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The State Of Weapons Proliferation In 2004

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Washington DC (SPX) Dec 29, 2005
Part 1 - Nuclear. During the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign both President George Bush and his opponent, Senator John Kerry, said nuclear proliferation is the single greatest global threat. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - all possess nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan and Israel have them as well.

Iran and North Korea have been making headlines recently with their efforts to produce them.

On August sixth, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima - immediately killing an estimated 80,000 civilians. Twenty years later there were five declared nuclear weapons states and it was predicted the number could grow to 20 to 30.

To prevent another Hiroshima, the United Nations resolved to ban the acquisition and transfer of nuclear weapons, and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was born. The pact, which now has nearly 190 signatories, took effect in 1970.

In 1995 it was extended indefinitely. But in the decades since its inception, the agreement's effectiveness has been questioned.

Victoria Samson, of the Washington, D.C.Center for Defense Information, says not all countries feel the agreement is fair.

"A big concern of many of the developing countries is that it keeps basically a 'have-have not' sort of circumstance, official; and it allows nuclear weapons states to go on in perpetuity with nuclear weapons and it prevents them (developing countries) from having nuclear programs."

Under the current system, the United Nations holds periodic meetings to assess the status of the non-proliferation treaty. High on the agenda at the next review conference in New York City, in May of 2005, will be be the number of countries pursuing nuclear weapons and the added threat that poses.

In the last year, Iran and North Korea have been accused of renewing their nuclear weapons programs. Libya apparently gave up its program. A black market that helped at least Libya was broken up, and al-Qaeda said it was still trying to get the bomb.

Ms. Samson says, "Nuclear weapons are highly destabilizing and they are truly the only weapons of mass destruction that exist. They have the capability of wiping out millions of people in one fell swoop, so it's something you do not want everyone to have, especially countries that maybe do not have very strong control of their weapons systems."

For some countries the pursuit of nuclear technology is driven by regional rivalries and the desire for self defense. India and Pakistan is one example. Another, the efforts to produce an "Islamic" bomb to counter Israel's weapons. In that climate, pleas for non-proliferation may fall on deaf ears.

Another big concern: nuclear material in the civilian sector. Michael Krepon is the founding president of the Henry L. Stimson Center - a Washington, D.C. institution devoted to promoting international peace and security.

Mr. Krepon says, "There's a lot of nuclear material in the world. The worst of it is related to bomb making, so highly enriched uranium and plutonium. If terrorists can get their hands on that, they could make a mushroom cloud."

Mr. Krepon added, " But there's other kinds of nuclear material that exists in hospitals, for cancer patients, for research labs, and this material cannot make a mushroom cloud, but it can have a huge psychological impact if it is exploded in a city center, or in a subway, in a financial center. 'Dirty bomb' is what we call it. So we have to do a lot more, all of us, in every country, to lock down nuclear materials."

Another problem is what are called "loose nukes" - nuclear material used for weapons that is not properly secured. It is of particular concern in Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Victoria Samson says progress has been made on that, but more money - and more work - are needed. "The Soviet Union had a vast, vast nuclear repository and they've been able to pull in most of the nuclear materials from the former Soviet states. But, even within Russia, you have situations where their facilities are guarded maybe by a lone security watchman with a flashlight. They may have a rusty chain link fence that would protect it. They just don't have the funding to do everything that they should."

Michael Krepon agrees. He says, "Highly enriched uranium, which is the most amenable to manipulation and use by terrorist groups, some of it's not well-guarded still, over a decade after the Cold War ended. So, we have work to do here."

Henry Sokolski, of the Washington, D.C. Nonproliferation Policy Center, says the U.S. is pressing Russia to better protect its nuclear materials, but that does not mean it will happen. "The problem of securing Russian nuclear material is not simply a matter of American priorities and the force feeding of American spending and programs, it's getting the Russians to open up and cooperate."

During the Cold War, the ultimate deterrent to the use of nuclear weapons was mutually assured destruction - the knowledge that a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union against the U.S. - or vice versa - would mean annihilation of both sides.

Charles Pena, of the Washington, D.C. "think tank" the CATO Institute, says the U.S. nuclear arsenal is still a strong deterrent to anyone considering using nuclear weapons or selling them.

"Our large strategic arsenal of nuclear weapons acts as a very powerful deterrent against these countries, even if they acquire nuclear weapons; first and foremost, from using them directly against the United States, but even maybe to the extent of the concern of passing them on to terrorists."

But, if a terrorist group were to acquire nuclear weapons and attack the United States, how would the U.S. know where - or against whom - to retaliate? It is one of many vexing questions sure to be debated at the 2005 non-proliferation treaty review - and for years to come.

The State of Weapons Proliferation 2004 Part 2 - Chemical/Biological

A new report released in Washington, D.C. in December 2004 analyzes the U.S. response to the threat of bio-terrorism in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks. The report says the nation has made progress but still has more work to do. How serious is the worldwide threat of biological and chemical weapons?

The devastating results of chemical weapons use were first seen during World War One, when Germany used poisonous chlorine gas against opposing forces in the trenches, destroying their respiratory systems on contact.

Michael Krepon is the founding president of the Henry L. Stimson Center - a Washington, D.C. institution devoted to promoting international peace and security.

Mr. Krepon says, "Thankfully, many countries learned important lessons after W.W. One when chemical weapons were used extensively on the battlefield and there was such a reaction, negative reaction that international efforts tried to establish global standards against the use of these weapons. Those standards are in existence today."

The standards were included in a treaty banning the use of chemical weapons in 1997. Before there was a formal agreement, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran and Iraqi Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war, in the 1980s.

Victoria Samson is a weapons expert at the Washington, D. C. Center for Defense Information. Ms. Samson says, "Iraq did use chemical weapons against its own people and against the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war and so they most definitely had a large stockpile of chemical weapons, and while they had them out in the field during the first Gulf War, I don't believe they ever used them. Because the United States had made very clear at that point that should Iraq use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. troops, the United States would react with all forces it had."

There were concerns going into the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Iraq might have biological as well as chemical weapons. In the end, it apparently did not. In fact, biological weapons have rarely been used.

But, soon after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, letters containing the Anthrax bacteria were sent to five American media outlets and the offices of two U.S. senators.

Five people died from inhalation-anthrax infections and 22 others developed skin-borne anthrax infections after coming into contact with the letters. There has been no final determination of who was responsible, or if it was the work of a terrorist or terrorist group.

A terrorist group was responsible for a 1995 chemical weapons attack in Tokyo. Twelve people were killed and thousands more were wounded when a Japanese Buddhist group, Aum Shinrikyo, released poisonous Sarin nerve gas into a subway. The attack caused havoc and psychological trauma in Japan.

But even though there have been a few high-profile incidents, they are the exception, as experts Michael Krepon explains: "Chemical and biological weapons are a worry, but it's not easy to produce these weapons and disperse them in ways that they will have mass effects. So, many different skills are required and fortunately most terrorist organizations do not have all the skills that are required."

Victoria Samson further explains, "It's extremely difficult for non-state actors such as terrorist groups to develop completely chemical weapons or biological weapons. These are extremely technical, highly advanced sort of things."

Ms. Samson notes there remains a remote possibility that a terrorist group could obtain and use some sort of chemical or biological agent to demonstrate its strength, and perhaps deploy it against civilian targets in a relatively crude manner.

"What you have to look at though, is a chemical or biological agent being put on, let's say, a barge and towed into a port somewhere. We don't really have a lot of protection against that. They're working to focus on detecting those kinds of agents, but they're a long ways away from that. I think that's really where the threat exists for those kinds of weapons."

Since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. has stepped up its efforts to better detect chemical and biological weapons and to protect against them. But it's a challenge. The facilities used to produce the components of chemical and biological weapons may also be used for legitimate purposes.

In 1998 the United States bombed this pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, believing it was making an ingredient in nerve gas and was somehow linked to Iraqi chemical weapons projects, something that was never proven.

Most weapons analysts say the threat posed by chemical or biological weapons is far smaller than that of nuclear weapons - or small arms - which are generally defined as weapons that can be carried by one or two people. Those weapons kill far more people than the more feared chemical and biological "weapons of mass destruction."

The State of Weapons Proliferation 2004 Part 3 - Small Arms

Many regional conflicts across the globe, particularly in Africa, are fought primarily using small arms: weapons that can be carried by one or two people and that are cheap and easy to obtain.

In Part 3 of our series on Weapons Proliferation, Amy Katz takes a closer look at these weapons, which experts say pose a larger threat than the more feared nuclear, chemical and biological "weapons of mass destruction."

When U.S.-led forces invaded the Iraqi city of Fallujah in late November they faced strong opposition from insurgents. They also found huge caches of the insurgents' small arms.

Rachel Stohl of the Washington, D.C. Center for Defense Information says the more weapons there are in a given society, the more likely it is they will be used to do harm.

"So, in Iraq, for example, where there are huge weapons caches being found, the likelihood, if those weapons aren't adequately collected, secured and destroyed - which all three of those things need to happen to eliminate them from being a threat - those weapons can be used for crime, for violence, for intimidation against peace keepers, against troops in the field, against other citizens."

Ms. Stohl says in countries where weapons are not dealt with properly, their numbers will only continue to increase. And they will likely end up moving across borders and into other conflicts.

"Small arms are so cheap, you can always find a ready supply of them, they're easily available, they're cheap, they're portable, and with them you can continue to perpetuate conflicts for years and years," she added.

Michael Krepon is the founding President of the Henry L. Stimson Center - a Washington, D.C. institute that promotes international peace and security. He says Iraq is just one of the countries where the proliferation of small arms has become a major concern.

"I would say one half to one third the countries of Africa, we can start there. Iraq, Iran and Iran's assistance to insurgent forces in Iraq. Iraq is a huge problem."

He said and added, "Small arms are a huge problem in Kashmir, as India and Pakistan square off there. So, the list goes on and on."

Sudan is on the list: thousands of people there have fled a conflict being fought primarily with small arms.

The violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo is fueled largely with small arms, as was the separatist war in Papua New Guinea in the 1990s.

Small arms are also responsible for much of the trouble in the Middle Eastern nation of Yemen, where there are reportedly three guns for every person.

And they were a huge problem for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Since U.S. forces entered the country in 2001, Afghanistan has become one of several success stories on the small arms front. Many militias there have now turned their weapons over to the United Nations.

Rachel Stohl says there have been similar successes elsewhere. "There is progress being made on small arms every day. In communities in Africa, in Central America, we're seeing citizens voluntarily turning in their weapons and saying we don't want to use these weapons as our source of livelihood anymore. We want a peaceful society."

But, Michael Krepon says international action is needed to solve the problem, through conflict resolution, more than trying to stem the flow and the use of small arms. "Countries that are wracked by the use of small arms internally, need to find some internal peace with the help of outsiders. Conflict resolution is the best solution to the small arms problem."

Without a greater effort, experts say, small arms will remain the single greatest proliferation issue.

Mr. Krepon emphasized the point, "More people die from small arms than from weapons of mass destruction. This is a huge problem and a hugely difficult problem."

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