"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
WMD Terrorism

U.S. Issues Broad Threat to WMD Accomplices

Wade Boese

Serious consequences await those that aid terrorists in acquiring or using unconventional weapons under a new policy that national security adviser Stephen Hadley has broadcast. The Bush administration, however, is not clarifying whether the punishment could include U.S. nuclear weapons use, an ambiguity that suits some experts but troubles others.

Speaking May 28 to representatives of some 80 governments attending a Washington meeting on curbing the spread of unconventional arms, Hadley noted that the United States for many years has maintained that any state that employs biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, often referred to collectively as weapons of mass destruction (WMD), against the United States, its forces, or friends and allies could face U.S. retaliation with “overwhelming force.” He then continued by saying, “[T]oday, we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group, or other nonstate actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction, whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts.” Hadley first made a nearly identical statement in a Feb. 8 speech at Stanford University in California.

The Hadley statements expand on previous U.S. warnings by extending the threat of retribution beyond those that use unconventional weapons to those who help an attacker along the way. Moreover, the acquisition of or efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction is sufficient to precipitate U.S. action. In a June 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the Department of State emphasized “a key element” of Hadley’s warning is the “focus to include deterring actors that facilitate terrorist acquisition or use” of weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration’s previous declaratory policy was extolled in the December 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, which was a public version of the classified September 2002 National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 17. In the public document, the administration warned that the United States would reserve “the right to respond with overwhelming force—including through resort to all of our options—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies” (emphasis added). Leaked portions of the classified statement revealed that the phrase “including through resort to all of our options” was a substitute to the NSPD-17’s original and more explicit threat “including potentially nuclear weapons.” (See ACT, January/February 2003 .)

The implication that the United States might use nuclear weapons to respond to biological or chemical weapons attacks was interpreted by some analysts and foreign governments as conflicting with U.S. negative security assurances given in 1978 and 1995 and reaffirmed in February 2002. Those assurances state that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against countries without such arms unless they attack the United States in association or alliance with a nuclear-armed state. Still, the Bush administration threat was not a statement that biological or chemical weapons attack would definitely engender U.S. nuclear retaliation, and U.S. officials in previous administrations had made comparable vague declarations. (See ACT, May/June 1996.)

Bush administration officials, according to a May 8, 2007, New York Times article, convened in May 2006 to discuss whether they should issue a more overt warning to countries that if their nuclear material or weapons were used in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, they would be held “fully responsible.” That meeting reportedly ended inconclusively, but President George W. Bush later warned North Korea after its October 2006 nuclear test that any transfers of nuclear weapons or materials to other states or nonstate actors would pose a “grave threat” to the United States and that it would hold North Korea “fully accountable” for such actions. (See ACT, November 2006 .)

Hadley’s remarks, which expanded the North Korea warning to other states, are opaque as to what exactly would befall an entity complicit in terrorist WMD procurement or use. Although appearing in adjoining sentences, it is not directly stated that the threat of being held “fully accountable” includes possible U.S. use of “overwhelming force,” which at least in NSPD-17 encompassed the potential use of nuclear weapons.

In its June 20 e-mail, the State Department declined to answer whether overwhelming force as recently used by Hadley includes possible resort to nuclear weapons. Instead, the department stated that the United States would “take all factors into account in developing an appropriate response” to a WMD attack. Such a response, according to the department, could include “diplomatic efforts, seizures of funds, military actions, or the use of overwhelming force.” It asserted that past U.S. negative security assurances were still valid.

One former State Department veteran who worked more than 35 years on arms issues agrees that the recent Hadley statements do not contravene historic U.S. assurances. Dean Rust, who retired from the department in 2005, e-mailed Arms Control Today June 23 that the statements are “sufficiently ambiguous as to how [the United States] might hold someone ‘accountable’ for the specified actions.” He added, “[M]oreover, a [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)] non-nuclear-weapon state that deliberately aided a terrorist group to acquire or use nuclear weapons would be in violation of at least the spirit if not the letter of the NPT, in which case the negative security assurance would no longer apply.”

Other experts, including former South African arms control negotiator Jean du Preez, see the Hadley statements as the latest Bush administration step eroding U.S. negative security assurances. (See ACT, July/August 2007 .) Du Preez, who contends that the administration’s 2002 National Security Strategy indicates the United States might use nuclear weapons to deal with other states’ biological or chemical weapons programs, wrote in a June 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the Hadley statement constitutes “a clear abrogation” of U.S. negative security assurances.

Du Preez also questioned how credible the new U.S. threats were, asking “what would be the consequences if evidence shows that an al Qaeda cell in Italy or South Africa is responsible for masterminding, or even worse executing, some sort of WMD attack against the United States or its allies and friends?” Another nettlesome scenario some experts raise is one in which a powerful country such as Russia is somehow implicated in a terrorist WMD attack. Aside from the difficulty of determining if Russia’s role was deliberate, there would be the dilemma of how to respond if it was found at fault. (See ACT, October 2006. ) An October 16, 2006, Defense News article on deterring nuclear terrorists quoted an unidentified former U.S. national security official as saying “a declaratory policy you can’t carry out is the worst thing imaginable.”

Rust said that the new U.S. warnings elevate the importance of the United States being able to accurately trace weapons and material back to their original source. Toward this end, the Bush administration in February requested $30 million as part of its fiscal year 2009 budget request to support a nuclear forensics center established in 2006. The House of Representatives June 18 passed an act to expand that center’s work; the Senate has yet to take up the measure. Some experts calculate that robust forensics capabilities might deter states from transferring nuclear weapons or related materials out of the fear that they would not be able to evade blame if those weapons or materials were used in an attack.


Serious consequences await those that aid terrorists in acquiring or using unconventional weapons under a new policy that national security adviser Stephen Hadley has broadcast. The Bush administration, however, is not clarifying whether the punishment could include U.S. nuclear weapons use, an ambiguity that suits some experts but troubles others. (Continue)

Panel Formed on WMD, Terrorism

Brittany Griffith

Congressional leaders recently announced the formation of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, appointing nine commissioners on May 16.

The commission is the result of legislation Congress passed last year to fully implement the recommendations of the independent commission that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks. (See ACT, March 2007.) The commission will be responsible for assessing programs intended to secure all nuclear weapons-usable material, evaluating the roles and structure of relevant government departments and other actors, promoting coordination between the United States and international regimes, and analyzing the threat posed by black market networks and the effectiveness of the U.S. response.

Former Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) will serve as chairman and vice chairman of the committee. The other appointees are former Rep. Timothy Roemer (D-Ind.), who served on the original September 11 commission; Ambassador Wendy Sherman; Harvard expert Graham Allison; Richard Verma, a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson; Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center; former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker; and Robin Cleveland, a former congressional, White House, and World Bank aide.

The commission's formation comes as Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) announced they were forming and would co-chair a Nuclear Security Caucus on Capitol Hill. Fortenberry said the caucus was needed because "[i]t is becoming easier to access the technical information and materials necessary to do devastating harm. It is my hope that this new working group will add momentum to nuclear threat reduction."

Similar to the nine-member commission, the caucus seeks to engage bipartisan interest in identifying vulnerabilities in nuclear policy and taking immediate action to improve safeguards and secure fissile material to prevent its misuse. The new caucus is one of a number of working groups of lawmakers intended to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons-related technology.

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Congressional leaders recently announced the formation of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, appointing nine commissioners on May 16.

The commission is the result of legislation Congress passed last year to fully implement the recommendations of the independent commission that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks. (See ACT, March 2007.) The commission will be responsible for assessing programs intended to secure all nuclear weapons-usable material, evaluating the roles and structure of relevant government departments and other actors, promoting coordination between the United States and international regimes, and analyzing the threat posed by black market networks and the effectiveness of the U.S. response. (Continue)

UN Renews Committee on WMD

Peter Crail

The UN Security Council April 25 adopted Resolution 1810 extending for an additional three years a council committee tasked with monitoring, facilitating, and promoting national efforts to prevent other states and terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Resolution 1810 also provides for potentially enhancing the role of the committee in providing assistance to states to carry out their obligations not to contribute to illicit trafficking in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), related materials, and delivery systems.

The committee was established in 2004, after the unveiling of the Abdul Qadeer Khan black market nuclear network, with the adoption of Resolution 1540. That resolution requires states to adopt a series of domestic regulatory measures to ensure that they do not contribute to the illicit trafficking of nonconventional weapons. (See ACT, May 2004. )

A sub-body of the Security Council, the 1540 Committee consists of the same 15 states that comprise the council. Unlike the council, however, the committee operates by consensus.

The council extended the committee while noting that the implementation of Resolution 1540's various obligations by states "is a long-term task that will require continuous efforts at national, regional and international levels."

The length of the renewal represents a compromise between the United States and other Western countries that desired a five-year extension and particular states that wished to extend the mandate for only two more years.

Due to uncertainty regarding the role of such a body and wariness of creating a new bureaucracy, the council originally gave the committee a two-year mandate in 2004, which it extended for an additional two years in 2006. (See ACT, June 2006. ) A source close to the committee told Arms Control Today May 14 that greater certainty about the value of the committee has led the Security Council to grant the panel a longer term.

The United States, one of the key drafters of the resolution, was originally resistant to establishing the committee as it was unsure that a follow-up mechanism would be needed to monitor implementation. Since that time, Washington's position appears to have shifted as it sought a longer-term mandate.

Explaining why the United States sought a more lengthy extension, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today May 21 that Washington has appreciated the "helpful role that the committee has provided in raising awareness" about the goals of Resolution 1540. The official added that those goals are to raise both "the level of expectations and the level of international norms regarding efforts to address WMD proliferation." U.S. officials also said they had grown convinced that the committee had a useful role to play in furnishing concrete implementation assistance, particularly because implementation continues to be slow.

In order to monitor implementation and determine where assistance may be necessary, the council required states to submit an initial report on efforts to implement Resolution 1540 in 2004 and has urged states to submit additional reports on this progress. Yet, at the time of the adoption of Resolution 1810, about 40 states, primarily in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, still had failed to submit their initial reports. Many states in the developing world have been slow in providing reports due to competing priorities and scarce resources.

In addition, only the United States has thus far submitted an implementation action plan, although a source close to the committee told Arms Control Today May 14 that additional states are preparing such plans for submission.

The resolution also tasks the committee with considering "options for developing and making more effective existing funding mechanisms" for the purpose of assisting states to identify and address needs for assistance in implementing Resolution 1540. Sources close to the committee explained to Arms Control Today that these options include the establishment of a UN 1540 assistance fund, from which money may be drawn to support assistance, outreach, or other Resolution 1540-related activities.

The State Department official said May 21 that a report that the committee plans to approve in July will contain recommendations for how this funding mechanism could operate.

The committee was originally required to submit a report by the end of April on how Resolution 1540 was being implemented. Although a source close to the committee told Arms Control Today in March that the report had been nearly concluded at that time, another source indicated May 22 that disagreements among the committee members has slowed the approval process. Resolution 1810 requires this report be submitted to the Security Council no later than July 31.

Resolution 1810 does not establish any additional requirements for states beyond those enumerated in Resolution 1540. Rather, it calls on and encourages states to cooperate with the committee in implementing the original resolution's requirements. These calls for cooperation include submitting reports on their implementation efforts, providing a national action plan for implementation, and relaying to the committee requests for and offers of assistance. Several sources close to the committee, including government members, indicated that Resolution 1810 represents a shift from focusing on outreach to focusing on implementation, in particular with regard to assisting states that lack the capacity to carry out the resolution's obligations.

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The UN Security Council April 25 adopted Resolution 1810 extending for an additional three years a council committee tasked with monitoring, facilitating, and promoting national efforts to prevent other states and terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Resolution 1810 also provides for potentially enhancing the role of the committee in providing assistance to states to carry out their obligations not to contribute to illicit trafficking in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), related materials, and delivery systems. (Continue)

Bush Says Iraq Oil May Fuel Al Qaeda WMD

Peter Crail

During a March 19 speech marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush warned of consequences for the early removal of U.S. forces from that country. These, he said, could include the possibility that a withdrawal would indirectly help al Qaeda acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney seemed to indicate that Iran was pursuing the development of weapons-grade uranium, a claim contrary to international inspection findings.

In his March 19 remarks, Bush stated that “an emboldened al Qaeda with access to Iraq’s oil resources could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations.”

It is not evident, however, that access to substantial additional funds would be an important factor in al Qaeda’s ability to develop weapons of mass destruction.

In regard to nuclear weapons, a 2006 unclassified intelligence report to Congress on WMD proliferation concluded that al Qaeda’s “key obstacle” in developing a nuclear device is acquiring sufficient fissile material. Al Qaeda has pursued a nuclear weapons capability since the early 1990s, but attempts to purchase the necessary material are believed to have been unsuccessful. Known attempts include cases in which the purchase was prevented by law enforcement authorities or in which the group bought material falsely sold as nuclear material.

Prior to the October 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, al Qaeda had more success in developing a limited biological and chemical weapons capability. According to the 2005 “Report of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction,” al Qaeda recruited individuals during the 1990s with sufficient technical expertise for rudimentary biological and chemical weapons programs. (See ACT, October 2006. )

The report described al Qaeda’s biological weapons work as “extensive” and “well-organized” and indicated that it was operated by “individuals with special training.” Similarly, the commission indicated that some al Qaeda members had know-how to produce and deploy “common chemical agents.” However, U.S. intelligence agencies were “doubtful” that the organization was capable of carrying out mass casualty attacks with advanced chemical agents.

The 2004 report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, informally known as the 9/11 Commission, stated that al Qaeda’s overall operations prior to the September 2001 attacks cost about $30 million each year, based almost entirely on donations. It is unclear how much of this funding was dedicated to the organization’s WMD pursuits.

Al Qaeda’s biological and chemical weapons programs were largely dismantled following U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan. A 2005 unclassified intelligence report to Congress on WMD proliferation indicated that there were no reliable reports of an active al Qaeda biological weapons program but judged that acquiring such weapons remained an important goal. The report stated that al Qaeda continued “possible chemical-related training” in Pakistan, but the commission had no evidence of a concerted program similar to al Qaeda’s pre-2001 pursuits.

Cheney Suggests That Iran Is Developing HEU

In addition to commenting on the WMD threat from al Qaeda, administration officials continue to highlight the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. During a March 24 ABC News interview, Cheney stated that Iran is “heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels.”

However, a Feb. 22 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated that Iran has enriched uranium to 3.8 percent uranium-235 (from natural concentrations of less than 1 percent), a typical level for nuclear power reactors. Weapons-grade enrichment requires a concentration of 90 percent or more of this fissile isotope.

Enrichment facilities can be used to produce any level of enrichment. However, a December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate assessed with moderate confidence that, between 2010 and 2015, Iran will be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon. The U.S. intelligence community also judged with moderate confidence that Iran would not use its declared facilities to carry out such enrichment.

During a March 19 speech marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush warned of consequences for the early removal of U.S. forces from that country. These, he said, could include the possibility that a withdrawal would indirectly help al Qaeda acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney seemed to indicate that Iran was pursuing the development of weapons-grade uranium, a claim contrary to international inspection findings. (Continue)

Using Murphy’s Law Against Nuclear Terrorists

On Nuclear Terrorism. By Michael Levi, Harvard University Press, November 2007, 224 pp.

Reviewed by William C. Potter

Michael Levi’s slender volume On Nuclear Terrorism is a valuable addition to the burgeoning literature on catastrophic terrorism. Unlike many recent studies, it neither hypes the nuclear threat nor discounts it. Instead, Levi sketches the obstacles a terrorist would need to overcome to successfully implement a nuclear attack and then discusses the panoply of means available to preclude that outcome. Although many of the challenges and preventive measures have been discussed in much greater depth elsewhere, Levi’s study adopts a systems analysis perspective to demonstrate the power of an integrated, multilayered defense.

Underlying Levi’s concept of defense as a system is the premise that, in order for a defense against nuclear terrorism to be effective, it only needs to succeed at one stage in the terrorist chain of events. In contrast, the terrorist must successfully complete each step in the plot to acquire fissile material or an intact nuclear explosive, fabricate a nuclear weapon, deliver the weapon to the target, and detonate the explosive.[1] Although any element or layer of defense may be relatively ineffectual, Levi argues that a carefully conceived and integrated, multilayered defense stands a much better chance of obstructing a nuclear attack than may at first appear to be the case.

This approach leads Levi to exploit what he calls “Murphy’s Law of Nuclear Terrorism,” what can go wrong (from a terrorist’s perspective) might well go wrong. In other words, understanding the various ways in which terrorists might fail provides insights and potential tools for increasing the odds of terrorist failure. This perspective, in turn, suggests the importance of understanding both terrorist capabilities and their attitudes toward risk and failure.

Levi’s work, like most analyses of nuclear terrorism, does not delve very deeply into terrorist motivations. Yet, it does highlight the intriguing finding by several analysts that many terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, appear to be tactically conservative and risk averse from an operational standpoint; they may be very willing to risk their lives, but not in futile operations. This tendency may not dissuade a terrorist organization from embarking on the very challenging tasks of devising and implementing a nuclear strike, but it suggests a number of opportunities for exerting countervailing pressures that may reinforce their cautionary inclinations and steer them away for the pursuit of high-consequence but low-probability acts.

In reviewing the various barriers in the path of a would-be nuclear terrorist, Levi correctly identifies state stockpiles of fissile material as the “gateways to nuclear terrorism” and emphasizes the importance of security at the source. As Graham Allison famously observed, “[N]o nuclear material, no nuclear bomb.”[2] Unfortunately, the world currently is awash in fissile material, including about 500 metric tons of separated plutonium and more than 1,700 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU), enough for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.[3] Although the overwhelming majority of this amount resides in the United States and Russia, more than a dozen states are estimated to possess at least 25 kilograms of HEU, the minimum quantity needed for a nuclear weapon, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.[4]

In Search of a Nuclear Fort Knox

A number of approaches have been employed with varying degrees of success in order to secure nuclear weapons-usable material at the source. They include materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A). Although Levi does not dispute the desirability of providing the same degree of MPC&A for nuclear material as gold is afforded at Fort Knox, he observes a number of difficulties in achieving a gold security standard for nuclear material. One problem pertains to the fact that although the precise amount of gold in storage is known, there is no reliable figure for the amount of global stocks of HEU and plutonium. Indeed, physical inventories have never been conducted in some countries. In addition, although the movement of gold from Fort Knox is very limited (only very small quantities are reportedly ever removed, for purposes of testing its purity), significant quantities of HEU and plutonium are on the move frequently, especially between facilities within a country, but also on occasion internationally. As a consequence, although the Fort Knox analogy may be useful from an aspirational standpoint, one must look more closely at the existing deficiencies in MPC&A to appreciate both the promise and potential for preventing leakage of fissile material into the hands of terrorists.

One of Levi’s important observations in this respect is his recognition of the human dimension to physical protection. In other words, although the three G’s (guns, guards, and gates) are important, the major limits to physical materials protection and material control pertain to human factors such as the presence or absence of a highly developed nonproliferation and security culture and the commitment by political leaders to expend the resources necessary to make MPC&A a national priority.

Although Levi calls attention to the problems posed by deficient political will and underdeveloped culture, he does not offer much guidance about how to correct the deficit, which arguably requires a long-term investment in nonproliferation education and training in order to change mindsets on the part of nuclear custodians as well as nuclear industry officials. He also ignores a number of other promising approaches for reducing the risk of fissile material leakage, including the minimization or elimination of HEU use in the civilian nuclear sector.

Buyers and Sellers

One of the more interesting and original sections of Levi’s book pertains to the economics of illicit nuclear trade. Price, he notes, will present a major barrier to all but the wealthiest terrorist organizations and, in principle, could be manipulated to impede terrorist acquisition of fissile material. For example, he suggests that intelligence and law enforcement entities “might attempt to purchase nuclear materials themselves, driving terrorists out of the market.” Such action, however, also might have the unintended effect of attracting more nuclear suppliers and thieves to the illicit market place. As a consequence, Levi believes sting operations directed at buyers rather than sellers are a more promising approach and could increase uncertainty for terrorists in the market for nuclear goods and services. As such, the authorities “could raise [the terrorists’] perceived chances of failing and hence the odds that a risk-averse terrorist group would be deterred.”

Analogies are often drawn between the trade in narcotics and illicit nuclear trafficking. Although these comparisons typically are put forth to illustrate the amount of nuclear material trade that may have gone undetected (i.e., approximately 20 confirmed cases of smuggling fissile material are just the tip of a much bigger iceberg), Levi cites other drug trade statistics to indicate the potential for even very imperfect border security to disrupt a nuclear terrorist’s plans. For example, he notes estimates by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that 10-15 percent of the cocaine leaving South America for the United States in 2004 was lost or seized in the transit zone and that the “combined probability that cocaine departing South America destined for the United States will actually make it to the United States” was between 35-70 percent. Although these figures and profit margin may still be attractive for drug smugglers, it is less obvious that nuclear traffickers possessing a relatively small supply of material would judge similar odds to be favorable. As such, even less-than-airtight border controls could significantly affect the calculus of would-be nuclear terrorists and might be particularly effective against failure-averse organizations.

INDs vs. Intact Nuclear Weapons

In principle, would-be nuclear terrorists could choose to build their own nuclear explosive or an improvised nuclear device (IND) or seek to purchase or steal an intact nuclear weapon. The chain of necessary conditions for these two types of nuclear terrorism is different, as are the opportunities for frustrating their occurrence.

The potential for nonstate actors to build an IND has been acknowledged by experts for many years, and most concur with the view of the U.S. National Research Council that “crude HEU weapons could be fabricated without state assistance.”[5] There is much less agreement among specialists, however, about how technically competent terrorists would have to be to make a gun-type device or how large a team they would need.

At one end of the spectrum is the view that a suicidal terrorist could literally drop one piece of HEU metal on top of another piece to initiate an explosive chain reaction. At the other end are some senior Russian nuclear officials who continue to deny that nonstate actors could fabricate a nuclear explosive even if they were able to obtain enough fissile material. Levi stakes out a middle position, which recognizes the possibility of terrorist-manufactured INDs but emphasizes the multiple barriers that would have to be overcome, including acquiring a sufficient quantity and quality of fissile material, reshaping the material to meet nuclear explosive specifications, avoiding accidents such as spontaneous ignition, and initiating the explosion. In this respect, he tends to portray the task as far more demanding than several other recent accounts. For example, although he does not directly challenge the assumptions of the widely publicized article by Peter Zimmerman and Jeffrey Lewis on the prospects for terrorists to build a bomb on a “terror farm,” he correctly notes that it will not be a simple task to find experienced farmers and appropriate utensils, not to mention the necessary seed stock of fissile material.[6]

Levi’s discussion of the prospects for terrorist acquisition of an intact nuclear weapon is less satisfying and focuses primarily on scenarios in which states transfer nuclear weapons to nonstate actors either intentionally or as a consequence of their collapse. He largely ignores the risks posed by thousands of nonstrategic or tactical nuclear weapons that remain in Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals. These weapons represent a particular concern from the standpoint of nuclear terrorism because of a combination of their physical properties and basing modes. Their relatively small size; portability; and, in the case of some older systems, the lack of electronic locks, as well as their forward deployment, make tactical nuclear weapons the likely weapon of choice for a nuclear terrorist organization. These are also the weapons for which there are no legally binding and verifiable arms control restraints in place.

A Way Forward?

Levi’s brief survey of nuclear terrorism pathways is designed less to probe in depth the various points where vulnerabilities exist than to counter worst-case thinking and to direct attention to the potential for reforming defense against “realistic threats.” Although the parameters of these real but less-than-worst-case expectations are not defined, Levi provides a number of very reasonable guidelines for policymakers to follow: (1) improve security for nuclear weapons and materials; (2) emphasize defensive measures that simultaneously address both nuclear terrorism and other terrorist threats; (3) mandate a strategic intelligence assessment that covers the entire spectrum of nuclear terrorist threats, not only the worst possible case; (4) foster an integrated defensive system that promotes domestic and international intelligence sharing and cooperation on nuclear terrorism; and (5) audit defensive efforts to increase confidence that they work in practice as well as theory.

Levi’s first recommendation essentially embraces the dictum that the first priority should be to secure material at the source. As he properly observes, the effective application of this approach has the virtue of not only preventing nuclear terrorism directly, but also increasing the effectiveness of broader (secondary) defensive measures should terrorists find the means to overcome the initial defenses.

The main insight of Levi’s second tenet is the value added of conceiving defenses that serve to protect against nuclear and non-nuclear terrorist threats. Here, Levi has in mind not only measures that enhance intelligence collection and analysis, but efforts to counter terrorist financing and enhance export controls.

One of the fundamental deficiencies in most governmental and nongovernmental analyses of nuclear terrorism is the failure to tap expertise that crosses the terrorism and nuclear weapons divide. Few analyses display familiarity with both domains, and much of what passes for analysis is particularly shallow in treating the diversity of terrorist types, their motivations, and the means available for affecting the tactical and strategic calculations of terrorists. In addition to recognizing this serious shortcoming, Levi suggests a number of means to improve strategic intelligence assessments, including the development of a wider range of scenarios and more public vetting of assessments in order to build public support for strategies that address less-than-worst-case threats.

It is difficult to exaggerate the challenge of effectively managing the existing counterterrorism system involving diverse and often competing organizational interests at the local, state, federal, and international levels. Unlike some analysts, Levi is skeptical that a top-down approach to coordination, such as a czar for nuclear terrorism, would effectively overcome bureaucratic obstacles to coordination. Instead, he argues that the best alternative is to “provide departments and agencies with a framework within which to plan their activities and with a tool to use in justifying and seeking funding for those programs.” The key to coordination, he believes, is the development of a system or framework that enables those responsible for implementing policy to view how the different pieces in the system fit together as an integrated defense.

Finally, Levi maintains that an effective defensive system must include the means to evaluate its efforts wisely. One must continually test the system as a whole to identify weaknesses and assess, as best as possible, its applicability against realistic threats. Exercises that involve red teaming against multiple variations on possible threats, he suggests, are important components of this testing process.

Levi’s argument about the need to conceive of defense against nuclear terrorism as a broad and integrated system makes a great deal of sense. His specific recommendations for achieving that system also generally are sound as far as they go and offer useful insights for thinking about the nature of nuclear terrorism and what can be done to reduce the probability of its occurrence. Yet, the recommendations, as well as the analysis on which they are based, are presented more in the form of snapshots than fully developed arguments. As a consequence, one is left to ponder a number of questions. What are the less-than-worst-case nuclear threats on which we should be focused? Do they primarily involve the theft of HEU or plutonium or tactical nuclear weapons? Should we concentrate principally on those geographical regions and states where most of the material and weapons are located or on those nuclear facilities that are least secure? What would a broad defensive framework actually look like, and how should a new U.S. administration move to implement it? What can be done to more effectively implement the proliferation of new international initiatives to counter nuclear terrorism?

Levi astutely calls attention to the likely operation of Murphy’s Law of Nuclear Terrorism as it applies to terrorists. Unfortunately, one also must be attentive to the probable operation of a similar law as it pertains to the U.S. government’s efforts to combat nuclear terrorism. In other words, as we adjust our sights to deal with less-than-10-foot terrorists, we should not discount the possibility that poorly conceived and implemented U.S. foreign policy can serve as a terrorist growth hormone. That is not an argument for focusing most of our resources on the worst-case scenario, but it cautions against completely ignoring that threat.

William C. Potter is the Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He also directs the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He is co-author of The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).

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1. The focus of Levi’s book is on high-consequence nuclear terrorism. It does not specifically address the higher-probability but lower-consequence threats posed by radiological dispersal devices and attacks on or sabotage of nuclear energy facilities.

2. There are a variety of variations of Allison’s quote, a long version of which is, “It is a basic matter of physics: without fissile material, you can’t have a nuclear bomb. No nuclear bomb, no nuclear terrorism.” See Graham Allison, “How to Stop Nuclear Terror,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 1 (January/February 2004), p. 64.

3. See International Panel on Fissile Materials, “Global Fissile Material Report 2007,” October 2007.

4. Some nongovernmental experts believe the International Atomic Energy Agency figure is much too high. See, for example, Thomas B. Cochran and Christopher E. Paine, “The Amount of Plutonium and Highly-Enriched Uranium Needed for Pure Fisson Nuclear Weapons,” Natural Resources Defense Council, April 13, 1995.

5. National Research Council, Making the Nations Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002), p. 45.

6. See Peter G. Zimmerman and Jeffrey G. Lewis, “The Bomb in the Backyard,” Foreign Policy, November/December 2006, pp. 32-39.

A Review of On Nuclear Terrorism by Michael Levi.

Conference Addresses Illicit Nuclear Trafficking

Zachary Hosford

In late November, delegates from around the world convened in Edinburgh, Scotland, to address the dangers posed by the trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials.

Organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and hosted by the United Kingdom, the conference entitled “Illicit Nuclear Trafficking: Collective Experience and the Way Forward” aimed to “take stock of global efforts” to impede black market trade as well as to consider measures that might thwart future smuggling attempts.

Included on the agenda was a discussion of the importance and continued development of the IAEA’s Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB), a collection of recorded incidents of illegal trafficking. The objective of the database is to “facilitate exchange of authoritative information” on events involving nuclear and other radioactive materials and to analyze that information in order to identify any potential patterns.

As of Dec. 7, the ITDB had logged 1,266 incidents, including the Nov. 28 arrest of three men at a border crossing between Hungary and Slovakia who were attempting to sell more than 400 grams of powdered uranium.

In addition to agreeing on a continued focus on information tracking and sharing, the conference participants made several recommendations. First, they pledged to proceed with the development of new technologies for “hard-to-detect fissile materials,” which they agreed to share with states that currently lack more modern technological capabilities. Furthermore, the representatives concurred that they must “increase the sophistication of detection capabilities,” especially to address the long stretches of unguarded borders around the globe. Finally, the delegates agreed to improve intergovernmental communication and inform the general public more effectively on issues related to trafficking.

In all, about 300 delegates from more than 60 countries and 11 international organizations attended the four-day conference, which began Nov. 19. The group plans to convene another meeting in 2010 to assess progress in impeding illicit trafficking.

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In late November, delegates from around the world convened in Edinburgh, Scotland, to address the dangers posed by the trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials. (Continue)

Interview with Ambassador Peter Burian, Slovakian Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Chairman of the 1540 Committee



Interviewed by Miles Pomper and Peter Crail

Since January 2006, Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian has chaired a U.N. Security Council committee charged with examining the implementation of Resolution 1540, which was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in April 2004. Resolution 1540 is a legally binding Security Council effort which requires all states to implement a variety of domestic measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their means of delivery, and related materials. States are required to submit a report on the steps they have taken to carry out the resolution’s requirements and the committee, which is comprised of the 15 members of the Security Council, reviews those national reports. In April 2006, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1673, calling for intensified efforts by states to implement the resolution and extending the committee’s mandate until April 2008.[1] On September 21, Arms Control Today met with Ambassador Burian in New York to discuss the role and activities of the committee in regard to the resolution. His remarks represent the position of the Slovakian government and do not represent those of the committee as a whole.

ACT: We’ll start off with a pretty basic question. What are the responsibilities of the 1540 committee and what do you see as the committee’s primary tasks?

Burian: The Security Council Resolution 1540 defines the role of the committee in quite general terms, which is to examine the implementation of Resolution 1540. This task was specified in Resolution 1673 and also in the work program of the committee. Resolution 1673 tasks the committee with intensifying its efforts to promote the full implementation of Resolution 1540 by all states. The work program includes outreach activities, assistance, and also promotion and development of international cooperation in support of implementation of Resolution 1540, so these are the major areas of work of the committee. And of course, as I mentioned in the beginning, the committee is tasked to report to the Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 1540 by member states and also major challenges in this area.

ACT: One of the points you mentioned was outreach. What have been the results of your effort in this area?

Burian: In order to assist the full implementation of the resolution, the committee sought to have a dialogue with states and regions encouraging the sharing of national experiences and facilitating technical assistance and cooperation with international, regional, and subregional organizations. Through its various outreach activities, the committee managed to increase awareness of the importance of implementation of all aspects of Resolution 1540. This was the aim of our outreach activities in 2006, but since we are now concentrating on promoting and supporting full implementation of all aspects of Resolutions 1540 and 1673, there is a slight shift in the focus also in the outreach activities. Through these outreach activities, we are able to reach out to countries to discuss with them the challenges and problems in the implementation of Resolution 1540, and also to identify problems countries are facing in the implementation process, including lack of administrative and technical capacities and capabilities to deal with all aspects of Resolution 1540. The outreach activities also helped us to define ways to help them to cope with the requirements and also to create better channels for communication with the member countries, international organizations, and the committee in this area.

ACT: So far about 136 countries have submitted reports to the committee, but only seven have done so over the past year, is this kind of outreach effort reaching a point of diminishing returns?

Burian: We were just discussing this issue in the meeting with the committee experts [2] and we agreed that increasing the number of reporting countries is an important goal for outreach activities, but the committee’s work is not limited to that goal. That is why, now, the outreach activities are focusing on, from one side, the promotion and implementation of 1540, but also on defining the ways we can help countries to cope with the requirements of 1540. In this area I think we achieved a lot because by organizing various regional and sub-regional outreach activities, first of all, we helped the countries in different regions and subregions to develop their regional cooperation in addressing various challenges in the implementation process. Some of the issues can be only addressed through regional cooperation. This is one of the observations coming from our outreach activities. But as I mentioned previously, we also, through concrete interaction with the member states and international organizations, managed to define new challenges and divide the labor between us—the committee and international organizations—in helping countries implement Resolution 1540. So, maybe, these results are not so much visible, but they are very important for moving the process of implementation of Resolution 1540 forward.

ACT: One of the issues that seems to be a problem is that some governments simply do not have the financial resources or technical expertise to implement the resolution. How do you work in making sure that the countries get that kind of help that they need from the international community?

Burian: This is one of the conclusions that resulted from our better understanding of the problems which the member states are facing in implementation. On one side, it’s the lack of capacities, both administrative and technical, to cope with the requirements of Resolution 1540. But on the other hand also, it’s the lack of understanding of the resolution’s importance for national and regional security and stability of a country. Some countries are saying, “We are not producing nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, why should we pay attention or why should we be devoting our efforts to this particular problem when we have some other problems like small and light weapons trafficking or HIV/AIDS and some other problems?” This is the case especially in developing countries. But we talk to the representatives of those countries and explain to them what is at stake. Their territories might be misused for purposes of trafficking or planning attacks against some other countries or hitting targets in those countries. Tasks connected with the implementation of 1540 might help them to address also some other issues more efficiently through improved border controls and export controls such as the issue of small arms and light weapons and drug trafficking. Then their approach to the implementation of 1540 and cooperation with the 1540 committee is changing and this is also a result of our very active communication with member states.

ACT: Some people say the committee should be a little more active in matching donors with recipients.

Burian: Ah, yes, yes, yes. So, this is also a very important priority in our work because we understand that, without major assistance and effort some countries will not be able to cope with the requirements of 1540. That is why we organized in the beginning of this year quite a comprehensive debate in the committee on assistance strategy, which was followed by a discussion with donor countries on how we can better use the committee as a clearinghouse for assistance and match the requests and offers of assistance. We also discussed how to focus the attention of donors and countries providing assistance on real priorities in the area of implementation of 1540.

ACT: What are the results of that? Is there anything concrete that has come out of that at this point?

Burian: First of all, the committee now better understands the needs. This is one thing. We also took several decisions on how to better manage the role of a clearinghouse through facilitating the understanding of how to better formulate the requests for assistance. From the donor side, it’s very important that they do not only concentrate on some areas, but that they spread their activities into to a larger territory or, more precisely, they cover all the countries which need assistance. These meetings with donors helped to increase the awareness and understanding of what the donor countries are doing and in which countries. This also is the result of our discussion. We would like to better use our Web page [3] to inform the countries regarding what individual member states or international organizations are doing in order to help the countries to cope with Resolution 1540 requirements, and also identify the programs which exist in those international organizations in various areas to help countries.

ACT: Is there any kind of compiled data that says for example, “This much money is being spent on 1540 programs by these states”?

Burian: This is quite an interesting question. Some countries do not want to share with us all the details of their national assistance programs and projects. But in this area, the approaches and attitudes are changing. Countries understand that through better transparency and through the provision of information to those who are seeking the information, countries can better use their resources. But we do not have a clear idea of how much is spent on those programs because they are dispersed in various agencies and institutions. Even countries like the United States might not know, actually, how much they spend on various programs helping or supporting implementation of 1540 because they are spread through various agencies. This is the aim, nationally, to bring all of the actors together to coordinate their efforts and to divide internally their focus and labor to cover those areas which are the priority and to remove all kinds of unnecessary duplication. One of the good examples of this kind of coordinate approach on assistance is represented by the US national action plan which has been shared by the United States with the 1540 Committee recently.

Based on the invitation of the State Department, our experts recently visited Washington, D.C., to meet with various agencies involved in the implementation, or support of implementation, of 1540 in various countries. They shared with us the information on projects available in this area. They also wanted to hear from us what is the experience of the committee in the area of assistance. What are the plans? What are the priorities? And where do we see gaps which are not covered by donors’ assistance or assistance as such in helping countries to cope with 1540?

ACT: One of the legal questions is that the Security Council did not define what “appropriate” and “effective” are in terms of export control, physical security measures, and so on, that countries were supposed to adopt. How much of a problem was that in assessing the implementation of the resolutions and would it be helpful to have a specific standard in that regard?

Burian: This is quite a sensitive issue, and the committee doesn’t have a unified approach to so-called best practices because many countries are stressing that there is no unified or uniform model of implementation of 1540 and every country has a specific situation. At the same time, the members of the committee understand the importance of sharing the information on national practices which might serve as a source of inspiration for neighbors or for countries of subregions and regions to speed up the process of implementation by avoiding the mistakes which probably their neighbors might have made in the process.

Regional organizations have paid quite a lot of attention recently to the implementation of 1540. These include the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States, or the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and so on. We are trying to facilitate the discussion in those organizations on the so-called regional practices on functioning models of implementation or on the legislation. We are even thinking, in connection with CARICOM, about a model law in areas such as export control, which might be used in environments, which are similar in nature and also share similar legal systems. What I want to stress is that we want to utilise the role of regional organizations for this purpose as they are better suited to discuss what is working and what is not in the regional context and what the best approaches are.

We already have very good results in this area. The OSCE, first of all, politically supported the implementation of 1540, and they moved to a concrete area by defining the best practices in the region in several areas of implementation of 1540. I think this is an example which might be followed by others. I see quite a bit of progress in this direction in the Organization of American States, and this is something which the committee wants to encourage and support. But we are not going to define the best practices for the member states to follow. We can point to some gaps, to some problems, and then it is the national responsibility of a country to define the best ways how to address the problem.

ACT: You mentioned gaps and weaknesses. Does the committee go and identify particular weaknesses in a particular country’s coverage of these various areas that are supposed to be under 1540 and, for instance, does the committee visit states to measure their implementation of the resolution as I understand the counterterrorism committee pursuant to resolution 1373 does. [4] Is there any equivalent to that?

Burian: Our approach to that is a little bit more general. Based on the information which we are receiving through national reports and based on the available information in public sources, such as Web pages of governments and so on, the committee has designed a matrix which is more or less reflecting the structure of the resolution, of various paragraphs of the resolution, and is covering information about national implementation. This matrix also identifies some existing gaps in the implementation, such as the absence of laws or practical arrangements in dealing with particular problems. So this is the approach we use in the committee. We are trying to avoid using the expression of weaknesses because this might be perceived by the member states as putting some blame on them and we would like to avoid blaming and shaming as a method of work. We want to show a cooperative approach of the committee in addressing various gaps and problems in the implementation. I think this is very well received and perceived by the member states, encouraging them to do more. So, some approaches might be more effective, but this is what the committee can agree to as a method of work and we pursue this approach.

ACT: That seems to apply primarily to whether countries have the appropriate laws, but do you have anything on whether they are actually enforcing whatever laws they have or is that out of the realm of the committee?

Burian: Again, the committee doesn’t have the ambition to judge the effectiveness of some of the mechanisms on a national level. Indirectly, however, in discussions, in our outreach activities, in the seminars, in the subregional and national workshops, we are able to direct and point out some problems which might be perceived as weaknesses. This is the way these kind of problematic areas are addressed; sometimes indirectly through informal contacts and communication of the committee with individual countries.

ACT: So it’s more informal than formal?

Burian: Yes, yes. What is quite important to stress, then, is that the committee’s work is based on observations, examinations, and experience from workshops and examination of national reports. In its final evaluation of implementation of 1540 the committee uses general terms and generalizes some conclusions, and does not point out particular countries lagging behind.

ACT: On that note, do you see the committee as having the appropriate resources or level of authority to appropriately carry out this assessment of implementation?

Burian: If I’m proceeding from the committee’s mandate which the Security Council defined in Resolutions 1540 and 1673, I would say we have sufficient resources represented by the expert group. We now have eight experts dealing with evaluation of national reports and the information which is coming to the committee. We are also preparing the reports and recommendations for the Security Council regarding how to address existing gaps and challenges in this area. I think we are doing quite fine. But, of course, maybe the expectations of some countries from the outside and maybe the expectations of some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are a little bit bigger. But again, those are not reflecting the mandate which the committee has had. I can also imagine a larger focus of the committee in the future, but we can only reach to the area and use methods of work which are agreed upon by the members.

ACT: Well, just speaking of that a little bit, obviously the current resolution expires next year. What is the expectation? Will there be another resolution extending the committee’s work? Is there talk of extending the mandate? For instance, one idea that people have talked about, is that if there were a nuclear terrorist attack, countries should be required to submit data so that there could be attribution of where the material came from. Is there talk of new directions as to where it might go, whether it’s going to keep going?

Burian: I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the discussion in the committee, which is only starting right now and which will be concentrating on the preparation of the report of the committee which will be submitted to the Security Council in April. There are various opinions about how to improve the work of the committee. I am quite sure these suggestions and ideas will be reflected in the committee’s report. At the same time, there are also some pressures, some opinions, from members of the UN which are not part of the members of the Security Council, that the resolution by itself is something which should be replaced by a comprehensive convention to be adopted by the General Assembly to receive some additional legitimacy and legal power. This is something which was not echoed only by a small group of countries but by the whole General Assembly and I do not exclude this kind of development in the future.

At the same time, my view is that the committee has not fulfilled its tasks and all its goals which it is expected to achieve in the supporting implementation of 1540. Before we have something, some mechanism which might replace the committee, we need to simply, and it’s my personal opinion, extend the life of the committee for a future period. I’m not quite sure for how many years, but this will be also an issue which will be discussed and decided by the Security Council. In this regard we might also think about how to make the work of the committee more efficient and productive. This will also be a matter for discussion in the near future.

ACT: Are there particular areas or gaps that require more attention than others from governments? The resolution is broad. It covers nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and delivery systems. Are there particular areas that have received less attention or are sort of generally more of a weakness in laws than others, such as in the biological realm?

Burian: It differs from country to country and region to region. The specific situation matters, such as whether the country is producing or storing some materials which are related to weapons of mass destruction. That’s why it’s very difficult to generalize. First of all, the conclusions of the report which were presented to the Security Council in April 2006 say that no country is perfect. There is no system which will be 100 percent bulletproof and reliable. There is always space for improvement. It is different from country to country. Some countries might have problems with accounting, with physical protection. Some countries might have problems with unreliable export control systems. Some countries might have problems with laws and mechanisms covering the financing of services connected with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or related activities. So, these are the areas which are also identified in the report. Accounting, physical protection, shipment and trans-shipment, and also financing of activities and services connected with the proliferation in general terms is something to which we should pay more attention to.

You also mentioned enforcement. This is an important point because even if you have a perfect law, if you are not able to enforce it properly, if you do not have institutions which are trained to detect and also deal with this kind of substances, then, of course, all the laws are not very much helpful in dealing with the concrete problem and situation.

Finally, I agree that we should also pay more attention to the biological area. There is no specialized organization to deal with issues of implementation and verification of measures envisaged by the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. At the same time the potential of nonstate actors to misuse this kind of substances for terrorist purposes is growing.

ACT: What about the committee’s relationship to other international organizations and export control regimes such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), or the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)? How is that working out? For instance, the OPCW directors have expressed a lot of concern about the potential for chemical weapons terrorism, but that is mainly the responsibility of this committee rather than the OPCW, per se.

Burian: One of the priorities of the committee is to identify the programs existing in various international organizations dealing with various aspects of implementation of 1540 so as not to invent something which is already existing. Also, through increased cooperation and contact with those organizations, we identified many important projects and programs which are helping countries to cope with the implementation of 1540. And we managed, through direct contacts, to improve this kind of awareness and to remove some existing suspicions about the role of the 1540 committee. We built something which now provides concrete results.

We have excellent cooperation with the OPCW. They participate in our outreach activities and we attend their outreach activities. I visited Brussels to discuss cooperation with the World Customs Organization. We identified several areas where we can work together much better and we also have improved and increased contact and cooperation with the IAEA, which is regularly participating in our activities. Slovakia, as a member of the Security Council, initiated an open debate of the Security Council in February on the role of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) in supporting implementation of 1540. There were many important ideas and proposals raised during the discussion which we are now trying to use in building a higher level of cooperation and contact with those organizations. But we do not want to limit ourselves only to those three or four. I would include also the World Health Organization, which in some areas plays quite an important role. We are expanding now the focus to some international arrangements and mechanisms, regimes, like the Nuclear Suppliers Group. We’ve established almost a regular dialogue with them. We had our first contact with the MTCR and we had a briefing by their representatives on the issues which are the focus of attention of the committee. We want to expand this cooperation and really bring together all the pieces of the programs and activities, which are quite dispersed in various organizations and institutions, into one global system for the protection and prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Step by step, we already see concrete results of this interaction and awareness of what one institution or organization is doing and what others are doing in the same area.

A very important piece of this puzzle are the activities of NGOs. On July 12, we invited several NGOs involved in various programs supporting the implementation of 1540 worldwide, such as the Stimson Center, the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre, the University of Georgia, the Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies, to meet with Committee. We see that there are so many activities going on in this area, but they need to be brought together, and I’m not saying under one umbrella, but at least we should be aware of who is doing what. One idea is that we might better use the committee website for sharing information on activities going on in various parts of the world organized by us, by the IGOs, or NGOs, so as not to compete with each other, not to duplicate efforts, and avoid a situation that some areas are not covered. I think this dialogue is helping us, really, to identify the ways we can better use the comparative advantages of various players involved in this exercise.

ACT: We had an article in which someone suggested that the IAEA inspectors, as well as doing safeguards inspections, might do some work in nuclear security that would come under 1540. [5] Do you think that would be a good use of this kind of cooperation?

Burian: Yes. Of course. The UN Security Council 1540 Committee does not want to step into an area which the specialized organizations like the IAEA are better equipped and have sufficient expertise to deal with. The committee also does not have a system which would enable protection of confidential information, so this is another problem. We want to better use technical and expert potential of those organizations to take care of some aspects of implementation of Resolution 1540. With better understanding of the role of the 1540 committee from the IAEA and with understanding of the potential and capacities of the IAEA, we are coming to very concrete ideas about forms of cooperation and information sharing in the areas which are important for the work and goals of the committee.

ACT: There is no one who really goes and implements physical protection of nuclear facilities and so on. There is no body that is really charged with that.

Burian: Through concrete contacts we might identify some gaps in the international systems and this might also create some kind of pressure in filling in those gaps by some new mechanisms, but I would not step into speculation on this matter.

ACT: On that note, some of the mechanisms for physical security and accounting are also borne by industry. Understanding that a Security Council resolution is focused on government responsibilities, does the committee foresee engaging in dialogue with industry and its role in carrying out the purpose of the resolution?

Burian: This was actually one of the ideas raised during our outreach activities and meetings with NGOs and donor countries. If we want to be efficient, we need to not only reach out to the governments, but also to work with private entities and the civic sector. This area should be a matter or area of responsibility of governments. We can encourage governments to pay attention to cooperation and contact with the private sector and businesses. This is also happening through the involvement of some private entities and through dialogue within the national coordination mechanisms, which is one of the ways to engage and involve the private community.

Another issue which is very important is to spread the awareness that implementation of 1540 is not creating obstacles for trade but, on the contrary, creating a better environment for trade. I will see how this might be worked into future workshops. Businesses also might be interested in this and might encourage their national parliaments to address and pay more attention to it. So really this is one of the areas for the future that the committee might want to promote.

ACT: The committee has encouraged member states to develop action plans for the implementation of the resolution, but it seems that so far that only the United States has submitted such a plan. What does the committee see as the purpose for the development of these plans and are there any efforts to encourage their submission?

Burian: Actually, we do not have a very concrete idea which countries do or do not have a national action plan or national implementation plan. We already received feedback from various countries, including some in Africa and other regions, that they have already developed national implementation plans. Ghana says that they have a plan. Some countries are in the process of developing national implementation or action plans. This is something, again, that the committee doesn’t impose but encourages as a very important planning tool. It enables a country to identify the priorities. Donors might also look how they might help in implementing those tasks that are identified in the national implementation plan.

There will be an interesting event soon in Kyrgyzstan which is connected with the national implementation of Resolution 1540. There will be a discussion regarding how to encourage and facilitate the national implementation process through the development of a national action or implementation plan. We’ll see what the concrete product of this discussion will be. We certainly see benefit if a country has this kind of systematic approach because the implementation of 1540 is a long-term process. You need to start with some basics and build on it. You cannot just jump over certain stages or certain steps. You need to build legislation, institutions, and practical enforcement measures and so on. If you do not create that basis, the whole construction will fall apart or it will not be efficient, and the resources spent simply will be wasted.

ACT: In addition to action plans, the committee has encouraged states to assign national points of contact to facilitate the dialogue. Has the committee been satisfied with that process?

Burian: The response from various countries differs. We see major benefits from the establishment of points of contact for us to communicate with if we have some questions and if we need to verify some information directly. All countries can be in almost daily contact with the committee on any issue they might require advice from the committee. Those points of contact also might be very useful for internal communication or regional communication between countries of a sub-region or a region. When we sit with representatives of governments in subregional workshops, it’s not only important that we establish the contacts and communication channels with them, but that they establish those communication channels with each other. It’s very important to have one contact for the communication with the committee, but every institution might have some contact point for dealing with their neighbors and other subjects involved in this process.

ACT: You mentioned before that the committee is now focused on the report it is going to submit next year. Under Resolution 1673, it says that the committee is going to submit a report on compliance with the implementation of the resolution. How is the committee measuring that compliance?

Burian: Now we are in a process of defining the structure of the report, what will be included, and so on. First of all, it will be a product of the group of experts and then it will be discussed and amended through the contributions and amendments of the member states, so it is a very difficult process. It’s quite difficult to say how we’ll be approaching this issue. One of the problems here is that not all the members would like to come up with some specific conclusions about particular problems. The feeling in the committee is that we should keep it general, to identify the problems in general terms. The committee will not probably go from country to country to say, “You have these kinds of problems, these kinds of gaps.” This might be reflected in the matrices which the committee is elaborating, but these matrices will not be something which will be used for blaming or shaming this or that country for not fulfilling all its obligations and requirements under 1540 but, on the contrary, to identify the problems where the country needs some additional assistance.

ACT: As you know, the resolutions were adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Do you foresee the possibility of the committee ever recommending to the Security Council that it penalize or sanction a government for not fulfilling the resolution or willfully ignoring it?

Burian: Of course, if a country violates some international obligations adopted under Chapter VII, then the Security Council should deal with the problem. But it’s not the job or the role of the committee as it’s understood among the committee members. The committee prefers a more cooperative approach in helping countries to overcome some difficulties in fulfilling the requirements of the resolution.

I agree however that the problem of compliance is quite an important political issue. Once again this is something which is addressed more efficiently on the Security Council level, not on the committee level.It is a very important decision with concrete consequences.

ACT: Some charge, as in a recent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace assessment, [6] that implementation of the resolutions has not exactly matched the urgency of the threat they’re trying to address. Would you say that you share this assessment?

Burian: As the chairman of the committee, I cannot share this assessment (laughing). But, as a national representative of Slovakia, we feel that we need to intensify the efforts to address this very urgent and dangerous threat because in case we do not pay enough attention to it, we might wake up one day and realize that it was too late. Then it really will be too late to lament that we could have done more. That’s why our national priority and national ambition is to contribute what we can to implement Resolution of 1540. We also encourage regional cooperation within the OSCE and on the global level to find efficient mechanisms which might enable addressing this threat in a more comprehensive and more vigorous manner.

ACT: Last question. You were talking earlier about how you don’t want to wake up and have a surprise. Given that it is about three years after Resolution 1540 was adopted, is the world safer now against dealing with the possibility of terrorists using unconventional weapons?

Burian: It’s a good question. One thing which we do not know is how far the terrorists have gone in acquiring access to weapons of mass destruction and related technologies and how much we have come to a situation that we are able to cope with this threat through the implementation of 1540. So this is something which is very difficult to evaluate. I would say that, without Resolution 1540, I am almost sure that based on the experience and based on concrete observations and revelations, like the Abdul Qadeer Khan illicit nuclear black market, that terrorists would already possess weapons of mass destruction at least in those areas which are quite easy to access and build, such as a dirty bomb or chemical weapons which were left in some countries unprotected, or biological substances. This is something of which we are reminded almost every day. As it was the case of involvement of a group of doctors in the United Kingdom in plotting terrorist attacks. It is a worrying phenomenon, since it is very easy to imagine that this group of doctors might use their knowledge for acquiring and misusing the substances which might cause diseases for launching biological attack on civilians. So, really, I would say, without any exaggeration that the threat of terrorists achieving the capability of producing and using weapons of mass destruction is real and the international community should be very serious in addressing this threat and doing it on a timely basis.

ACT: Thank you



1. Security Council Resolution 1540 originally established a two-year mandate for the committee, which expired in April 28, 2006.

2. The 1540 committee maintains a group of eight experts to support its work. The experts provide assessments of the national reports submitted by states, engage in outreach activities, and compile information on national legislation related to 1540 for the committee’s legislative database.

3. See the Web site of the 1540 Committee, found at http://disarmament2.un.org/Committee1540

4. Security Council Resolution 1373 was adopted September 28, 2001 in response to the September 11 attacks. Just as Resolution 1540 does, it requires a series of domestic legal mechanisms to be adopted to deny funding and safe haven to terrorists and establishes a committee to examine implementation.

5. See George Bunn “Enforcing International Standards: protecting Nuclear Materials from Terrorists Post-9/11,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2007, p.17. (http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2007_01-02/Bunn.asp)

6. See Monkia Heupel, “Implementing Security Council Resolution 1540: A Division of Labor Strategy,” Carnegie Papers, No. 87, June 2007. (http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/cp87_heupel_final.pdf)


Interviewed by Miles Pomper and Peter Crail

Anti-Nuclear Terrorism Strategies Discussed

Abby Doll

On June 11, some 38 partner states of the nearly one-year-old Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism convened for the third meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, to discuss future prospects. In a simultaneous meeting, representatives from close to 30 countries attended the initiative’s Conference on International Nuclear Terrorism Law Enforcement in Miami, Florida.

The anti-nuclear terrorism initiative was introduced jointly by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the summer of 2006 in an effort to combat the nuclear terrorism threat through a cooperative network of partner states. (See ACT, September 2006 .) Since then, membership has grown to more than 50 countries, and participating governments have agreed to a statement of principles and a plan of work.

The statement of principles, which was agreed on during earlier meetings in Rabat, Morocco, and Ankara, Turkey, includes a list of commitments to tackle factors that facilitate nuclear terrorism. Member states pledge to address the security of nuclear storage facilities, the illicit trafficking of sensitive radiological and nuclear material, and the development of their countries’ strategic response to nuclear or radiological terrorist attacks or threats.

In Astana, the 38 countries joined observers from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Union to discuss the initiative’s progress in furthering these principles and developing the plan of work, which includes capacity-building activities for participating states. Japan and Australia have completed the first two capacity-building activities by hosting the Seminar on Strengthening Nuclear Security in Asian Countries and the Asia-Pacific Seminar on Combating Nuclear Terrorism, respectively.

The Miami conference, hosted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), sought to add meat to the bones of the initiative’s objectives by specifically supporting the principle to enhance participants’ abilities in “response, mitigation, and investigation” of nuclear terrorism activities.

For five days, more than 400 officials from law enforcement, intelligence, border control, nuclear security, and other related professions attended presentations on topics ranging from nuclear smuggling to nuclear forensics. Notable speakers included FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Case studies, tabletop exercises, and demonstrations of technical procedure also supplemented the discussions.

On the third day, two Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams from the FBI and the Miami police staged a simulated drill at the Orange Bowl to demonstrate a response to a radiological dispersion device. Delegates from 28 countries watched the team demobilize a “terrorist cell” operating inside a fictitious warehouse and then use a specialized robot from the Miami Fire Department to destroy the mock radiological device.

Emphasizing the importance of information-sharing to achieve the principle’s goal, Mueller stressed that “no one person, no one officer, no one agency can prevent a nuclear terrorist attack on its own. There are too many unlocked doors and unknown players, too many ports and porous borders.”

It remains unclear how the initiative will coordinate with other nuclear terrorism prevention measures. These include UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism as well as U.S.-led initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John C. Rood maintains that “there’s value in having some diversity of efforts” to address a common problem.

Pakistan recently endorsed the statement of principles, bringing the membership of the initiative to 51 states. Rood said that the meeting’s discussion generated a two-year work program of about 20 coordinated activities sponsored by participating governments. In September, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, and Romania will test the progress of the initiative’s capacity-development measures by running an exercise with a hypothetical radiological dispersion device or “dirty bomb.”


Statement of Principles by Participants in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, October 2006

• Develop, if necessary, and improve accounting, control and physical protection systems for nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances;

• Enhance security of civilian nuclear facilities;

• Improve the ability to detect nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances in order to prevent illicit trafficking in such materials and substances, to include cooperation in the research and development of national detection capabilities that would be interoperable;

• Improve capabilities of participants to search for, confiscate, and establish safe control over unlawfully held nuclear or other radioactive materials and substances or devices using them;

• Prevent the provision of safe haven to terrorists and financial or economic resources to terrorists seeking to acquire or use nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances;

• Ensure adequate respective national legal and regulatory frameworks sufficient to provide for the implementation of appropriate criminal and, if applicable, civil liability for terrorists and those who facilitate acts of nuclear terrorism;

• Improve capabilities of participants for response, mitigation, and investigation, in cases of terrorist attacks involving the use of nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances, including the development of technical means to identify nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances that are, or may be, involved in the incident; and

• Promote information sharing pertaining to the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism and their facilitation, taking appropriate measures consistent with their national laws and international obligations to protect the confidentiality of any information which they exchange in confidence.

On June 11, some 38 partner states of the nearly one-year-old Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism convened for the third meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, to discuss future prospects. In a simultaneous meeting, representatives from close to 30 countries attended the initiative’s Conference on International Nuclear Terrorism Law Enforcement in Miami, Florida. (Continue)

Progress on UN WMD Measure Mixed

Wade Boese

Three years after the UN Security Council required states to enact measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring or using unconventional arms, progress toward that goal is disparate and muddled. The limitations are perhaps best summed up by the fact that the United States is calling 2007 “the year of implementation.”

In April 2004, the Security Council unanimously adopted UN Resolution 1540 mandating that governments institute and enforce “appropriate, effective” laws, border controls, export controls, and physical security measures to make it tougher for terrorists to arm themselves with biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons or the means to deliver such weapons. (See ACT, May 2004. ) The resolution did not define “appropriate” or “effective.”

The resolution grew out of a Sept. 23, 2003, call by President George W. Bush to criminalize proliferation and gained traction with the February 2004 exposure of the nuclear black market network ran by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. (See ACT, March 2004. )

The Security Council mandated that all states report within six months on their activities and plans to fulfill the mandates of the resolution and established a committee with a two-year lifespan to monitor and report on these efforts. In April 2006, the Security Council extended the committee’s lifespan another two years. (See ACT, June 2006. )

Only 54 countries met the original reporting deadline, but by last April, a total of 129 governments had supplied at least one report. Still, 62 countries, most of which are located in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa, had not complied with the resolution’s reporting requirement. All countries with nuclear weapons, except North Korea, have reported.

Some of the nonreporting governments contend they do not have the capacity, resources, or need to report. In an April 18 interview, a British government official said that it was “too early” to judge whether some countries are “not willfully complying.” The Security Council adopted the resolution under Chapter VII of the UN charter, providing the possibility that countries could be sanctioned or penalized for noncompliance, although the issue has not yet been raised.

Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, chairman of the committee, made obtaining reports his top priority last year, launching an outreach campaign to inform governments about their obligations under the resolution. Despite three outreach seminars in China, Ghana, and Peru as well as other workshops, the effort had yielded just seven more initial reports as of April 20.

One source close to the committee told Arms Control Today April 18 that Burian still considers “very important” the “universalization” of the resolution as measured by states’ recognition of their responsibilities through reporting to the committee. The source said Burian views the outreach phase of the committee’s work as unfinished.

Nonetheless, an official associated with the committee said it and its eight independent experts would increasingly turn to compiling best practices or lessons learned as voluntary guidelines for countries to follow in implementing the resolution.

In interviews with Arms Control Today, several officials familiar with the committee’s work said the body was unlikely to recommend priorities to states because of the perception that it would be interfering with or encroaching on a government’s sovereign right to legislate.

The United States, as well as the committee, is urging governments to develop national implementation plans. Washington adopted its own such plan last May, but details of the document have not been made public.

A U.S. official and the official associated with the committee said in separate interviews that the process of creating national implementation plans was valuable in and of itself for bringing together government bureaucrats who otherwise might not talk.

Both also asserted that involving the private sector would be essential to the resolution’s long-term success. They said businesses had to be made more aware of their economic stakes in preventing a terrorist attack by use of an unconventional weapon or the trade they might risk losing if their state is perceived as lacking proper controls, regulations, and security measures. 

The official associated with the committee told Arms Control Today April 20 that countries needed to “set their own priorities” because a “one-size-fits-all approach” was inappropriate. The official explained, for example, that a landlocked country requires different types of controls than a maritime state.

A common challenge that many countries face is funding the measures to fulfill the resolution. Describing the problem of preventing nonstate actors from obtaining unconventional weapon as “huge,” the official said addressing it is “very expensive.”

The resolution calls on states that can do so to lend expertise or financial, organizational, or technical assistance to those governments requesting such help. Forty states have announced their willingness to provide direct assistance, although the committee is not tabulating delivered assistance.

Neither are some major donors. Both the United States and United Kingdom could not provide Arms Control Today with totals, saying they have many programs, some preceding the resolution, that contribute to the resolution’s goals. U.S. officials have highlighted one initiative, the Export Control and Related Border Security program, as allocating almost $132 million since 2004 to other countries for training and equipment to implement the resolution.

The committee does not seek to match potential donors with recipients. It describes its role as a “clearinghouse,” which entails maintaining general lists of assistance requests and aid offers. During a Feb. 23 Security Council debate on the resolution, Brazil called on the committee to be more active in facilitating assistance.

Guarding against biological weapons proliferation is an area most in need of attention and assistance because it lags behind efforts on chemical and nuclear arms, according to the official associated with the committee. The official attributed this disparity partially to the fact that countries can turn to the International Atomic Energy Agency in the nuclear realm and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the chemical sector but do not have a comparable institution to turn to in the biological field. The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention did not establish any implementation body or secretariat.

The official said another area where countries need to step up their efforts is enforcement. Many countries have laws or controls in place, but they do not always apply them, the official said.

Still, all officials interviewed for this article agreed that the much more difficult work was yet to come. Many see the implementation phase as more complicated than the outreach phase, which they also cautioned must continue. The official associated with the committee said that all countries face a “long, hard slog.”

GAO Calls for Security Prioritization Changes

Scarlet Kim

The Department of Energy should better prioritize which foreign sites with radioactive materials should be protected against terrorist theft, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO, which conducts studies for Congress, reviewed the Energy Department's International Radiological Threat Reduction Program at the request of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). Established in 2002 following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the program aims to implement security upgrades at foreign sites with radioactive materials and recover lost or abandoned high-risk radioactive sources.

Radioactive sources are devices that use radioactive materials for myriad purposes, including medical and industrial applications. Terrorists potentially could acquire these materials, such as cobalt-60, cesium-137, and strontium-90, to produce a radiological dispersion device, or a “dirty bomb,” which uses conventional explosives to spread radiation. Dirty bombs are not as lethal or destructive as nuclear weapons, but they are commonly referred to as weapons of mass disruption because their detonation could cause mass fear and panic.

The March 15 GAO report recommended that the Energy Department prioritize sites by concentrating efforts on those with the greatest amount of radioactive materials. Despite the Energy Department's success at improving the security of hundreds of sites in more than 40 countries, the report found that “many of the most dangerous sources remain unsecured, particularly in Russia .” Of particular concern are more than 700 Russian operational or abandoned radioisotope generators, which are electrical generators powered by radioactive decay, and 16 out of 20 waste storage sites in Russia and Ukraine.

The GAO asserts the program has focused a disproportionate amount of attention on securing material at medical facilities, which contain much smaller quantities of radioactive sources. One explanation is that upgrading the security at medical facility, compared with securing radioisotope generators, entails less scope and cost. As of September 2006, almost 70 percent of all sites secured were hospitals or oncology clinics.

In visits to Russia, Lithuania, Poland, and Georgia, the GAO also discovered that some sites were not properly maintaining earlier security enhancements. The report noted the absence of a plan to sustain such security upgrades.

As of January 2007, the Energy Department has spent $120 million on the program, but future funding is uncertain. According to a department official interviewed by the GAO, since 2003 the agency has steadily decreased funding on program implementation. It intends to redirect future funds to projects such as securing plutonium and highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The Department of Energy should better prioritize which foreign sites with radioactive materials should be protected against terrorist theft, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). (Continue)


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