Rome '08 Workshop

The Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction-What Are the Real Threats and How Should We Respond?

Jiri Šedivý

NATO Assistant Secretary General

Jiri Šedivý

One could argue that NATO's concerns about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are not new and that its response to this threat has been high on the Allies' political and military agendas since the days of the Cold War. However, it is also true that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and since the early 1990s, NATO's attention and concerns have shifted and broadened, and that in the last decade we have become increasingly concerned with the consequences of secondary proliferation and by the risk of use of such weapons by nonstate actors.


One of NATO's first structural responses to these threats was initiated by the 1994 Alliance Policy Framework on WMD proliferation. This document stated that the principal nonproliferation goal of the Alliance and its members is to prevent proliferation from occurring or, should it occur, to reverse it through diplomatic means. At the same time we also recognized that political and diplomatic efforts may not always be successful and that we therefore also need a strong defense posture to protect ourselves and to respond to the possible threat or use of weapons of mass destruction. This dual approach that relies on both political and defense efforts has remained unchanged since, and I would argue for good reason, because it continues to be a solid basis for our future work.

The Alliance's Strategic Concept, adopted at the Washington Summit in April 1999, recognized "that proliferation can occur despite efforts to prevent it and can pose a direct military threat to the Allies' populations, territory, and forces." At that summit we launched the WMD Initiative to respond to the risks posed by the spread of WMD and their means of delivery. As part of this initiative we further increased intelligence and information sharing among Allies, strengthened our common understanding of the risks and challenges facing us, and increased the ability of our forces to operate in WMD environments.


Looking beyond NATO's agenda and record, we note that a number of new initiatives have been launched and developed in recent years; for example, the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, and the different Joint Actions of the Council of the European Union. Existing international instruments have also been strengthened. We have witnessed the indefinite and unconditional extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, efforts to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the entry into force and the move towards universalization of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency and the OPCW, Ambassador Pfirter's organization, as well as the U.N. Security Council have been efficiently and relentlessly fulfilling their nonproliferation mission with a number of resolutions in recent years.

What the last decade tells us is this: There is no single solution to the proliferation challenge; no one has a single, ideal answer; and the proliferation threat is best met with the coordinated actions of the broader international community, combining the efforts of nations, international governmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations and encouraging the active participation of industry.

NATO for its part has developed a good working relationship with all of the above-mentioned institutions. Recently we undertook a number of activities related to Resolution 1540 , we continue to support the implementation of the PSI, and we continue to follow closely the development of all other initiatives and nonproliferation regimes. Thus NATO is part of a growing global consensus that views proliferation of WMD as unacceptable in today's civilized society. We are indeed part of an ever-growing "network of networks" creating a web of denial and, we hope, stopping and rolling back illicit proliferation activities.


One of NATO's greatest assets in the present security environment is the different partnerships and close relationships that our organization maintains with many countries in the Euro-Atlantic area, the Mediterranean and Gulf regions, and around the globe. We have already put this asset to very good use in the field of nonproliferation. In fact, one of NATO's largest outreach activities is the Seminar on Proliferation Issues, which enjoys the high-level participation of more than 65 countries from 5 continents and a number of international organizations. This is an informal annual conference that started in Rome in 2004 and whose next session will be held in Berlin on November 13 and 14, 2008.

Another international activity, which we organized for the first time in 2008, is the CBRN Defense Table-Top Exercise, which gathered professionals from NATO and partner countries across the globe to exchange practical expertise in this field and discuss the possibilities for cooperation and mutual assistance. In the field of CBRN defense you certainly know that NATO launched five initiatives that were endorsed in 2002 at our summit, held in my hometown of Prague. Some of these initiatives formed the core of the CBRN Defense Battalion, which in 2007 was renamed Combined Joint CBRN Defense Task Force. These initiatives are largely implemented by NATO's military authorities, but organizational and political support is also provided by the WMD Center, which was established in 2000 and is one of the larger departments within my division.

We should also not forget an important contribution by NATO to the fight against terrorism- Operation Active Endeavor, the Alliance's maritime operation in the Mediterranean. We are currently reviewing the deployment of CBRN/WMD detection capabilities onboard vessels participating in this operation, which will improve NATO's maritime interdiction capability. We also watch with interest the related developments within the United Nations Law of the Sea's WMD Interdiction-related protocols.

Although I'm not aiming to make a complete account of NATO's activities, I cannot omit our contribution to education and training in this field. We recently established a Center of Excellence in the Czech Republic that is especially devoted to the issues of CBRN defense. Interested national authorities may directly contact this center, which is situated in Vyškov. In addition, the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, and the NATO Defense College in Rome provide regular training on WMD issues and include partner nations in many of their courses.


The main message I want to pass on today is that we need to meet the proliferation threat with a joint and firm response from the entire international community. International organizations, backed by the unconditional support of all our countries, must continue to work together, possibly even more closely in the future, to attain our primary goal: preventing proliferation from happening or reversing it as early, rapidly, and effectively as possible.

Top of page | Home | ©2009 Center for Strategic Decision Research