Login/Logout

*
*  
"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
WMD Terrorism

U.S. Sets Strategy Against WMD Terrorism

New report shows continuity with past administrations.


January/February 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

The Trump administration released a national strategy for countering terrorists’ efforts to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in an attack against the United States.

Members of a U.S. Army and New Jersey National Guard Joint Hazard Assessment Team (JHAT) perform a protective WMD sweep of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., May 4, 2018. (Photo: New Jersey National Guard)The U.S. strategy document, released in December, addresses three main elements to prevent terrorists from using chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological devices: efforts to reduce terrorists’ access to WMD materials globally, pressure on terrorist groups that seek to obtain these weapons, and plans for strengthening U.S. defenses against WMD threats.

But the report says that there are no surefire defenses, and it provides what could be pre-emptive political cover in the event there is a WMD-terrorism attack.

“Despite our technological and military advantages, we cannot eliminate all pathways for terrorists to conduct a WMD attack against the United States and its interests,” the report concludes. “Nonetheless, we can significantly reduce the probability and consequences of such attacks.”

The strategy builds on a number of existing efforts started under the Bush and Obama administrations to prevent WMD terrorism, particularly in efforts to minimize access to necessary materials and technologies. Although President Donald Trump frequently has belittled U.S. alliances, his introduction to the report stresses the need to advance “enhanced partnerships with our allies and partners worldwide” to prevent WMD terrorism.

The strategy calls for prioritizing disposition of nuclear and radiological materials worldwide that “pose the highest risk for terrorist acquisition” and minimizing the use of “highly-attractive” materials in civil programs. This objective continues priorities from the nuclear security summits held biannually from 2010 to 2016, which sought agreement on actions to minimize and eliminate weapons-usable nuclear materials in civilian programs.

On chemical weapons, the United States states its commitment to strengthening chemical security practices in academic and industrial institutions and says it will consider revising policies and best practices for “responsible conduct” in sciences that use materials applicable to chemical weapons development.

The strategy document also recognizes that terrorists have used chemical weapons and says the United States is exploring ways to work with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to prevent nonstate actors from pursuing chemical weapons.

To prevent diversion of biological materials for weapons, the United States says it will promote policies that reduce the risk of misuse and provide more effective oversight for dual-use research.

The strategy also includes objectives to strengthen U.S. defenses against WMD terrorism. The document notes deployed U.S. capabilities, such as technical means to detect certain weapons of mass destruction, rapid counterresponse teams, and intelligence capabilities to prevent WMD attacks, and commits the United States to strengthening its response capacity with an emphasis on minimizing casualties and helping communities recover in the event of an attack.

Better coordination of state, local, and federal efforts and empowerment of state governments also features in the strategy. The Trump administration will continue providing equipment and training to states, with the goal of creating self-sustaining capabilities, the report says.

The strategy recognizes that the threat posed by WMD terrorism will continue to evolve and be affected by technological advances. The report says that the United States will strengthen collaboration with public and private sector entities analyzing the applications of technological advancements. In particular, the report identifies artificial intelligence as “certain to produce security implications beyond our current understanding.”

The United States will also look for opportunities to leverage new technologies to counter WMD terrorism, and the strategy notes how machine learning is already being used to assist in identifying trends and providing insights.

 

First-Ever Study Finds Congressional Attention on Nuclear Security Waning as Nuclear Terrorism Threat Persists

Sections:

Description: 

A new report reveals a concerning loss of congressional leadership and interest in critical efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Body: 

For Immediate Release: July 26, 2016

Media Contacts: Nathan Sermonis, Executive Director, Partnership for a Secure America, (202) 293-8580; Jack Brosnan, Program Associate, Partnership for a Secure America, 202-293-8580; Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy. Arms Control Association, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Tony Fleming, Director for Communications and Operations, Arms Control Association, 202-463-8270 ext. 110
 

(Washington, D.C.)—A new report from Partnership for a Secure America and the Arms Control Association reveals a concerning diminution of congressional engagement and interest in critical efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism.

The report, Empowering Congress on Nuclear Security: Blueprints for a New Generation, assesses current congressional staff attitudes about nuclear security and explores the role of Congress and case studies in congressional leadership on this issue. The report also offers action items for lawmakers in enhancing nuclear security efforts and reducing global stockpiles of nuclear materials.

“As the threat of nuclear terrorism continues to loom, America must maintain its leadership of global efforts to keep dangerous nuclear and radiological materials out of the wrong hands,” said Nathan Sermonis, Executive Director of Partnership for a Secure America. “Unfortunately, congressional interest has steeply declined with nuclear security faded from the headlines. We need, however, an all-of-government approach to advance the most effective measures against this threat.”

This joint report, made possible by funding provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, comes at a time when national attention on the security of nuclear and radioactive materials is decreasing even as these materials remain at risk from theft and more countries express interest in nuclear research and development.

“Despite significant progress in securing and eliminating nuclear materials around the world and the continued dedicated leadership role of several lawmakers, there is a need for Congress to play a more active role in shaping nuclear security policy,” noted Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association. “We provide an important blueprint to build upon Congress’ historic bipartisan achievements on nuclear security and engage a new generation of policy advisers on Capitol Hill.”

To mark the publication of the report, Partnership for a Secure America and the Arms Control Association will be hosting an invitation-only event July 26 on Capitol Hill for congressional staff. The event will feature Ambassador Linton Brooks, Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, and General Frank Klotz.

For more information about the report, please contact Partnership for a Secure America at [email protected] or (202) 293-8580, or the Arms Control Association at [email protected] or (202) 463-8270 ext. 104.

The full report, Empowering Congress on Nuclear Security: Blueprints for a New Generation, is available online.

UN Security Council Resolution 1540 At a Glance

August 2017

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102

Updated: August 2017

On April 28, 2004 the UN Security Council unanimously voted to adopt Resolution 1540, a measure aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, their means of delivery, and related materials. The resolution filled a gap in international law by addressing the risk that terrorists might obtain, proliferate, or use weapons of mass destruction.

Adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, UNSCR 1540 formally establishes the proliferation and possession of WMD by non-state actors as “a threat to international peace and security.” The resolution mirrors the approach taken under UNSCR 1373 in 2001, which required all countries to adopt national counter-terrorism laws, and imposes legally binding obligations on all states to adopt "appropriate effective" measures to prevent the proliferation of WMD to non-state actors.

The resolution includes three primary obligations:

  1. All States are prohibited from providing any form of support to non-state actors seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, related materials, or their means of delivery.
  2. All States must adopt and enforce laws criminalizing the possession and acquisition of such items by non-state actors, as well as efforts to assist or finance their acquisition.
  3. All States must adopt and enforce domestic controls over nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, their means of delivery, and related materials, in order to prevent their proliferation.

UNSCR 1540 also emphasizes the importance of maintaining and promoting existing non-proliferation multilateral agreements, and acknowledges that the resolution does not interfere with state obligations under such treaties.

It further recognizes that some countries may require assistance to meet the national implementation obligations of the resolution. As such, the resolution calls on states to make assistance available to countries in need if they are in a position to do so.

The council established a committee to oversee the implementation of the resolution, initially for a period of two years. Comprised of the council’s 15 members and assisted by a panel of experts, the 1540 Committee is tasked with providing awareness of the resolution and its requirements, matching assistance requests with offers, and assessing the status of implementation. States were required to report to the Committee on the actions they have taken or plan to take in order to implement the resolution within 6 months of UNSCR 1540’s adoption, and the council has encouraged subsequent reports to provide additional information.

Despite its aim of preventing nuclear, chemical, and biological terrorism, resolution 1540 initially met with some resistance within the UN Security Council, with critics stressing that the resolution focused solely on nonproliferation without adequate emphasis on disarmament.  There was additional concern that the UN might use UNSCR 1540 to justify sanctions and other forms of coercion for countries that did not adequately comply with the resolution.

These worries were generally alleviated, as evidenced by the UN Security Council unanimous vote to extend UNSCR 1540’s mandate, first for two years in 2006 under resolution 1673, then for another three years in 2008 under resolution 1810. In April 2011, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1977, extending the mandate a third time, for a period of ten years. UNSCR 1977 reaffirmed the Security Council’s commitment to resolution 1540, and further emphasized cooperation with international, regional, and sub-regional organizations. It also addressed existing concerns among Council members regarding equal regional representation within the 1540 Committee. In December 2016, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2325 encouraging states to strengthen their implementation of Resolution 1540. 

 In addition to annual reviews, the 1540 committee conducts comprehensive reviews every five years on the implementation of Resolution 1540. So far, two comprehensive reviews have been completed, one in 2009 and another in 2016. The 2016 comprehensive final review found that while the number of implementation measures states have taken since 2011 has increased, for many states, gaps in the securing of relevant materials remain. The report also noted that the risk of proliferation to non-state actors is increasing due to rapid advances in science, technology and international commerce. 

Research assistance by Kathleen E. Masterson

 

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Subject Resources:

REMARKS - The WMD Threat from Nonstate Actors

Preventing a weapon of mass destruction attack by a nonstate actor will be a long-term challenge that requires long-term responses. 

March 2017 

By Jan Eliasson

Preventing nonstate actors from acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction is among the most important responsibilities of the international community. The nuclear security summits, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and the close engagement by [the Security Council] on allegations of chemical weapons use have all played an important role in keeping us safe.

Jan Eliasson addresses a Security Council meeting November 7, 2016, during his tenure as deputy secretary-general of the United Nations. (Photo credit: Rick Bajornas/UN)Yet in our rapidly evolving global security environment, gaps will continue to open. We have seen the rise of vicious nonstate groups with no regard for human life. They actively seek weapons of mass destruction, I am sure, and these weapons are increasingly accessible. We have seen this in the use of chemical weapons by Da’esh [the Islamic State group] in Syria and Iraq.

There are legitimate concerns about the security of large stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile material outside international regulation. Scientific advances have lowered barriers to the production of biological weapons, and emerging technologies, such as 3-D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles, are adding to threats of an attack using a weapon of mass destruction.

We must also beware of the growing nexus between weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and cybersecurity. Malicious actions in cyberspace have real-world consequences. Nonstate actors already have the capacity to abuse cyber technologies to create mass disruption. The nightmare scenario of a hack on a nuclear power plant causing uncontrolled release of ionizing radiation is growing.

To stay ahead of this technological curve, the international community needs robust defenses that are nimble and flexible. Preventing a weapon of mass destruction attack by a nonstate actor will be a long-term challenge that requires long-term responses. A biological attack would be a public health disaster. Yet, there is no multilateral institutional response capability. The council also has a role to play in holding those that use chemical or other inhumane weapons accountable. There can be no impunity.

This is a complex web of global threats and risks that requires a sophisticated global response. We must take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen our collective defenses. In this regard, the Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference was, in many ways, disappointing. I count on all states to work together to prevent potential disasters, and I count on this council to lead.

In closing, let me emphasize that it is not simply a case of letting these weapons fall into the wrong hands. There are no right hands for wrong weapons, and weapons of mass destruction are simply wrong. There is only one sure way to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction—that is their complete elimination. We live in a world that is overarmed, a world where peace is underfunded. I urge all states to fulfill their commitment to building a world free of all weapons of mass destruction. 


Jan Eliasson was deputy secretary-general of the United Nations from July 2012 until December 2016. This piece is adapted from his December 15, 2016, remarks to the UN Security Council during its debate on stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by nonstate actors.

Mapping Nuclear Security and Nonproliferation Efforts

Sections:

Description: 

This new resource aims to inform policymakers, scholars, and the general public on the role that overlapping multilateral initiatives play in nonproliferation efforts.

Body: 


New Online Resource Maps Efforts to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and Curb the Spread of Nuclear Weapons

For Immediate Release: December 6, 2016

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, director of communications, 202-463-8270 ext. 110

(Washington, DC)—The Arms Control Association today launched a new online resource in mapping and tracking the objectives and key activities of five major nuclear nonproliferation regimes.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Initiatives Mapping Project aims to inform and update nuclear policy experts, scholars, students, and the general public, on the role that overlapping multilateral initiatives play in bolstering the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by securing weapons-usable materials, regulating the spread of dual-use nuclear ballistic missile technologies, and blocking the illicit transfer of weapons-related items.

The Arms Control Association is launching a New Online Resource Maps Efforts to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and Curb the Spread of Nuclear WeaponsProject information and resources are available online at NuclearNonProMap.org
 
The five initiatives examined in this project include

  • the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism,
  • the Missile Technology Control Regime,
  • the Nuclear Suppliers Group,
  • the Proliferation Security Initiative, and
  • the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

"Each of these initiatives plays a critical role in reinforcing governments' efforts under the NPT, which entered into force in 1970, to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, prevent the rise of new nuclear-armed actors, and strengthening the global nuclear security architecture," noted Kelsey Davenport, director of non-proliferation policy, who developed the site. 

In addition to displaying the geographic scope and providing a brief background of each initiative, this project provides general recommendations that could improve the effectiveness of each in the years ahead. These recommendations are based on open source information about the work of each initiative.

The project also presents options for collaboration amongst these voluntary groups to amplify impacts and results. These recommendations are meant to spur creative thinking about how these voluntary initiatives can adapt and evolve to better address future threats and challenges.
 
By consolidating references and recommendations, the project serves as a resource to better understand the role that voluntary intergovernmental initiatives play in bolstering nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts. The project was made possible by the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation.

The site will be updated periodically to reflect the changing membership and priorities of each initiative, developments related to the challenges they address, as well as additional recommendations for strengthening multilateral efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and combat nuclear terrorism.

###

The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Author:

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Initiatives Mapping Project

Visit the full Project site at NuclearNonProMap.org

Table of Contents

The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia

Description: 

Asian states Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea comprise four of the world's nine nuclear-armed states. The interconnections of these countries must be considered to fully understand how nuclear nonproliferation can be influenced.

Body: 


By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

Download PDF

While much of the world’s attention is focused on efforts to halt the nuclear and missile tests of North Korea, the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China also pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world. While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons program against that of China. Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States’ strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

In order to fully understand how the pace and direction of nuclear proliferation can be influenced, the interconnections of these countries must be considered, along with the kinds of nuclear weapons they have at their disposal.

"Perceptions of WMD in the Media" — Presentation by Kelsey Davenport at the 2016 James Timbie Forum

Sections:

Description: 

Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy, at the 2016 Timbie Forum on engaging emerging professionals in the field

Body: 

Kelsey Davenport, Director of Nonproliferation Policy

Kelsey Davenport, Arm Control Association's director of nonproliferation policy, spoke on "Perceptions of WMD in the Media" and how to engage emerging young professionals in the field of arms control at the U.S. State Department's 2016 James Timbie Forum.

Video of her remarks is available via our Youtube channel, or below.

 

Looking Back on the ICJ’s 1996 Advisory Opinion

On July 8, 1996, following a prolonged debate on the legality of nuclear weapons and their use, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a momentous advisory opinion that would influence the discussion of nuclear weapons use under the scope of international law for years to come. In the July/August edition of Arms Control Today , John Burroughs offers an in-depth look back on the 1996 advisory opinion . He describes the court’s discussion of the issue, the conclusions and context of the advisory opinion, and how the ruling has recently been invoked in a new nuclear disarmament case...

Global Initiative Sets Priorities

Members of a voluntary initiative to strengthen nuclear security and prevent nuclear terrorism met last month to discuss the initiative’s work over the past 10 years and lay out new priorities.

July/August 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Members of a voluntary initiative to strengthen nuclear security and prevent nuclear terrorism met last month to discuss the initiative’s work over the past 10 years and lay out new priorities.

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), formed in 2006 by Russia and the United States, now comprises 86 member countries that work to strengthen global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism.

The partner countries met in the Netherlands on June 15-16. Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and nonproliferation, and Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the department for nonproliferation and arms control in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, co-chaired the meeting, which included six sessions that addressed the initiative’s past work and new areas of focus. 

The chairman’s summary from the meeting said that the GICNT is a “unique forum for dialogue between technical experts, operational experts, practitioners, policymakers and decision-makers to develop ideas and identify models and practices that enhance nuclear security.”

The chairman’s summary identified radioactive source security as a priority area for future focus. The summary also said that “regional cooperation was highlighted as a way of increasing readiness and awareness and helping to build trust among technical, operation and policy experts so that they are better prepared to coordinate in a crisis situation.”

Leading up to the 10th anniversary meeting, several officials recommended that the GICNT enhance its focus on regional exercises given that such activities can generate targeted solutions based on common threats that might be unique to different areas. (See ACT, June 2016.

The Dutch coordinator of the implementation and assessment group recommended that legal experts should be involved more in working to “assess and strengthen legal frameworks,” according to the chairman’s summary. 

The GICNT has three working groups covering nuclear forensics, nuclear detection, and response and mitigation. There is also an implementation and assessment group led by the Netherlands that oversees GICNT activities and coordinates other international efforts to prevent duplication.

According to the chairman’s summary, the GICNT has held more than 80 multilateral activities and produced seven documents that build on the initiative’s foundational guidelines to enhance national capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to acts of nuclear terrorism. 

Japan will host the next plenary meeting of the GICNT in June 2017.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - WMD Terrorism