Center for Strategic Decision Research

Paris '07 Workshop

How to Reduce WMD Proliferation: the New Risks and Responses

Dr Arthur Hopkins, Special Assist to US Sec of Defense with Am. Pfirter

Arthur T. Hopkins, Ph.D.
Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense
for Nuclear & Chemical & Biological Warfare


Dr. Arthur T. Hopkins (right), U.S. Special Assistant to the Sec. of Defense, with Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter.

"The most efficient and effective measures are taken upfront, early in the process, when nonproliferation
measures such as treaties, agreements, and other cooperative measures can actually unite nations
in dialogue about their common goals for global threat reduction. But nonproliferation measures
have limits, some of which are reached when national interests override and universality is
not achieved, most notably as a result of threats from non-state actors.


My thanks go to Dr. Roger Weissinger-Baylon for the kind invitation to again participate in this important workshop. Last year’s Berlin discussions and the current participation of so many thoughtful people have created high expectations for this year’s gathering. The diversity of opinion, just within this group, is a basis for understanding the most important elements of global security and serves as strong testimony to the fact that we do share so many interests and values. However, we all recognize that our common interests in global security are gravely threatened by the prospects of global terrorism, and by potential threats from the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.


My comments today will start with updating what I reported last year: the risks of, and the responses to, proliferation. Today I would like to offer some observations on new risks and responses

         In June 2006, the risks of nuclear, chemical, and biological proliferation were well recognized. We noted the increasing numbers of nations that wanted to acquire nuclear weapons. Public headlines about Dr. A. Q. Khan were fresh and discussions with North Korea and Iran were major news, best described as difficult. Medical pandemics were also in the news, and the growing biological threat potential was becoming common knowledge. Now, a year later, North Korea has conducted a nuclear test and Iran is further along with its enrichment programs. We still haven’t identified the anthrax attacker in the U.S. and Iraq has seen the use of toxic industrial chemicals as indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction.

          In April of 2007, the New York Times reported in a front-page story, with the headline “Fears of an Arms Race,” that a dozen states in the Middle East are seeking International Atomic Energy Agency help in starting nuclear programs. The article went on to note that “the rush of activity is intended to counter the threat of a nuclear Iran.” Turkey and Egypt are specifically identified, and Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates are said to be considering, or planning for, nuclear power. The Wall Street Journal summarized nuclear proliferation quite succinctly: “The problem with nuclear weapons today can be summed up as follows: They are going out of fashion where they are needed most, and coming into fashion where they are needed least.”

          In addition to nuclear concerns, other threats have evolved over the past year.  For example, biotechnology remains a major concern as dual-use technologies make counterproliferation more difficult and genetic engineering leads to prospects of threats that might actually diminish the value of existing vaccines and countermeasures. Nanotechnology that could be used to enhance biochemical agents or evade medical countermeasures is a growing concern. The emerging public health threats are gaining more attention, especially when coupled with the accelerating vectors provided by global connectivity and modern transportation. And with respect to chemicals, we’ve recently seen a toxic industrial chemical, chlorine, used as a terrorist weapon.

          At the same time, there have been some positive developments. It has been a productive year in terms of securing nuclear weapons and materials in some former Soviet states. It also has been a remarkable and productive year in chemical weapons destruction. The holding of conferences such as this one during the past year indicate that international awareness and concern are growing. 


When we talk about reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction, we have learned from history that there is no single action that will make the world safer. In practice, we have to take a number of steps to dissuade the acquisition of WMD, prevent its use, identify bad actors, assure that we have the ability to retaliate effectively, and recover from a WMD attack if necessary. A framework that includes the three elements of nonproliferation, counterproliferation, and consequence management helps to organize our thinking and underscores the fact that each is necessary, but not one is solely sufficient, to reduce global threats.  

The most efficient and effective measures are taken upfront, early in the process, when nonproliferation measures such as treaties, agreements, and other cooperative measures can actually unite nations in dialogue about their common goals for global threat reduction. But nonproliferation measures have limits, some of which are reached when national interests override and universality is not achieved, most notably as a result of threats from non-state actors.  Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of nonproliferation’s cooperative nature, counterproliferation options are necessary to help with deterrence. But experience has taught that investments such as missile defense and offensive counterforce weapons are very expensive and also potentially limited in reducing WMD threats. 

          The third element of this framework, the ability to manage the consequences of WMD use, is absolutely necessary, but certainly not sufficient, to reduce threats.  Like the other two categories, nonproliferation and counterproliferation, recovery from a WMD attack would be time consuming, imperfect at best, and expensive in both dollars and, most importantly, in terms of human lives.

          Overall, global security does require all the elements of nonproliferation, counterproliferation, and consequence management, but the challenge is defining the balance among them. Realistically, the nature of WMD threat reduction is that no one nation has a monopoly on the science, technology, and intellectual capacity needed to dissuade or prevent or otherwise deny proliferation or use. 

          At the last workshop I noted three imperatives for controlling the risks of proliferation: #1—controlling nuclear proliferation; #2—controlling WMD materials; and #3—sustaining strong international partnerships. It is interesting to look at events a year later and assess where we stand with respect to nuclear, chemical, and biological threat reduction progress.           


          With respect to controlling WMD materials, at the 2006 workshop I talked about the limited success of the Nonproliferation Treaty, the need for full implementation of the IAEA Safeguards Additional Protocol, and the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP, concept. GNEP is a way to support international nonproliferation goals. It is a concept for partnering to develop advanced safeguards and security technology and protect against the diversion of nuclear materials. It is interesting to note that, according to the BBC, the Russian offer to assist Iranian nuclear development apparently contained what they called a “confidential protocol” that included provisions similar to GNEP for returning spent fuel rods to Russia. GNEP, along with the Proliferation Security Initiative (a global effort to stop trafficking of WMD) and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, are potentially effective nonproliferation measures to reduce nuclear threats. Their common thread is global partnership.

          One new idea that would support nuclear nonproliferation is based on attribution. So far, much of the serious technical and political thinking about reining in nuclear proliferation has focused on denying proliferators the ability to successfully attack. Complementing the deterrence of proliferation by denial, an interesting dialogue has been taking place on the possible effectiveness of deterrence through attribution.

          What’s new here is the prospect of multinational partnerships in forensics, with technologies, techniques, and data shared among nations that have developed nuclear weapons or are producing fissile material for peaceful purposes. With collaboration and technology sharing, teams of nations could enable nuclear forensics experts to determine the origin of nuclear weapons, fission fragments, and fissile material. The experts would do so with enough authority and credibility to deter nuclear threats and proliferation by essentially insuring attribution and denying the sanctuary of anonymity. A potential benefit may be dissuading both suppliers and terrorists by essentially fingerprinting the nuclear materials to identify the aggressors and their outlaw collaborators. Articles in the October 2006 Nonproliferation Review and the spring 2007 Washington Quarterly both discuss the strategic and political issues as well as the technical hurdles in creating an international nuclear forensics capability. Perhaps this forum will help. 


          Earlier I mentioned the recent terrorist use in Iraq of the chemical chlorine as a weapon. In April 2007, a suicide bomber used a truck with explosives and chlorine to kill 27 people. Three other attacks with chlorine sickened—that is, burned the lungs of—350 civilians. In addition to the obvious humanitarian, legal, and treaty concerns, these actions highlight the need for all nations to examine and strengthen industrial security and transportation practices for toxic industrial chemicals.

          During the year before the workshop, I had the privilege of delivering periodic progress reports on the U.S. chemical weapons destruction program to the 182-nation Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, in The Hague. The worldwide commitments, and especially the U.S. and Russian efforts to destroy what is the overwhelming majority of the world’s stockpile of chemical weapons, are true success stories. These nations committed billions of dollars and rubles, respectively, to eliminate all chemical weapons by 2012. Both nations also learned to deal with the tyranny of timetables when safety, not just a timeline, is the metric that’s most important to citizens. We have also all learned to deal with technical surprises and with munitions that are over 50 years old and not really designed to be demilitarized in a safe, controlled environment. We also have learned how to successfully address the concerns of local communities, environmental advocates, regulatory communities, and political stresses. Both countries are now on track to meet near-term destruction goals and are setting the example for collaboration and cooperation for possessor states. 

          In fact, in addition to living up to our commitment to completely destroy our Cold War legacy stockpile of 30,000 tons of chemical weapons, the United States continues to be the world’s most generous partner in chemical threat reduction efforts. We are in the final stages of our $1.039 billion program to assist Russia in constructing a chemical weapons destruction facility at a place in Siberia called Shchuch’ye. That facility will greatly contribute to Russia’s ability to live up to its commitment to destroy its 40,000-ton chemical weapons stockpile. 

          Our active support of both Russia and Albania is just one element of another success story, the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. Fifteen years after its inception, the program has not only contributed to chemical weapons destruction, but it has also strengthened the security of nuclear stockpiles, eliminated hundreds of strategic offensive systems, enhanced security at biological research facilities in former Soviet states, and generally created an atmosphere in which shared goals and mutual trust have enabled many nations, some former adversaries, to unite in the interest of reducing WMD threats. CTR is one of several U.S. programs that, in total, have provided more than nine billion dollars of nonproliferation-related assistance to former Soviet states.


          Biological threats are certainly not new. History has seen the use of filth, cadavers, animal carcasses, and contagion in attacks on armies, civilian populations, and food and water supplies. Worldwide literature even includes stories of how fleas from plague-infested rats could be used by terrorists to start a plague epidemic.  Fortunately, most state-sponsored offensive programs have been stopped, and replaced by defensive programs for detection, protection, vaccines, and therapeutics.

          What is new, however, is DNA synthesis technology. The ability to synthesize novel life forms (or genomics) could lead to much that is good for society, such as novel treatments for diseases and new ways to prevent infections. It also has the potential to be misused, to create dangerous pathogens. This especially dangerous dual-use technology will require special attention, and strategies, to prevent its misuse. 

          The U.S. National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity has been looking at the effectiveness of national policies and regulations to strengthen biosecurity, to develop recommendations for more efficient and effective oversight of dual-use life science research, and to help foster international dialogue. The board concluded that it is possible to construct infectious agents from synthetic or recombinant DNA fragments. It certainly isn’t easy, and the process requires some art, but the technology is internationally available. (Note the obvious parallels here with nuclear energy technology.) Currently there are laws against knowingly producing, synthesizing, or engineering select biological pathogens, but one of the board’s key findings is the need for more governance and harmonized international cooperation to provide oversight as well as guidance for the providers of nucleic acids and genomes as well as their consumers, the international research community. 


          All of the previous information just adds to the obvious fact that international cooperation and collaboration will continue to be crucial. Today, no one nation has a monopoly on technical innovation, military capabilities, or operational skill. All the nations that are represented at this workshop, and many that are not, are vitally interested in the same global security concerns. 

          I’d like to leave you with the observation that there are effective solutions, but they are complex and must include the full spectrum of nonproliferation, counterproliferation, and consequence management. All three areas rely on partnerships, and our experience has shown that some key steps have contributed to successful partnerships. These steps include participating in dialogue and collaborating in science and technology, exercises, training, and cooperative threat reduction measures. However, as a U.S. defense policy official stated in testimony to Congress in May 2007: “The first line of defense in combating weapons of mass destruction is international cooperation.” 

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