by the lack of action on intelligence about the Khan network.

A role for NATO?

Resolution 1540 provides all UN states with the opportunity to link security and development issues to prevent a weapons of mass destruction catastrophe. In the context of the resolution, capacity building efforts must focus first on governance and rule of law, which could be followed by

  • securing nuclear facilities;
  • disease surveillance, border security;
  • counter-terrorism measures;
  • counter-narcotics;
  • natural disaster preparedness;
  • export control regimes, and
  • economic development.

These efforts are to be conducted at domestic and international levels, allowing multilateral organizations such as NATO to play a role. Individual NATO nations and the Alliance are already involved in development effort operations, such as in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

NATO nations are also part of global non-proliferation efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the G8 Global Partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction.

With NATO's experience in defence and dialogue and its sensitivities to social and economic dimensions of security, it could be a structure which links non-proliferation and capacity-building.

This need not raid development budgets or hijack foreign assistance agendas. Again, there is little doubt that it will require additional resources. But the first requirement is a shift in institutional thinking.

The WMD Centre, responsible for the Alliance approach to non-proliferation, could play a leading role in this effort. It could ensure a strategy for the complexity of the challenge.

Redirecting resources spent on response training to increasing NATO and Partnership countries' capacity to prevent proliferation would not only make global efforts more effective, but also help secure NATO's role and impact in the 21st century.

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