Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Responding to Proliferation Threats

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Responding to Proliferation Threats

Article excerpt


* Iraq's possession of biological and chemical weapons is indicative that proliferation presents not "theoretical" military problems but significant military threats today.

* Countries of moderate technical capability and economic means are readily able to develop biological weapons.

* The development of biological weapons can be masked by other weapons programs, as well as by dual-use technologies in legitimate biological/pesticide manufacturing and research facilities.

* Many states that possess biological or chemical weapons exist in unstable regions where the possibility of U.S. or coalition military involvement is greatest.

* Most proliferant states aspire to regional hegemony and perceive nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons as asymmetrical counters to the superior conventional forces of opponents.

* A key to deterring the use of biological or chemical weapons lies in developing counterproliferation capabilities (e.g., protective suits, masks, detectors, etc.) that negate the value of using such weapons against U.S. or coalition forces.

Proliferation: A Case in Point

One of the most enduring--and deeply troubling--lessons from the Gulf War is that Iraq, a country of moderate technical capability and economic means, was able to move from biological weapons (BW) research to deployed weapons in only five years. Iraq possessed BW-filled munitions, including bombs and missile warheads; had the technical sophistication to weaponize three different biological agents; and had forward deployed these weapons before the start of Desert Storm. But what is particularly shocking is that these facts were discovered not from mandatory Iraqi declarations to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), or even from more than 30 highly intrusive, UNSCOM inspection missions. Rather, the information came to light only from the belated revelations of an Iraqi defector, Hussein Kamal, who later paid with his life.

The extent and sophistication of the Iraqi BW program--and the suspicions raised by Saddam's recent efforts to prevent UNSCOM inspectors from gaining access to the most sensitive sites--underscores the reality that NBC military threats are not "theoretical" military problems of the future; they are significant military threats today.

The Relevance of Arms Control in Dealing with the BW problem

The recent UNSCOM difficulties with Saddam Hussein notwithstanding, the punitive inspection and verification measures forced on defeated Iraq were an arms controller's dream. They include: mandatory declarations; mandatory UNSCOM interrogation of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program personnel; routine visits to facilities; anywhere/anytime challenge visits; anywhere/anytime sample collection for BW forensics; tagging and random inspection of dual-use equipment; and import controls. Yet, despite all of these measures, the inherently dual-use nature of biological manufacturing facilities enabled (and may still enable) Iraq to hide a "warm" BW capability from UNSCOM inspectors, masquerading it as a bio-pesticide research facility. Indeed, even while subject to the most intense and intrusive inspection regime in history, Iraq was able to upgrade its capability to produce the BW agent, anthrax, from a crude liquid slurry to simulant powders, milled into sizes readily respirable as a BW agent and to perform open air testing of the powder, once again by claiming that it was a bio-pesticide. Anthrax is a highly lethal biological agent, which occurs in nature as spores, particularly around animal stocks. Anthrax can be transmitted cutaneously, by gastro-intestinal infection, or by inhalation. Respiratory infection is the most lethal form of the illness.

The most immediate lesson to be drawn from this experience is that, whereas traditional arms control techniques have utility in counting, monitoring and verifying munitions or munitions-related equipment, such as missile silos, artillery pieces or tanks, the arms control approach is less effective when the armament in question is produced substantially on the basis of dual-use technology, such as in the case of BW. …

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