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WMD Terrorism

Russia Holds Nuclear Terror Drills

Gabrielle Kohlmeier

In August, NATO officials had their first up-close look at Russia’s efforts to defend its nuclear arsenal against terrorist attacks.

On Aug. 3-5, “Avaria 2004” (Accident 2004) exercises involving more than 1,000 army troops and various law enforcement personnel were held in the northern Murmansk region of Russia. The exercises, held under the auspices of the Russia-NATO Council work program, focused on defending Russia’s nuclear facilities and nuclear weapons in transit and the consequences of potential nuclear accidents. The exercises were put together by the 12th Main Directorate, a division of the Defense Ministry in charge of the security of Russia’s nuclear weapons storage facilities.

Though similar exercises are held in Russia annually, this year’s exercises marked the first time invitations were extended to outsiders, including 49 military specialists and observers from 17 NATO countries. Russian participants ranged from the Defense Ministry, the Leningrad and Moscow military districts, emergencies and interior ministries, and the Federal Atomic Energy Agency. The exercises took place at a testing ground near Olenegorsk, which houses one of Russia’s nuclear weapons storage facilities.

“We are the first to show foreigners combat readiness in what used to be one of the most secret areas of weaponry,” said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in an Aug. 3 interview with Russian Channel One TV. He said that he expected comparable exercises to be held in NATO nuclear-weapon states by next year.

In the first part of the exercise, an international terrorist attack was said to have been carried out on a road convoy transporting nuclear weapons in special containers. The contingent protecting the convoy, which was not given details of the time, place, or weaponry that would be used in the hypothetical attack, managed to corner and “destroy” the terrorists while keeping the nuclear weapons protected. To test the super containers housing the mock nuclear weapons, transport vehicles were under fire from anti-tank mines, grenade launchers, and automatic weapons. The exercises also featured a second scenario, in which a vehicle carrying a mock nuclear weapon went off the road into a lake. Radiological reconnaissance crews, including divers, recovered the submerged vehicle.

Ivanov presented the success of the exercises as proof that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is well guarded, asserting that outside criticism to the contrary was unfairly maligning Russian efforts. “In certain parts of the world there is a myth, that is sometimes deliberately fanned even, that says that Russia’s nuclear weapons are not reliably or well protected by qualified personnel. This is really a myth.”

At the same time, the defense minister used the opportunity to point out that, although concerns over the safety of Russia’s nuclear facility are often voiced, only a small amount of the aid promised by Western countries to help Russia secure and dismantle its weapons of mass destruction has been received by Russia, particularly in the nuclear arena. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

At an Aug. 14 meeting in St. Petersberg, Ivanov briefed his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on the details of the exercises. The Avaria 2004 exercises were merely one of a growing number of special exercises, according to Ivanov. “This year, many more exercises are still to be held, involving the navy, the air force, the Ground Troops, and the Strategic Missile Troops,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently granted Ivanov, a political ally, greater authority over the armed forces, lessening the authority of the service chiefs in military decisions. As part of that decision, Putin announced Aug. 9 that the country’s nuclear defense complex would henceforth be placed under control of the Defense Ministry. This further enhances Ivanov’s authority, which was already amplified in late June, when Russia’s parliament passed amendments transferring powers over operational leadership of the armed forces and over coordination of all national security structures to the defense minister.

The former Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) had been in charge of the country’s nuclear defense complex until March, when Putin announced a major government restructuring. (See ACT, April 2004.)

Can Bush or Kerry Prevent Nuclear Terrorism?

Charles D. Ferguson

If there is any issue on which leaders from all sides of the political spectrum agree, it is the importance of preventing nuclear terrorism. As the independent commission that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks recently stated, “The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will occur if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

In their rhetoric and in their actions, both President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, have demonstrated the seriousness with which they treat the issue, calling the possibility of terrorists armed with nuclear weapons the “gravest danger”[1] and “greatest threat”[2] confronting the United States. Both have taken significant steps to curb the threat: Bush has rolled out a number of new programs since the September 11 attacks, and Kerry has offered a detailed and innovative policy blueprint of what he would like to do if elected.

Yet, the differences between the candidates’ perception of the problem and their proposed solutions are profound. Further, neither candidate has given sufficient emphasis to what should be the next president’s top priority: preventing terrorists from getting their hands on highly enriched uranium (HEU), the essential building block for producing the simplest nuclear weapons.

Defining Nuclear Terrorism
Terrorists have essentially four mechanisms by which they can exploit military and civilian nuclear assets around the world to serve their destructive ends:

• The seizure and detonation of an intact nuclear weapon.
• The theft or purchase of HEU or plutonium, leading to the fabrication and detonation of a crude nuclear weapon, or an improvised nuclear device (IND).
• Attacks against and sabotage of nuclear facilities, such as nuclear power plants, to try to cause the release of large amounts of radioactivity.
• The unauthorized acquisition of radioactive materials contributing to the construction and detonation of a radiological dispersion device, popularly known as a “dirty bomb,” or a radiation emission device.[3]

The greatest risk in terms of severity of consequences combined with the likelihood of an attack is that a well-funded and well-organized terrorist organization could seize enough HEU to build and detonate the simplest nuclear bomb, a gun-type weapon. Like a gun, this device shoots a piece of HEU down a gun barrel to combine with another piece of HEU. The two pieces form a supercritical mass needed to sustain an explosive chain reaction. For example, the Hiroshima bomb. used the gun assembly method, and it required no nuclear testing because of the design’s simplicity. Most physicists and nuclear weapons analysts agree that building such a device would pose few technological challenges to reasonably technically competent terrorists. The main barrier remains acquiring a sufficient amount of HEU.

Of course, HEU is not the only material that can fuel a nuclear bomb; plutonium can also be used. Plutonium cannot power a high-yield, gun-type weapon, however, because this method does not allow efficient use of this fissile material. Plutonium would have to employ the more technically challenging implosion-assembly method, which uses conventional explosives to squeeze plutonium into a supercritical mass. If the implosion, or squeezing, of the fissile material does not occur smoothly, the bomb would probably result in a dud or an explosion with a much lower yield thanexpected from a properly designed weapon. Moreover, unlike a gun-type device, an implosion bomb requires high-speed electronics and high-explosive lenses, complex technologies that terrorists would have substantial difficulty acquiring. Because of the relative ease of use of HEU and the large stockpiles of weapons-usable HEU throughout the world, the United States should adopt an HEU-first strategy emphasizing securing; consolidating; and, as much as possible, eliminating HEU.

The Candidates’ Stance
Kerry seems to have a stronger plan than Bush for dealing with this threat. In his policy announcements, the longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been quite explicit in targeting nuclear terrorism, while Bush has talked more generally of the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, a term that can also encompass biological and chemical weapons and missiles or other means of delivery.[4] Both leaders have proposed to secure nuclear materials, but the Bush campaign’s rhetoric has emphasized the terrorists as the threat, while Kerry has pointed to the materials themselves: “Remember, no material, no bomb, no nuclear terrorism.”[5] Kerry has pledged to appoint a badly needed presidential coordinator to counter nuclear terrorism and oversee efforts to secure nuclear materials.[6] He has also promised to ramp up spending on securing former Soviet nuclear weapons and materials so that such programs would be completed within four years rather than the administration’s current pace of more than a decade.[7]

The Bush administration, however, has already taken some steps to do what Kerry proposes. The Bush campaign also doubts Kerry’s ability to carry out his ambitious plans, no matter how much money he is willing to allot to it.

Richard Falkenrath, a former top Bush administration official working for the president’s re-election campaign, derided Kerry’s plan as “hollow promises and empty rhetoric.” He elaborated that “it’s simply a preposterous claim for anyone to be able to say that the American government could compel the Russian government to transfer its nuclear materials from one facility to another—no amount of bribery or coercion or arm-twisting could ensure that.…We’re making progress where progress is possible.”[8]

On Kerry’s pledge to work immediately with Russia “to develop a strategic plan to secure all these weapons and materials,” some like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) have said that Russian resistance will be one of many major obstacles.[9] Additional impediments include bureaucratic inertia, Russian fears of U.S. intelligence collection, Russian resentment of NATO nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, and U.S. concerns that “Russia will rise again as the nuclear enemy of the West” and that helping to secure their nuclear forces today will create “a nuclear threat tomorrow.”[10]

But the administration seems to be paying attention to Kerry’s proposal. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham vowed on July 17, 2004—one month after the publication of the Kerry plan—that his department will finish securing 600 metric tons of weapons-usable material in Russia by 2008, “two years ahead of the schedule we inherited.”[11]

Laudably, the Department of Energy has also stepped up efforts with Russia to secure Soviet-origin fresh and spent nuclear fuel containing HEU residing in more than 20 research facilities in 17 countries. On May 26, 2004, Abraham launched the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, a $450 million program that aims to repatriate all fresh HEU fuel to Russia by the end of 2005. The initiative also calls for returning to Russia all the spent fuel by 2010.

Just as Kerry’s plan might be faulted as too grandiose, however, these goals will remain overly ambitious unless the U.S. government learns from the difficulties encountered in past repatriation operations. Each operation was a complex undertaking, which usually required many months, sometimes years, of planning and generated much controversy among responsible agencies in the U.S. and other governments. Moreover, technical setbacks in developing low-enriched nuclear fuel not usable in weapons, and a paucity of economic and political incentives for HEU research reactors to convert to these fuels will continue to delay achievement of these goals unless the U.S. government places a higher priority on this endeavor.[12]

In addition, Kerry would like to expand the decade-old Cooperative Threat Reduction program “where necessary for countries to meet” an international standard for “the safe custody of nuclear weapons and materials.”[13] Such an expansion should urgently target Pakistan, a nation where a volatile mix of al Qaeda and Taliban operatives co-exists with a nascent nuclear command and control system. Consistent with the requirements of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the United States should share unclassified technology to help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons and materials. The Bush administration has reportedly provided some assistance along these lines,[14] but it should also develop contingency plans, if it has not already done so, involving the use of nuclear recovery teams or specialized military forces to recover Pakistani nuclear assets soon after diversion is detected.

The administration also deserves credit for forming the Group of Eight (G-8) Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, even if this 2002 initiative is still about $3 billion short of achieving its pledge goal of $20 billion and much of the pledged money has not yet been directed toward accomplishing projects. By the same token, though, Kerry is right to point to a fairly simple step the Bush administration has failed to take that might have aided efforts to halt nuclear terrorism. Bilateral U.S. and Russian presidential summits have come and gone without Bush making a high-priority push to President Vladimir Putin to accelerate securing potentially vulnerable nuclear weapons and materials.

Moreover, in negotiating the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) with Russia, also known as the Moscow Treaty, the Bush administration left a loophole that terrorists might be able to exploit. Although fewer strategic nuclear warheads will be deployed and therefore transported under the treaty, there is no requirement to dismantle any warheads. Each side is permitted to keep as many nondeployed warheads in storage as it wants, thereby potentially increasing the risk of terrorist acquisition of portable strategic warheads kept in reserve. Although the Bush administration appears reluctant to press for verifiable and irreversible nuclear arms reductions, the Kerry strategy proposes to “work with the Russians to accelerate the timetable of planned and agreed consolidation and reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.”[15]

Putting HEU First
Despite important strides, neither candidate can be said to have given sufficient emphasis to what should be their most important priority: securing HEU. The Bush administration has moved to protect fissile materials abroad, but it has not explicitly recognized the unique dangers of HEU. It still spends considerable political capital on ginning up a plutonium disposition program in which the United States and Russia have each pledged to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. That program remains mired in disputes over liability coverage and in finding enough donor support to pay for the Russian part of the program. Moreover, over the next four years, the United States intends to place 25 tons of plutonium retrieved from disarmed Russian weapons in the recently opened Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility. This facility was originally designed to accept HEU, however, and a better allocation of resources would be to place 200 tons of weapons-usable HEU into this high-security facility.

The Kerry strategy calls for substantially accelerating the down-blending of HEU to non-weapons-usable low-enriched form. One way to assuage concerns over Kerry’s apparently ambitious nuclear security schedule could be by ensuring that the elimination of HEU receives the first crack at any resources, so that any cuts would affect less urgent plutonium disposition.

Whether Bush is re-elected or Kerry becomes president, either man will have to quicken efforts to secure nuclear weapons and materials before terrorists seize them. Shrugging off bureaucratic inertia will require mobilizing a bipartisan coalition within Congress and sustaining a multinational partnership to accomplish the most urgent nuclear security tasks confronting the United States and the world community. Both men should build on the cooperative endeavor launched by Lugar and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) 13 years ago. As Nunn is fond of saying, “We are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe.” A primary way to gain a competitive and cooperative advantage in that race is to concentrate first on denying weapons-usable HEU to terrorists.


1. The National Security Strategy of the United States, White House, September 2002.

2. Kerry campaign “Fact Sheet: New Strategies to Defeat New Threats,” August 2004.

3. Charles D. Ferguson and William C. Potter, with Amy Sands, Leonard S. Spector, and Fred L. Wehling, The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (Monterey, CA: Institute of International Studies and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2004), p. 3.

4. A search, conducted on July 16, 2004, of the Bush campaign’s Web site for “nuclear terrorism” found no instances of this exact expression. More significantly, this site does not include any policy document that is solely focused on nuclear terrorism prevention. In contrast, a similar search of the Kerry campaign’s Web site found six policy documents containing this phrase.

5. Jodi Wilgren, “Kerry Promises Speedier Efforts to Secure Nuclear Arms,” The New York Times, June 2, 2004, p. A17.

6. For an earlier recommendation for such a coordinator, see Matthew Bunn and Anthony Wier, “Keeping Nukes Out of Terrorist Hands,” The Boston Globe, September 3, 2002.

7. Although the Kerry campaign has not published an official cost estimate of its proposal, Graham Allison, a campaign adviser, director of the Belfer Center at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and author of the recently published Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, has estimated that accelerating efforts to secure nuclear materials under Kerry’s plan could cost $5-6 billion annually. In contrast, the United States presently spends about $1 billion a year on efforts to safeguard or eliminate dangerous materials and weapons abroad.

8. Wilgren, The New York Times.

9. Senator Richard G. Lugar, “Eliminating the Obstacles to Nunn-Lugar,” Arms Control Today, March 2004, p. 3.

10. Harold P. Smith Jr., “Consolidating Threat Reduction,” Arms Control Today, November 2003, pp. 19-20.

11. Spencer Abraham, “How to Stop Nuclear Terror,” The Washington Post, July 17, 2004, p. A19.

12. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Needs to Take Action to Further Reduce the Use of Weapons-Usable Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors,” GAO-04-807, July 2004.

13. Kerry Fact Sheet.

14. NBC Nightly News, NBC, February 6, 2004; Carol Giacomo, “U.S. Helps Pakistan Safeguard Nuclear Material,” Reuters, February 6, 2004.

15. Kerry Fact Sheet.

While drafting this article, Charles D. Ferguson was a scientist-in-residence at the Monterey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He is presently the science and technology fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also co-authored The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (Monterey Institute of International Studies and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2004), which among other threats examines the catastrophic danger of nuclear terrorism resulting from terrorists obtaining highly enriched uranium.

911 Panel: WMD "Greatest Danger"

Matthew Cook

The “greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States” comes from weapons of mass destruction (WMD), according to the July 22 report released by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.

The report of the independent commission, informally known as the 9/11 Commission, said “maximum effort” is warranted to prevent further proliferation and recommended four basic strategies.

The 10-member bipartisan commission called upon the United States to work with other countries to develop laws and legal regimes that strengthen counterproliferation efforts. Pointing to the black market nuclear network set up by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan (see ACT, March 2004), the report urged the establishment of an “international legal regime with universal jurisdiction to enable the capture, interdiction, and prosecution of such smugglers.”

The commission report also called for the expansion of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an international partnership created by the Bush administration to stop and seize shipments of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and related missile technology. The commission suggested PSI, which currently numbers 15 core participants, utilize NATO resources and encourage the participation of non-NATO countries, particularly China.

The report also recommended substantial support for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which attempts to secure dangerous weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Finally, as part of its proposed reorganization of the intelligence community, the report called for the creation of a national intelligence center on WMD proliferation.

Disarmingly Bland

Disarming Iraq, by Hans Blix, Pantheon Books, March 2004, 285 pp.

Greg Thielmann

The emerging story behind America’s intervention to disarm Iraq would be comical if it were not so tragic. The primary objective of the invasion was to destroy Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction,” but these weapons had already been destroyed. Another stated objective was to uphold the authority and effectiveness of the United Nations Security Council, but the invasion was launched after the majority of Security Council members refused to authorize it. The efforts of UN inspectors were being dismissed by U.S. leaders as feckless, even while the inspectors themselves were making progress at resolving outstanding issues and destroying short-range ballistic missiles judged to be in violation of UN limits. And as self-styled paladin of the world community in pursuit of nonproliferation, the United States ended up doing long-term damage to some key nonproliferation tools, such as weapons inspections, while discrediting and marginalizing the UN’s point man for disarming Iraq.

The task of eliminating Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” programs after the 1991 Gulf War was exceedingly complicated. While the legitimacy for the effort was provided by the U.N. Security Council, its implementation depended upon a small cadre of UN inspectors on the ground, backed by the “carrot” of relief from sanctions, and the “stick” threat of military force. Success was contingent on winning the cooperation of Saddam Hussein—a wily politician and utterly untrustworthy tyrant. In retrospect, the international community’s success was remarkable. But it didn’t appear that way when UN inspectors were forced to leave Iraq in 1998 before completing their mandate: international resolve had weakened amid the suffering of the Iraqi people under post-war sanctions and the progress already made in dismantling unconventional weapons programs. After launching punitive air strikes, even the U.S. and U.K. governments seemingly capitulated in the face of Saddam’s defiance.

Yet in spite of everything, the expressed willingness of the United States and the United Kingdom to use force in the fall of 2002 to ensure full Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions opened up new possibilities. In exploiting these favorable winds to navigate the treacherous course toward resolving outstanding issues, the UN had found an excellent pilot in Hans Blix. The 74-year-old, former Swedish diplomat had served for 16 years as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and had supervised the dismantling of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program in the 1990s. He understood the importance of intelligence, of military means of suasion, and of inspectors taking direction from the Security Council rather than from individual UN members. As Executive Director of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) since 2000, Blix had worked effectively to assemble and train an expert team, and to maintain professional distance from the Western intelligence agencies whose activities had undermined the legitimacy of UNMOVIC’s predecessor organization, UNSCOM.

In style, Hans Blix displayed an unusual combination of brilliance and blandness, of careful diplomacy and droll wit, of fairness and professionalism. He also was meticulous in characterizing the activities and findings of his inspectors, allowing his record to withstand well the revelations that have exposed so many of his fellow actors in the Iraqi drama as incompetent or dishonest.

If the UN had the right individual for the job of policing Security Council Resolutions on Iraq and a large enough military club to get Saddam to pay attention to UN demands, what went wrong? One problem was that those who wielded the club were using arms control as a means to bring Saddam down rather than as a mechanism to provide assurance that unconventional weapons were not being pursued. The other problem was that Saddam overestimated his ability to manipulate the UN or U.S. public opinion, ultimately providing too little, too late to divert the oncoming juggernaut.

Vice President Cheney’s August 2002 speech to Veterans of Foreign Wars was the first clear indication that the Bush administration had decided to act on its wish for regime change in Iraq. However, the final decision to go to war appears to have been made in early January 2003, as graphically reported in Bob Woodward’s recent Plan of Attack. All of the events thereafter were presumably designed to build support for war rather than to avert it. This helps explain why the White House never asked for an update of the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 estimate of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) even after three months of fresh inspections and revelations had resolved some ambiguities and seriously undermined the contention that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. It also helps explain why UNMOVIC’s success in achieving the destruction of al Samoud missiles—which had a longer range than permitted under U.N. resolutions—and beginning interviews with knowledgable weapons scientists under satisfactory conditions made no difference in the Bush administration’s persistent contention that the inspection effort had failed.

In Disarming Iraq, Blix describes meticulously his role in the diplomatic dance leading up to the invasion. He does so with careful accounts of his consultations with Western leaders and his Iraqi interlocutors, and generally refraining from speculation about events to which he was not party. He makes no excuses for the inadequacy of Iraqi cooperation; but he uses no hyperbole in describing evidence of Iraqi non-compliance. He is refreshingly honest in explaining sympathetically the real-world dilemmas faced by the United States and other members of the Security Council in trying to secure compliance from a recalcitrant Iraqi government. Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty and Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies offer authoritative inside looks at an administration obsessed with removing Saddam. Blix provides the perspective on U.S. Iraq policies of a key outsider, whose actions and judgments were seen as an ever present danger to the war party in Washington.

That Blix understood the administration’s tactics in early 2003 is readily evident from a chapter title in his book: “Bashing Blix and ElBaradei.” But just as his measured language in the face of Iraqi actions infuriated administration officials in the months prior to war, so the lack of purple prose in Blix’s book will frustrate some critics of the Bush administration today. Instead of registering open contempt for the arguments of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice—e.g., that Iraq was allowing its al Samoud missiles to be destroyed “just to mislead,” Blix comments that he “always found our talks straight forward…She relied on rational arguments, not on the authority of her position.”

Acknowledging that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003 speech to the UN Security Council was probably intended to discredit the work of his inspectors, Blix nonetheless notes that Powell did so “implicitly and in a courteous manner.” In response to Powell’s sophistic use of evidence, Blix recalls his immediate reaction that the “interesting” cases described would “need to be examined critically by our experts.” Blix also has the magnanimity to credit David Kay’s contributions to the UNSCOM inspections, even though prior to a well-publicized post-war conversion as head of the Iraq Survey Group, Kay was one of his most vociferous critics. Indeed, only Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf earns Blix’s open scorn.

Whatever resentment or frustration Blix harbored, he remained focused throughout the lead-up to war on trying to convince Iraq of the urgent need to demonstrate that it had destroyed its past unconventional weapons and had dismantled equipment and facilities that could produce future weapons. Meanwhile, as Bush secretly ordered war and pretended to give Saddam a final chance to come clean, Woodward reports that “Some in Bush’s war cabinet believed Blix was a liar…not reporting everything and not doing all the things he maintained he was doing.” Future historians will no doubt marvel at this psychological projection by those who had already decided on war.

In Disarming Iraq, Blix offers valuable insights in understanding the inspection function. Just as his writing displays the kind of judicial temperament needed to fulfill the role of inspector, his tips for inspectors and advocacy of a strengthened international civil service constitute an excellent primer on the task. Future inspectors can be expected to emulate the behavioral and attitudinal patterns Blix established.

As rich as the book is, one could wish for a little more. Blix noted that intelligence organizations err on the alarmist side of estimates, but he could have also explained why intelligence organizations are sometimes obligated by governments to make guesses when confidence levels are insufficient. From a professional analyst’s perspective, it was the failure to properly label confidence levels about the existence of chemical and biological weapons that was more objectionable than getting the wrong answer. While acknowledging in his book the primacy of the nuclear category among “weapons of mass destruction,” Blix could also be faulted for doing little to counter the deliberate conflation of nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile categories under the “WMD” label by the Bush administration.

Following the invasion, Blix realized that “the UN and the world had succeeded in disarming Iraq without knowing it.” The intriguing question remains: Could Blix have gained that knowledge with a few more months of inspections in 2003 and were there ways that the danger of Security Council fatigue could have been warded off in the meantime?

Greg Thielmann retired in 2002 as director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.


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A Review of Disarming Iraq by Hans Blix

Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution on Denying Terrorists WMD

Wade Boese

The UN Security Council April 28 unanimously adopted a resolution calling on states to take steps to deny and punish terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. Despite its seemingly unobjectionable purpose, however, the U.S.-initiated resolution required several months of debate and revisions before winning approval.

In its final form, the legally binding resolution demands that all states adopt and enforce “appropriate, effective” laws and measures, such as export and border controls, to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, as well as missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles designed to deliver such arms. What constitutes “appropriate” and “effective” is not specified, however, and is left up to each state to determine “in accordance with their national procedures.”

Each state is also ordered to impose controls and safeguards on related materials that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The resolution further encourages states to work together to block any terrorist attempts to build, buy, steal, or trade dangerous weapons. Although China succeeded in removing the word “interdiction” from the resolution, the concept remains in a more ambiguous phrase calling on states to “take cooperative action to prevent illicit trafficking.” Beijing’s concerns stemmed from its wariness toward the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, which is a loose coalition of 14 countries committed to intercepting threatening arms shipments at sea, in the air, and on land.

The measure also urges states to provide assistance to those without sufficient expertise or resources to implement the resolution.

James Cunningham, deputy U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, said April 28 that the resolution aims to check terrorists “seeking to exploit weak export control laws and security measures in a variety of countries.”

A U.S. official interviewed April 29 by Arms Control Today further explained that the purpose behind the resolution is to provide governments with the authority and leverage to do “everything within their jurisdiction to stop proliferators.”

Within six months, governments are supposed to submit a report on their intentions or completed actions under the resolution to a special committee charged with reporting on its implementation. Answering to the Security Council, the committee will operate for two years.

President George W. Bush first called for a resolution criminalizing proliferation in a Sept. 23, 2003, address to the UN General Assembly. (See ACT, October 2003.) It took the U.S. government nearly three months to draft its original proposal, another three months to convince the other four permanent members of the Security Council—China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom—to back it, and one last month to win the support of the rest of the 15-member Security Council.

“The negotiation process was not easy,” Germany’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said after the Security Council’s action. Germany held the council’s presidency in April, and U.S. officials wanted to get the resolution passed before the top position rotated in May to Pakistan, the member that expressed the greatest unease with the resolution.

Along with many other states, Germany voiced one of the central criticisms of the initial resolution: its lack of any reference to disarmament. Berlin and other capitals argued that nonproliferation and disarmament go hand in hand and that the surest way of preventing terrorists from getting weapons of mass destruction was for all states to eliminate such arms from their own arsenals.

The resolution now mentions disarmament in its preamble, partially satisfying Germany and other like-minded states. “We would have preferred, however, to see it highlighted in the operative section as well,” Pleuger stated.

Another primary concern of many states was the perception that the U.S. draft resolution initially authorized the use of sanctions and force.

The United Kingdom, the measure’s other leading champion, argued otherwise. “The resolution is not about coercion or enforcement,” assured Adam Thomson, who is the United Kingdom’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, in an April 22 debate on the resolution.

Pleuger attempted to clarify any lingering doubts following the Security Council’s approval. “The resolution does not foresee any unilateral enforcement measures,” he said, adding that any attempt to punish states for not living up to the resolution would require another Security Council decision.

The U.S. official interviewed April 29, however, dismissed the notion that the resolution lacked teeth. Noting that the council adopted the resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which recognizes punitive actions to preserve peace and security, the official stated, “[I]t’s the toughest mandate that the [United Nations] can give.”

Some states expressed concern that the resolution might be used to supplant existing arms control treaties and infringe on their treaty rights, such as the right to possess nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The resolution states, however, that “none of the obligations set forth in this resolution shall be interpreted so as to conflict with or alter the rights and obligations” of states-parties to the NPT or other arms control accords.

Pakistan feared the resolution might be used to pressure it to give up its nuclear arsenal. An early draft of the resolution mentioned the “importance” of all states to “adopt and fully implement” existing arms control agreements. Pakistan is not a member of the NPT, which does not recognize the possession of nuclear weapons by Pakistan, India, or Israel. To mollify Pakistan, the resolution’s exhortation was modified to apply only to current treaty states-parties.

Another amendment made to the resolution to satisfy Pakistan was a clarification that the resolution applies only to the future. Islamabad was clearly motivated by the desire to insulate itself against any attempt by other governments to punish or pressure it to take additional actions related to the exposure earlier this year of a massive international nuclear smuggling ring headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb program. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Pakistani Ambassador to the UN Munir Akram indicated April 28 that Pakistan considered the matter closed and that the resolution would not obligate Pakistan to cooperate with any government that felt differently or compel Pakistan to provide greater transparency of its weapons programs. “Pakistan will not accept any demand for access, much less inspections, of our nuclear and strategic assets, materials and facilities,” Akram said.





The UN Security Council April 28 unanimously adopted a resolution calling on states to take steps to deny and punish terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery...

U.S. Nonproliferation Resolution Advances at UN

Wade Boese

A U.S. effort at the United Nations aimed at preventing nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons has advanced. After months of talks, Washington March 24 formally submitted the anti-proliferation resolution to the UN Security Council for approval after winning agreement from other major capitals on acceptable wording.

President George W. Bush first proposed the resolution in a Sept. 23, 2003, address to the UN General Assembly. (See ACT, October 2003.) The final language calls on states to “refrain from providing any form of support to non-state actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery.”

If the resolution is passed, governments would be duty bound to strengthen and enforce their domestic laws, export controls, and border controls against the sale, transfer, and theft of weapons of mass destruction and missiles from their territories by nonstate actors. The resolution orders that these measures be “appropriate” and “effective” without spelling out exactly what such terms entail.

A spokesman at the U.S. Mission to the UN told Arms Control Today March 25 that standards had not yet been developed to guide judgments on whether a particular government was living up to the terms of the resolution. Appropriate punishments for any violations also remain to be decided, although the official confirmed that a government not complying with the resolution might be threatened with sanctions or military force.

The resolution encourages states capable of doing so to help others that may lack the “legal and regulatory infrastructure, implementation experience and/or resources” to take action under it.
A Security Council committee would be established for “no more than six months” to monitor implementation of the resolution. Governments would be required to file reports on their activities under the resolution within 90 days of its adoption by the Security Council.

Nine of the 15 Security Council members, including all five permanent members, will need to approve the resolution for it to become binding. The United States had been negotiating with the council’s four other permanent members—China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom—since December to secure their support for the resolution.

Washington reportedly worked the hardest to win over Beijing, although one U.S. official remarked March 25 that, “at one point or another, everybody had objected to something.”
China’s resistance to early drafts of the resolution stemmed from its opposition to the explicit use of “interdiction.” Beijing is concerned about the legality of intercepting ships suspected of carrying deadly arms or related materials.

The United States, which is spearheading a 14-state effort—the Proliferation Security Initiative—to interdict threatening arms shipments around the globe, removed the controversial word. However, the resolution does urge states to “take cooperative action to prevent illicit trafficking.” Ambassador John Negroponte, the U.S. representative to the UN, stated March 24 “There’s nothing in this resolution that precludes the continuation of the Proliferation Security Initiative.”

Negroponte told reporters that the resolution is “not meant to supercede, undercut, or undermine existing disarmament and nonproliferation regimes.” The intent, he explained, is to complement current arms control treaties by extending prohibitions against weapons beyond states.

The 15 Security Council members convened expert groups to begin consideration of the resolution March 25. There is no certainty as to when they will come to a final conclusion, but Negroponte said, “We hope to move this forward as expeditiously as possible.”





A U.S. effort at the United Nations aimed at preventing nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons has advanced. After months of talks...

Wassenaar Endorses Steps to Deny Terrorists Arms

Wade Boese

The United States and 32 other leading arms exporters Dec. 12 endorsed voluntary steps to make it more difficult for terrorists to acquire conventional arms and dual-use goods that could be used to build weapons of mass destruction.

As part of an annual year-end meeting of the Wassenaar Arrangement, its 33 members agreed to stiffen export controls on shoulder-launched missiles, institute tougher laws regulating arms brokers, and exchange information on their exports of small arms and light weapons. Established in July 1996, the Wassenaar Arrangement commits its members to share data on their arms exports and regulations with the aim of preventing other countries from building up destabilizing arms stockpiles.

U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Brill, who chaired the Dec. 10-12 plenary, described it in a postmeeting press conference as achieving “some of the most significant progress” ever by the voluntary regime. He said, “These are all the kinds of items that are very practical and relevant in a day-to-day sense because it is conventional weapons that kill people.”

Washington and many other capitals view the possibility that a terrorist group could acquire shoulder-launched missiles, formally known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), as one of the most serious threats to civilians today. To better address that danger, Wassenaar members agreed to update guidelines for controlling MANPADS exports that they previously agreed to three years ago. (See ACT, January/February 2001.)

The revised guidelines stress that decisions to export shoulder-fired missiles should only be made at a “senior policy level.” The earlier version simply recommended that “competent authorities” should decide whether to make a deal.

To guard against MANPADS being stolen and misused, members are calling for all newly manufactured missiles to be equipped with features—“as such technologies become available to” producers—that only permit authorized users to fire them. Countries are also encouraged to destroy any excess missiles that they possess or to help other countries dispose of their extras to cut down on the chances that they might fall into the wrong hands.

The United States is currently planning or involved in projects aiming to destroy up to 10,000 excess MANPADS in several countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Liberia, and Serbia and Montenegro. Washington is working out the details of a destruction program with Nicaragua.

In addition to reporting on any future MANPADS exports, members will also share information on unscrupulous buyers, as well as those that fail to live up to their obligations to safely secure the missiles they purchase.

Members are further urged to adopt “adequate penalty provisions” for those that violate MANPADS export controls.

More generally, Wassenaar members agreed that penalty provisions needed to be established and enforced for any illegitimate arms brokering activities regardless of the type of weapons involved. In a document titled “Elements for Effective Legislation on Arms Brokering,” the 33 countries pledged to regulate better the activities of arms brokers on their territories and consider limiting the number of individuals and firms authorized to do such work.

Members also agreed to exert greater vigilance over exports of dual-use goods to recipients subject to arms embargos if the item is intended for a military end-use. Dual-use goods are defined as those that can be used both for civilian and military purposes.

In a move pushed by some Wassenaar members for years, the 33 countries added a new weapons-reporting category. Twice per year, members exchange information on their deliveries of heavy weapons, such as tanks and combat aircraft. In the future, they will also report on exports of small arms and light weapons, including revolvers, rifles, and machine guns.

The minimum threshold criterion for reports on exports of artillery systems was also lowered from 100 millimeters to 75 millimeters to capture some types of mortars.

This spate of activity by Wassenaar members at their December meeting stemmed in part from the fact that they had just concluded a year-long assessment of the regime and were primed for action. A U.S. government official said that all Wassenaar members had started the year with a shared priority of strengthening controls on MANPADS.

The next Wassenaar plenary is scheduled for this coming December in Vienna, and the next comprehensive review of the regime is scheduled for 2007.






The United States and 32 other leading arms exporters Dec. 12 endorsed voluntary steps to make it more difficult for terrorists to acquire conventional arms and dual-use goods that could be used to build weapons of mass destruction.

WMD Security Draws U.S. Government Attention

Christine Kucia

The Bush administration recently launched several programs to deal with securing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) worldwide, particularly radiological materials that could be combined with conventional explosives to form so-called dirty bombs.

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Nov. 3 formed a Nuclear Radiological Threat Reduction Task Force to control radiological materials by identifying and securing high-risk materials—especially abandoned sources—both in the United States and overseas, and identifying vulnerable research reactors worldwide needing further assistance securing their fresh and spent nuclear fuel. The task force will consolidate the Energy Department’s efforts in the United States and abroad.

According to NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks, the effort “shows Secretary [of Energy Spencer] Abraham’s commitment to meeting the threat posed by nuclear and radiological terrorism on a global basis.” Edward McGinnis, head of the task force, told Arms Control Today Nov. 18 that the program will address the “full spectrum” of threat reduction by not only providing security for radiological materials “but also [by] working [with governments] to develop a regulatory infrastructure, and an effective one.” The new program will work closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the State Department.

The Energy Department task force is, in part, an attempt to address concerns raised in an August 2003 General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the security of radiological sources in the United States. According to the GAO, the United States has approximately 2 million sealed radioactive sources that may be used in medicine, construction, or other industries. More than 1,300 incidents of missing sources in the past five years showed inconsistencies in U.S. licensing and material control practices. Further, an April 2003 GAO report found that storage facilities for sensitive material are insufficient and that the Office of Environmental Management does not place a high priority on its domestic material recovery responsibilities. The Energy Department transferred this work to the task force. McGinnis noted that the task force’s consolidation of the department’s programs “does address very well that particular recommendation by the GAO that we ensure that importance is given organizationally” to securing dangerous materials in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Department of State has created a program to fill the gaps in international control of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological materials. The Dangerous Materials Initiative was first mentioned by John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, in an Oct. 30 speech in London. Bolton told Arms Control Today Nov. 4 that the program “is intended to supplement a lot of the activity that we’ve had in export controls [and] border controls.” The initiative will focus on identifying needs that may not already be addressed by existing programs and helping countries develop near-term pilot projects that could lead to the establishment of long-term, sustainable systems of materials control. This new program aims to complement efforts already being carried out by the Energy Department and international agencies, according to the State Department.

Additionally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is ramping up its efforts to prevent illegal WMD acquisition. The bureau formed a new WMD section to raise the profile of the threat domestically and to allocate additional resources to identify possible threats, prepare its response to potential attacks, and prosecute offenders. The new section will not be responsible for material control, which is already supervised by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Department.




The Bush administration recently launched several programs to deal with securing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) worldwide, particularly...

Battle Brewing Over Congressional Investigations

As Congress probes the Bush administration’s failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, battle lines are forming over how far the investigations should go. The Republican chairs of both the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence are eager to limit political damage to the White House and have limited their inquiries to examining how the intelligence community carried out its work.

Democrats insist the panels need to look beyond the quality of information that was supplied to President George W. Bush. They also want the investigations to look at whether Bush or his aides intentionally exaggerated claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities in order to bolster their case for war. “I think the central question here is, frankly: Was there a predetermination to go to war on the part of the administration….Or was there faulty intelligence,” Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an appearance Oct. 26 on Meet the Press.

Republicans dispute the idea that Bush intentionally misled the American people. Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told USA Today and the Washington Post that his inquiry found no evidence that the White House pressured intelligence officials.

Roberts’ assessment was bolstered to some extent by remarks from Carl W. Ford Jr., the State Department’s newly retired intelligence chief. The intelligence community “has to bear the major responsibility for WMD information in Iraq and other intelligence failures,” Ford said in remarks published in the Oct. 29 Los Angeles Times. “We badly underperformed for a number of years,” he
added, “and the information we were giving the policy community was off the mark.”

But at a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Oct. 24, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said the intelligence committee’s inquiry is “missing half” the issue. Levin is conducting his own inquiry, and Rockefeller has said he will launch an additional committee review to look at the administration’s use of intelligence if the majority refuses to do so.

Both Senate Democrats and Republicans grouse about the administration’s willingness to cooperate with the investigations. On Oct. 29, Roberts and Rockefeller sent a sharply-worded letter to CIA Director George Tenet after he demanded that top CIA officials be given the opportunity to respond to the panel’s preliminary findings. The letter called for the agency to provide the panel with needed information and schedule any interviews within two days. “The committee has been patient,” the senators wrote, “but we need immediate access to this information.”

The battle over the congressional investigations follows news that the Iraq Survey Group has so far failed to find actual weapons in Iraq. The head weapons inspector of that group, David Kay, received a mixed response from Congress when he briefed the House and Senate intelligence committees Oct. 2 on his “interim progress” report. Neither party could be said to be overjoyed, however, particularly after Kay told lawmakers that he needed another six to nine months and more than half-a-billion dollars to complete what many see as a fruitless investigation. The Bush administration is seeking an additional $600 million for Kay to continue his search, part of an $87 billion fiscal 2004 supplemental spending bill to pay for reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To be sure, there were some Republicans who saw bright spots in the report. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, took an entirely different spin from his colleagues. “Basically, I think the news is extremely good,” he stated, contending that Kay’s report actually reaffirms the administration’s decision to go to war. —With Roxane Assaf






As Congress probes the Bush administration’s failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, battle lines are forming over how far the investigations should go.

GAO Covertly Buys Bioweapons Gear from Defense Department


The General Accounting Office (GAO), the auditing and investigative agency for Congress, disclosed in a congressional hearing Oct. 7 that it was able to purchase surplus laboratory and safety gear from the Defense Department that could be used in weaponizing biological agents. The discovery raised serious concerns about the widespread availability and resale of the equipment and follows reports by GAO and other federal agencies that poor oversight and lax controls at U.S. laboratories increased the odds that biological agents may have been stolen or improperly transferred.

According to the testimony, the agency established a fictitious company for the purposes of its study and purchased $46,960 worth of Defense Department biological laboratory equipment and safety gear over the Internet for $4,100. GAO investigators procured a bacteriological incubator, centrifuge, laboratory evaporator, and protective clothing from govliquidation.com, a surplus equipment reseller for the Defense Department.

The study also found that some equipment supplied by the Defense Department to other purchasers had been resold to buyers in countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates, which have been known to retransfer defense-related items to countries alleged to be state sponsors of terrorism and prohibited from acquiring certain U.S. technologies. However, current federal regulations and Defense Department policies “do not generally restrict [the Defense Department] from selling our case study biological equipment to the public,” GAO reported, which allows for resale beyond U.S. end-use controls.

A full GAO report with recommendations on improving controls over sensitive equipment is forthcoming.


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