Updated: 30-Oct-2006 NATO Speeches


27 Sep. 2005

Exercise Senator

Video interview with Guy Roberts,
Deputy Assistant Secretary General
for NATO's Policy on Weapons of Mass Destruction

Q: Mr. Roberts, thank you very much for joining us today. You are the Deputy Assistant Secretary General for NATO's Policy on Weapons of Mass Destruction.

And as I said, welcome and thank you for joining us to talk about a very interesting exercise we've had, Exercise SENATOR 2005, but also a bit more in general about NATO's Policy on Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Let's start with the exercise. What was the aim and actual scenario of the exercise?

GUY ROBERTS (DASG for WMD Policy): Well thank you, it's a pleasure to be here and I'm very happy to have an opportunity to explain the exercise and what we did.

SENATOR 2005 was the latest addition of a UK- that is a United Kingdom series of emergency exercises to test their capability to respond in the unlikely event that there was an incident or accident involving a nuclear weapon or nuclear materials that they were transporting.

The aim of this exercise was to test the effectiveness of the UK's Nuclear Accident Response Organization and the ability of their emergency services organizations to work with that organization to respond and assist in the very unlikely event that there would be a release of radioactive materials in the community and how they would go about doing that.

So there was a combination of support services, emergency services, of local police, military from the Ministry of Defence and the nuclear response organization that all worked together to deal with this scenario in which a nuclear weapon was damaged.

Q: But this was not per se an attack on a nuclear transport. This was simply a nuclear transport which was in progress and an accident occurred causing the release of nuclear radioactive materials yes?

ROBERTS: That's correct, that's correct. What happened was that in the course of the transportation of a nuclear weapon, an engine flew off an airplane in flight and in this very unlikely scenario the engine landed on top of the vehicle. The vehicle then of course was involved in a multiple car accident on a highway in which the nuclear weapon was thrown from the vehicle and then all the subsequent situations occurred that the emergency services responded to.

Now what's interesting about this though is that again, this is a very fantastic scenario...

Q: An engine dropping from the sky.

ROBERTS: ...exactly. But it just goes to show again, how much these organizations that are responsible for the safety and security of these weapons practice the most unlikely of scenarios just to be ready in case something should happen.

Q: And you mentioned the fact that this was one of a series of exercises organized by the United Kingdom. So what is actually the NATO connection?

And also I understand that there were observers from the Russian Federation attending the exercise?

ROBERTS: Yes. Yes that's correct. Exercise SENATOR as I said was a wholly planned and organized UK exercise and it was a part of a series of exercises that they do regularly to test their ability to respond to these incidents.

In this particular event, the UK invited the NATO-Russia Council nuclear experts to come and observe this exercise so that we, all, could get a better understanding of how they go about responding to these kinds of emergencies.

The Russians were, because they are part of the NATO-Russia Council, were invited and they brought very senior leadership--I believe it was a total of seven--that came from Russia to observe the exercise and make their own observations.

I should point out that last year, Russia conducted a similar exercise...

Q: Yes I was actually just about to ask about that...


Q: ...because obviously this is not the first exercise or event of this nature but...

ROBERTS: Right. They conducted a similar involving, again, a scenario involving I believe (I wasn't there) but I believe it did involve an attack on a convoy and how they would respond. So this is an exercise by the NATO-Russia Council Nuclear Experts Group to share information on how countries that possess nuclear weapons would respond in these kinds of emergencies.

So, for example, at the conclusion of this exercise the United States offered to conduct a similar exercise and host again the NATO-Russia Council Nuclear Experts Group to come and observe that exercise and that will be held next year in June out in Wyoming.

Q: Okay.

ROBERTS: And then, in addition, France has also agreed to conduct an exercise the following year.

Q: Obviously issues such as the transport of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials are very, very sensitive and it can be quite easily understood that- why there's public concern about these issues.

In addition to exercises such as this is NATO doing other things to try and prevent even such unlikely incidents from occurring?

ROBERTS: Well in every circumstance which involves the protection of nuclear weapons that is a national responsibility. The nations are wholly- are wholly responsible and wholly obligated to ensure the safety and security of all their nuclear weapons.

What those nations have tried to do is to assure their publics and through their publics to assure the Alliance and actually through the Alliance to assure the world that these weapons enjoy the highest level of protection. That they are protected by credibly professional staff and that those countries have invested the resources to respond effectively, efficiently to any incident that may involve these weapons.

And one of the- one of the aspects of this exercise by having all of these countries from the NATO-Russia Council come and observe--and we had experts from 23 NATO countries and NATO organizations as well as the seven representatives from Russia--is that- this was an opportunity to build confidence, openness, and transparency that in fact these weapons are in good hands and they're extremely well safeguarded from any eventuality.

Q: You mentioned in the beginning that the scenario did involve the unlikely event of a plane engine dropping from the sky is, as you say, quite a farfetched scenario but at the same time how real according to NATO or according to the analyses that you do, how real is the threat of a convoy transporting nuclear weapons being either attacked--as in the case of the Russian exercise which you mentioned--or in this case being involved in an accident?

ROBERTS: Well in all of these scenarios, I think again this is something that each country is responsible for and, the safety and security of the weapons are, particularly within their providence, to do what they need to do.

But as this exercise pointed out these situations and these events are very, very low probability, extremely low probability but in the unlikely event that they did occur--incredibly high consequence. So no country can take the chance that there may not- there is a possibility that a terrorist group or some natural disaster or some unlikely event or scenario might occur and we must be prepared, they must be able to respond and they must have the tools and the training to do that.

So even though any country that would be asked this question would probably assess the likelihood of that, given the level of protection that is provided, is extremely low it can't be discounted and they have to plan for it, they have to train for it and they have to exercise for it.

So these are great opportunities again, to assure the public that even in those unlikely events people have taken the extraordinary step- their governments have taken all efforts, spared no expense, to respond- to be able to respond effectively to anything that might occur.

Q: That's actually quite reassuring.

Were there any major, in follow-up to what you've said apart of course from the confidence building aspects, were there any major outcomes of the exercise that you could point to saying you know, lessons learned that were of obvious- well they were obviously apparent immediately after the exercise?

ROBERTS: Well I think the- well first of all of the ones- all of the countries that observed the exercise and in particular the Russians were very impressed with the openness, the level of detail that was provided, the willingness to answer questions, the willingness to provide answers to any of the questions that were asked by the Russians or any other member of the nuclear experts and that was very gratifying.

I think what was most impressive about this particular exercise was how well civilian organizations cooperated with military organizations to respond to this kind of emergency. This was something that was new to the Russians, it was something that was very impressive and was commented on repeatedly by all the countries that attended and observed the exercise.

So this particular aspect I believe was a very important one to show that organizations that, for the most part, would never deal with a nuclear-related incident, were able to move fairly quickly, to respond effectively, to work professionally with the other organizations to manage this event and to deal with it in a way that would give assurance to the public that they could in fact do that. So, that was probably the biggest and most interesting lesson or takeaway if you will that we all took from observing this exercise.

Q: Thank you and you mentioned the fact that obviously this is an example of how NATO and Russia cooperate in the NATO-Russia Council. Could you give us some other examples of the practicalities of NATO-Russia cooperation?

ROBERTS: Well the NATO-Russia Council is of course established as a result of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997. And this is an effort to cooperate on a wide variety of areas.

My area of course is in the area of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear matters.

I believe there's about 17 committees or working groups on a wide variety of different areas that- at varying levels and degrees there is cooperation. I cannot speak to those because I'm not a participant in those but I do know that in each one of those groups there is progress and there is a work program and things are happening.

In the three specific areas that I know of and which we've agreed to do consultations, to work on work programs, to develop agendas for the future, this includes the reciprocal exchanges on nuclear weapons issues which includes doctrines and strategy. We also have agreed on sharing information and cooperating and providing information on nuclear safety and security issues. And also, and very important, is cooperation and again sharing information on how we can combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction which includes chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons and their means of delivery.

Q: That is actually a very interesting point which I'd like to take a bit further because the exercise of course, and the Russian exercise before, assumes- okay, nuclear weapons are being transported and what can we do to ensure that they're either not hijacked by terrorists of that there's no accident involving these weapons?

But preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction obviously has a much wider context and is obviously an issue of great importance today.

Could you tell us briefly about what NATO is doing in this field to try and prevent the illicit proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?

ROBERTS: Well that's an excellent question. I believe that we're doing a lot and every country in the Alliance is very concerned about the potential of weapons of mass destruction being acquired by terrorist groups or terrorist groups that are sponsored by states that would like to use weapons of mass destruction in a way to do the Alliance or any country in the Alliance some harm.

There's been a lot on the international side to create the legal mechanisms to give countries the right and responsibility to address the growing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Probably one of the most significant events was a couple of years ago and- on the 28th of April in- actually I think it was 2004, the UN Security Council passed a resolution 15-40 which requires states to not only pass legislation to ensure that no one within their country is illicitly developing a weapon of mass destruction but that resolution also urges countries to cooperate, to work together to try to stop the illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction.

The NATO Alliance of course has been cooperating since 9-11--the 9-11 terrorist event in New York--to stop terrorist activities through Operation Active Endeavour.

And this is an operation in the Mediterranean to intercept and interdict terrorists and those that would support them and transporting materials to be used for terrorist activities. This is a logical extension into stopping illicit activities and transporting weapons of mass destruction materials.

So the NATO Alliance is cooperating and doing that.

Countries in the Alliance are sharing information.

Within the NATO organization itself we have something called the Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre and that Centre is responsible for providing, among its many, many functions, is providing information to Alliance members on the concerns of today with regard to illicit trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

You may recall when Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction program we discovered at that time that there was a trafficking network run by a Pakistani scientist by the name of AQ Khan.

We've slowly unravelled that trafficking network to see how extensive it was. It involved a number of individuals from a number of countries and we're not quite sure how many other trafficking networks are out there that are doing that so it's vitally important for countries to share information, to find out if there are and to work together--because that's the only way we're going to be able to stop people like AQ Khan--to work together, to share information, to interdict and intercept, and stop, these individuals and deter others from doing so.

So I think we've got a lot going on, we have a lot on our plate, but I think people can take some confidence in the fact that we are doing everything we can to make sure that we don't ever have a WMD incident in the future.

Q: That's- and that's, as you pointed out, there's already quite a lot of things going on right now to prevent this.

But if you were to say, look into the future, and say ideally best case scenario 5-10 years from now, what other mechanism would you like to ideally see in place that in your opinion would help yes even further reduce the risk of WMD attacks or proliferation?

ROBERTS: Well my own personal hope is that over the next 4-5 years or within the next ten years is that there are a number of efforts that are going on right now and many of these are disconnected.

Several international governmental organizations are involved in trying to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and each one of them has their own niche if you will into doing what they can in their particular area...

Q: So it's very much about trying to interconnect yes?

ROBERTS: ...and what I would like to see happen is exactly that. Is that these organizations and national organizations would work together, would connect together either via the Internet, by sharing individuals, by sharing work products, but creating a seamless web of measures that would make it more and more difficult to the point where it would be virtually impossible for individuals and organizations and countries that would support terrorist activities from ever doing these things.

So for example, if the World Customs Organization, heavily engaged in training border security and working with customs officials to identify smuggling paths, to identify and work with various technologies to stop transporting biological materials, chemical weapons materials and radiological materials across borders. There's no reason why the World Customs Organization couldn't share that kind of information with NATO.

There's no reason why Interpol, a law enforcement organization, trying to track criminals engaged in these activities from sharing that information with the World Customs Organization and NATO.

The International Maritime Organization is involved in trying to stop the trafficking of WMD- weapons of mass destruction materials on the high seas and through international straits. There's no reason that their activities couldn't be shared with other organizations.

The World Health Organization is another example which is dedicated to stopping the spread of diseases and has very effective disease surveillance programs, could share that information with other organizations to, again, ensure that if there is someone deliberately using a disease to do harm to various people around the world, that that information can't be shared with other organizations so that we all, again, won't duplicate the effort of other organizations but we can share these things and then do our job a lot better.

That's just a few examples. There are literally dozens of organizations out there working on this problem and there's no reason why we can't share that information in the future.

Q: So you actually- so you'd actually say that you're optimistic that one of these days we could look forward to well kind of a day without the nightmare scenario of the threat of an attack with weapons of mass destruction?

ROBERTS: Well I'm eternally- I'm an eternal optimist and I'd like to think that that is possible.

What of course has to be conveyed in the very clearest of terms is that the consequences of using a weapon of mass destruction against the NATO Alliance or really anywhere in the world far exceeds any potential benefit that either a terrorist, a criminal organization or a country would decide in their cost benefit calculus that it just isn't worth it because we would find out who did it, we would come after them and we would ensure that justice is done.

And so you take that, you take the fact that the cost would far outweigh the benefits. Then you take the fact that the international community is working diligently and trying to work together to make it harder, and harder, and harder to have the effects that these individuals that would use these weapons would want to see happen. So that they don't become the huge event, the catastrophic event that they'd- that those that would use them would like to see occur.

Then again, the benefits for using them go down. The costs go up and hopefully the net result is they would look some other way or some other method of trying to achieve their political objectives.
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