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Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

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Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

This report reflects the deliberations of the drafting panel on Science and Technology and the Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction that met on March 30, 1995 during the Forum on the Role of Science and Technology in Promoting National Security and Global Stability. The report was compiled by the session drafter and is a summary of the issues raised during the discussion. All points do not necessarily represent the views of all of the participants.

Sheila R. Buckley, Consultant

Government Co-chair: Amy Sands, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
Nongovernment Co-chair: Ben Huberman, Huberman Consulting Group

Jo L. Husbands, National Academy of Sciences

Gerald Epstein, U.S. Office of Technology Assessment
Joseph Pilat, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Donald Cobb, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Myron Kratzer, IAEA
Harry Barnes, Carter Center
Dr. Gary Bertsch, University of Georgia
John Steinbruner, The Brookings Institution
David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security
Ron Lehman, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Dr. George Look, Department of Defense
Dr. Zachary Davis, Congressional Research Service
Peter D. Zimmerman, Zimmerman Associates
Steven Flank, Advanced Research Projects Agency
Marc Dean Millot, RAND
Carole Foryst, Global Technologies Corporation
Ravi Prakah, Embassy of India

Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
--Summary of Drafting Panel Discussion--


Discussion within the drafting Group on "Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction" focused principally on the scope of the WMD problem and on US policy responses. Observations and recommendations emerged concerning the state-sponsored and terrori st WMD threats, US vulnerabilities, available and potential US responses, and the importance of international cooperation. The WMD problem is best addressed through political, economic and regulatory approaches to prevention, buttressed by continued and in some areas enhanced security measures. We will be required increasingly to rely on intelligence, transparency, international law and international cooperation.

Many participants were experienced in the nuclear area and seemed much less familiar with the chemical and biological weapons proliferation threats or with available political and technical measures for dealing with them.

It was recognized that in at least two areas -- intelligence and the US ability to respond to WMD use -- most participants do not have the knowledge to make useful assessments. Generally, it was agreed that quality intelligence bears directly on the success of any nonproliferation efforts, that information on intentions and technical capabilities is especially important, and that a greater willingness to release intelligence in support of policy responses would be useful. Based on available information, participants concluded that US crisis response capabilities were seriously deficient.

Additional relevant topics that could not be sufficiently explored include: missile proliferation and technology transfer; the value of arms control treaties as nonproliferation tools and how effectively they can be implemented; the tension between using denial and provision of technology as policy tools and safeguarding, for commercial reasons, those technologies in which the US has a significant lead; radiological weapons.


The sources of the proliferation problem and the design of appropriate responses both have a higher political than science and technology content. If found, lasting solutions to the WMD proliferation problem will be built on international security, political and economic institutions. Such institutions will reflect strengthened political norms condemning WMD and will offer greater confidence to threshold states that they are not threatened by WMD. Our nonproliferation policies should be attempting to build these institutions with new international rules and treaties, or modification of current organizations to meet the new needs.

Sub-national and state-sponsored terrorism is likely to increase. Political, ethnic and other conflicts remain unresolved, while the information and communications revolutions are creating an expanding reservoir of persons able to share and magnify their grievances, identify vulnerable targets, master technologies, and finance and execute attacks.

The US government is less well structured to deal with WMD terrorism than with more conventional military threats. Our capabilities have not caught up with the changed circumstances of the post-Cold War environment. We are ill-prepared to prevent or respond to situations in which the enemy, the cause, and the targets may initially be unknown, in which deterrence or prevention is extremely difficult, and in which the perpetrators can produce massive damage with a relatively small investment of money and personnel.

Three quite different kinds of weapons comprise the WMD threat. Nuclear weapons are massively destructive, have been developed and deployed by a number of nations, are within the reach of many others, and cannot be defended against. A response-in-kind nuclear deterrence strategy appears to have been successful during the Cold War. Biological weapons could be as devastating as nuclear, but many believe that few governments would assume the risks of developing them. Others note that nations might yield to the temptation of low personnel and financial costs in return for the possible strategic payoff of being able to hold entire nations at risk. Biological weapons can be delivered easily and, given their lethality, with devastating effect. In the event the presence of an agent is detected and immediate measures taken, masking and antidotes can provide some protection. Chemical weapons, though the least destructive, are also easy to make and employ. They are probably most likely, of the three, to be used by terrorists or in international conflicts. The US does not maintain a response-in-kind deterrence posture for chemical or biological weapons.

The range of potentially effective responses to the WMD threat appears quite narrow. As a response to acquisition, export control is a weakening tool. With respect to threat of use -- from explicit blackmail to the political manipulation of an ambiguous capability -- economic and diplomatic pressure, as well as arms control undertakings and the associated moral "norm" of abjuring WMD presumably have some persuasive value. But should these barriers be breached, any government will find that its deterrence capabilities are highly uncertain and its defensive capacities virtually non-existent.

While useful, unilateral and multilateral export controls are increasingly insufficient. Export controls may delay but cannot deny the acquisition or indigenous development of WMD by a determined state. In the nuclear area, while the necessary knowledge and computer power are increasingly available, controls on special nuclear materials and manufacturing components can still be effective in many cases. Accordingly, the shift in US export control policy toward "leveling the playing field" for American commercial interests will have some nuclear proliferation costs. Export controls are less useful in curbing chemical or biological weapons development, primarily because relatively simpler technology is involved, materials are readily available from within even the most rudimentary industrial programs, and costs are manageably low. In terms of international cooperation, few countries have robust export control systems. Russia and China both possess WMD expertise and materials, weak controls, and unreliable internal politics. Hence, they are part of the problem.

For economic, security and humanitarian reasons, the US fosters the diffusion of technologies and scientific knowledge that can enhance WMD capabilities. Economic development eases a country's proliferation paths. This phenomenon is also at play when arms control regimes addressing the various WMD contain the quid of Parties committing to forego weapons systems for the quo of enhanced access to related technology.

Some military components of US nonproliferation strategy are being enhanced. They include planning against the scenario of US troop involvement on a WMD battlefield and being able conventionally to deal with an adversary's WMD facilities. Together, such capabilities are believed to provide some degree of deterrence against WMD use. "Counterproliferation," to the extent that it encompasses these missions, appropriately emphasizes the need for preparedness in an international environment wherein WMD may proliferate. At the same time, justifiably or not, the term has caused consternation among some analysts about the extent of offensive action the US may be prepared to take to prevent proliferation. The role of nuclear weapons in US military strategy vis a vis WMD is unclear.

Enhanced "transparency" -- greater openness of information developed by governments, commercial entities and international institutions -- is critical to future nonproliferation efforts. Transparency has the intrinsic value of increasing the probabilities that illegal or threatening activities will be revealed and governments can be called to account. There will be continued tension between a nation's interests in secrecy and openness. Nevertheless, a panoply of transparency measures ranging from expressed good intentions to new international obligations can begin to create a political culture valuing openness. Such a culture would have to bear additional regulatory burdens imposed on national economies and private transactions, and expanded intrusiveness into private lives. But some argue that the imposition of such costs is already irreversibly underway through the technologies of the information revolution. Moreover, the groundwork for political acceptance of new levels of transparency is already being laid in other contexts, such as recognition of the need for international monitoring and enforceable protection of the global environment.

The goal of greater transparency also responds to the assessment that reduction of the WMD threat will largely depend upon the extent to which nations lower their expectations about the political and security benefits of possessing such capabilities. An international norm valuing information sharing and cooperation should contribute to nations' perceptions that they can do without a WMD hedge. Much as arms control treaty verification and international arms registries are intended to do, new international regulatory and reporting systems could provide states some confidence that neighbors were not making or trading in WMD materials.

Wider release of classified material and reduced protection for private proprietary data would be integral to the new transparency. Standards for government classification are being revised. In areas such as the provision of intelligence and classified technology to international monitoring agencies, our priorities are already adjusting in favor of assisting the organizations. We also can become more bureaucratically agile in making declassification decisions so that technology transfers can be implemented in time to meet urgent needs. While some valuable steps have been taken, such as providing monitoring equipment for Russian use at nuclear storage sites or releasing old satellite photos, a sea change is needed in the way we think about sensitive data.

Non-government organizations have a legitimate role in contributing to US nonproliferation oriented science and technology policy development as well as in fostering international cooperation in nonproliferation efforts. Examples of NGOs with the requisite resources and interests include the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Particular problems can be targeted and efforts made by such organizations constructively to engage scientists in threshold states and other problem countries. Some argue that the US government is insufficiently attuned to the role American scientists could play in influencing the views of their foreign counterparts. They cite US government resistance, for example, to accelerated US-Russian scientific cooperation on the biological weapons problem. They believe we are missing a window of opportunity to draw Russian scientists, including those previously involved with their country's BW program, into alliance with Western scientists. Through such interchange, our scientists and policy makers could benefit from Russian expertise while minimizing the risk of that expertise being sold to would-be proliferators. Others hold that continued Russian unwillingness to open up about its past and perhaps current BW activities has created barriers to cooperation that should not be ignored.

In discussing funding of various cooperative proposals, participants noted that Nunn-Lugar money, though available for non-nuclear purposes, is limited to the Former Soviet Union and in any case unlikely to be released for major new ventures. In support of more generous and flexible funding arrangements for nonproliferation cooperative efforts, it was noted that US public health and emergency response officials should be able to get quickly to disaster sites, such as the Japan gas incidents, in order not only to assist with their expertise but to collect invaluable information.

There are major weaknesses in US and international disaster response capabilities. The US government is becoming better structured for taking swift, coordinated action, but more effort and money are needed. There is no fast-deployable search and disable type capability for chemical or biological weapons analogous to the "NEST" anti-nuclear capability. We are particularly poorly organized to respond to a biological attack. For some biological agents, the fact that they have been used may not become apparent until the emergence of victim symptoms after several hours. Yet successful treatment must be delivered almost immediately after exposure to provide a good prospect for recovery. These circumstances could easily result in levels of panic and demand for health and security services for which we have no previous experience.

There are legitimate concerns about whether research in basic science relevant to nonproliferation is being allowed to lapse. Several participants suggest that it is, and that National Laboratory resources should urgently be directed to redress the problem. The Labs are already structured to engage in multi-disciplinary basic research, to integrate complex problems, and to serve as conduits to potential outside users and beneficiaries of their work. Advocates of further expanding these roles cite past and current Lab contributions to research and development of sensor technologies and Lab provision of experts to US chemical weapons and biological weapons arms control negotiating teams as well as to international institutions such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Provisional Secretariat of the Chemical Weapons Convention.


Export Control

- Given that export controls are a diminishing asset, we should be examining other supply side approaches. In more cases, export controls should be imposed to deny non-WMD goods and technologies to suspect proliferators. This approach should be implemented unilaterally and internationalized if possible.


- A new approach to trade in proliferation-supporting materials and technology should be pursued. National control systems should be developed and international standards negotiated for tracking items in international commerce and safeguarding the movement of certain goods. Technically, we already see steady improvements in our ability to monitor the movement of goods, the procurement of services and expertise, and the financial arrangements that comprise international trade. Politically, new creativity is required

-New and more comprehensive physical protection standards are required.

-Implementation of arms control agreements and subsidiary arrangements affecting the monitoring, destruction and control of WMD should be conducted to maximize transparency. Where feasible, such as in the Biological Weapons Convention, formal enhancements are appropriate. Future agreements should expand upon precedents in data exchange and inspection intrusiveness.

Operational Response

- Civil defense responses to WMD should be internationalized. Public health cooperative planning for responding to the biological weapons threat would be particularly timely.

- A vigorous international health monitoring regime should be created, drawing on the principals of transparency to ensure full and timely disclosure of nations' internal public health problems. It would need to rely upon much more extensive technology and information sharing than governments presently are willing to contemplate. An international registry of biological organisms should be created and new international rules put in place to obligate nations to keep their reporting up to date. Inventories and catalogues should be maintained. The political commitment of major nations is indispensable, especially the US, Russia and China.

-Capabilities for rapid response, diagnosis and treatment in the event of domestic WMD use should be improved, with first emphasis on measures to manage the consequences of a biological agent release.

- Rapid response teams, probably located within the Department of Health and Human Services, should be developed and funded. Advance planning is critical. We should be able to coordinate detection, diagnosis, medical and public health responses, public information and policing.

- Sufficient funds should be allotted for crisis management preparation at the domestic local, state and federal levels.

- The federal infrastructure should be made sufficiently robust to ensure that a response is possible enabling us to identify pathogenic micro-organisms present in either a man-made or natural epidemic.

- When catastrophic activities occur elsewhere, the US should be in a position to establish on-site collaborative research and analysis both to aid the victim country and to ensure that we learn our own lessons from the incident. Advance planning internally and with receptive countries should be accelerated and contingency funds designated.

Scientific Cooperation

- Several participants argued for extensive contact, data exchange and cooperative research in the biological area among scientists, especially Russian and American since both countries have had biological weapons programs. Undertakings could include:

  • joint research and implementation of bilateral health monitoring efforts;
  • a bilateral Protocol on cooperation and joint response in the event of a
  • major natural disease outbreak (to help tie the Russians into "respectable" efforts in the biological field);
  • better US government support of ongoing interchanges between the US and Russian Academy of Sciences Working Groups on the biological weapons problem;
  • US scientists and policy makers eliciting, on an urgent basis, the cooperation of their Russian counterparts in developing biological "rules of the road," such as an international requirement for registration of any research into new strains.

Science and Technology

- We should explore how to organize and fund more basic science in the chemical, nuclear and biological areas. Without a robust base, as the need for new technologies arises our product development responses will be too slow. The kinds of verification, monitoring, communication and information sharing which are important for nonproliferation are dependent on such products. Examples: sensors; reconnaissance; sampling; antidotes.

- The National Laboratories should assume nonproliferation as a core mission additional to their nuclear weapons stewardship mission. They should have greater autonomy and flexibility in research directions. All agreed that past Lab roles of this type had made major contributions and that more basic research, wherever done, was necessary to provide the foundation for scientific and technical developments in detection, verification, prophylactics, treatment and the wide range of other means for curbing or responding to WMD proliferation.

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