Robin Collins: WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION VERIFICATION AND COMPLIANCE ISSUES
Presentation by Robin Collins (World Federalist Movement-Canada) to the WMD/Nuclear Issues Consultations, February 2004
Background items inserted into the consultation package:
1. A list of BW and CW sources: http://cns.miis.edu/research/cbw/possess.htm;
2. CW types: http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/cw/chem-table.htm;
3. NW arsenals of NW states: http://www.cdi.org/issues/nukef&f/database/nukearsenals.cfm;
4. Steve Fetter paper on verification of NW, for background reference: http://www.inesap.org/bulletin13/bulletin13.htm;
5. US State Department most recent listing of terror incidents: http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2002/html/19997.htm
From the last item, I draw your attention to the downward trend of terrorist incidents (as collected by the US state department), but remember also that numbers of incidents tell us little about the impact of any particular incident (9/11 for instance).
How far away are we from a comprehensive regime that integrates verification and compliance measures with criteria for enforcement that are better tuned than in the past?
Canada has done more than many in contributing to the development of international enforcement mechanisms and structures, such as the International Criminal Court structure, and in pursuing the Responsibility to Protect option. Efforts such as these bolster the development of any new process that also upholds the WMD verification and compliance regime(s).
However, when we look to an assessment of the verification and compliance processes associated with each WMD subgroup (nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, etc.), there are some non-trivial differences we have to recognize, and they are not entirely technical. For one thing the chemical weapons verification regime is considered one of the best in the business. But the biological and toxin weapons verification regime doesnt yet exist because of a lack of agreement on implementing a protocol for verification, let alone enforcement.
Chemical Weapons: Problem of ease of access to weapon materials
The ease by which CW components can be made accessible for purposes of weaponization is a significant worry. Where there is ease of manufacture, there will likely be complexity in verification. Many of the components found in chemical weapons are available and used for industrial processes. Thiodiglycol, for instance, a precursor for mustard gas, is also used to make the ink found in some ballpoint pens. But while chemical weapons are relatively easy to obtain and use, they are not as easily kept safely in stable condition. Nonetheless as with biological weapons, CW have been found by the US Army to be easily disseminated from ships near seaports, or subways and with crop duster aircraft an indication that their use and dispersal is possible with relatively low tech capability. Generally speaking, the threat of CW these days is thought to be primarily from terrorist groups; therefore, if the products are readily available, while the groups are unpredictable, irrational, and often indigenous, then no response is likely to be quick enough in many cases.
Large-scale production, on the other hand, was suspected, proved and halted in Iraq; this was possible because of the effectiveness of an international inspection regime, albeit, imposed in a coercive environment. We might argue about the nature of the coercion, but the capability for detection seems to have been credible and convincing.
Biological [and Toxin] Weapons (BTW): Difficult access, high risk, low frequency of use
In the very contemporary timeframe (not counting the recent ricin poison scare in the US Senate earlier this month), there are only three instances of terrorist bioweapon/toxin attacks or attempted attacks that are well documented. In 1984 a religious cult contaminated salad bars in their county in rural Oregon. 751 people became ill from food poisoning, 45 of whom required hospitalization, although nobody died. It was a year before authorities determined the source of the outbreak.
In 1995, the religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, released sarin gas (a chemical agent) in the Toyko subway system. 12 people died and thousands became ill. While the cult also attempted to use biological weapons (spraying botulinum toxin and anthrax in downtown Tokyo over a two year period, 1993-1995, as many as ten times, there was no apparent known effect.) Some have suggested that the switch to sarin gas from bio-agents is indicative of the relative ease by which CW can be administered, as compared to BW.
In the autumn of 2001, following the terror attacks in New York and Washington, at least three letters contaminated with anthrax were circulated in the US. 18 people were infected with anthrax as a result, and five people died. The impact of the letters was wider however than those numbers would suggest.
Regardless of the frequency of contemporary attacks, the potential for risk by biological agent dispersal should not be ignored. It is calculated that 100 kilograms of anthrax spores could be dispersed, in ideal conditions, killing between 130,000 and 3 million people over a large US city a lethality matching or exceeding that of a hydrogen bomb (see: Richard F. Pilch in the references, below).
The greatest present danger of BW risk is probably the brain drain of Russian ex bio-weapon scientists. Stemming that flow is therefore the most likely useful focus of our attention.
Nuclear Weapons: Verification and compliance proposals in the context of deep reductions
What are some proposed approaches to verifying deep reductions in nuclear forces as would be necessary in the early phases of a process towards abolition? Some, such as Bruce Blair, Frank von Hippel, Steve Fetter et al. have noted (see references, below) the high degree of cooperation that will be necessary among the current nuclear weapon states before verification of compliance measures can be put into place something that is not currently looking that promising. But, when the ducks so get lined up, a comprehensive system would include three key components:
1. measures to monitor restrictions on “allowed” nuclear weapons [en route to abolition];
2. measures to monitor delivery vehicles and launchers; and
3. measures to monitor restrictions on the deployment and alert status of nuclear forces.
We should note the importance of irreversibility in any of these deep cuts strategies. Some of this could be carried out by the IAEA, other aspects by a new verification authority that would need to be set up. Standard measures would include the listing of suspect processes, declarations, tagging schemes, challenge inspection protocols, records verification, production facilities shutdown monitoring procedures, and so on, that in the present international climate may seem to put the cart before the horse. However, if we are to be prepared to enter a period of deep reductions when the opportunity arises, and because the process of inventorying will be long and complex anyway, theres no time like the present to start the inventory.
A precise inventory of known warhead and fissile materials stockpiles could be at the top of the list. For the very reason that concealed weapons and fissile materials will be almost impossible to detect without information indicating where to start looking, it is important that the process begin, and obviously starting with those currently willing to cooperate.
As the Nuclear Turning Point authors suggest, citizen reporting should be both encouraged now and become an activity protected in law.
The costs of verification are not prohibitive, even ignoring their efficacy
In 1995, the IAEA estimated that a comprehensive nuclear weapons verification effort would involve 25,000 person days of inspection effort/year, and cost $150 million to monitor 995 facilities in both the declared and undeclared nuclear weapon states. For comparison, it cost $62.5 million in 1993 to do the job, involving 8,200 person days. Ron Cleminson, who has spoken to this gathering in the past, estimated perhaps somewhat optimistically about eight years ago that a cool half billion dollars per year would cover verification costs for the whole range of weapons of mass destruction. In other words, this is a drop in the bucket, even in todays dollars.
The problem, however, is not cost, nor is it likely technological, even though there is real complexity in tracking inventories of broadly used industrial products that might be diverted into chemical weapons production; or sources of anthrax and other bio-agents, or nuclear reactor waste products diversion.
Iraq Case Study: What lessons?
We know that absolute certainty of compliance is impossible, so there needs to be agreement on what level of satisfaction is acceptable, realizing that the greater the assurance, the greater will be the coercion potential in any unfriendly environment. That level of assurance is certainly also technologically limited, but case studies such as that of UNSCOM/UNMOVIC in Iraq suggest that the process is on the most part effective. Here Id like to throw into the pot for discussion a few questions for us to consider:
I think the evidence shows that the UNSCOM/UNMOVIC inspection experience is proof we are facing a political question, not a verification problem. In fact there is a good deal of likelihood that once the deep cuts in nuclear weapons process is begun in earnest, once the momentum shifts away from the 9/11 obsession, the rest may not be simple, but the verification process will be shown to be well developed, even based on current experience and technology.
All of which leads us to asking ourselves: Were the measures taken by inspectors in Iraq to verify compliance with Security Council resolutions robust enough? Knowing that the process can never be 100% assured, were the criteria selected sufficient? Lets assume that they were good enough. The weight of evidence suggests that Iraq either had no Weapons of Mass Destruction of any significance in hand; or they may have moved them out of the country (a piece of anonymous speculation that recently made the rounds); or the Iraqis may have destroyed them.
In any case, there was no evidence of an imminent threat. That was more or less the Canadian government position (see references, below), and the position of most states, including the majority among the 15 members of the Security Council. Arguably there was conflicting intelligence. But if a regime as comprehensive as the inspection regime placed in Iraq was not sufficient, then what would sufficient look like, and what does that tell us about the future of the verification and compliance process?
There are other test cases waiting in line on the so-called rogue lists: Iran, North Korea and Libya. What confidence do we have, then, that a positive inspection report will be taken at face value, and not that these assessments will be taken instead as excuses for intervention, regardless of any inspection/verification/compliance process outcome? In other words, is there a basic political problem that needs to be addressed, before we can get back to looking to verifying compliance in another corner of the globe?
Canadas assessment of Iraqs weapons of mass destruction:
Richard A. Falkenrath, Problems of Preparedness: U.S. Readiness for a Domestic Terrorist Attack, available on the world wide web at:
Richard A. Falkenrath, Robert D. Newman and Bradley A. Thayer, America’s Achilles’ Heel: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack, 1998, MIT Press, may be available as an e-book through university libraries.
Harold A. Feiveson, ed. The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and De-Alerting of Nuclear Weapons. Washington, DC.: Brookings Institute, 1999.
Russell Howard and Reid Sawyer, eds. Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security Environment. Guilford, Ct: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2004. See in particular:
Jessica Stern, from “Getting and Using the Weapons,” The Ultimate Terrorists (Harvard University Press, 1999)
Christopher F. Chyba, from “Toward Biological Security,” Foreign Affairs (May/June 2002)
Richard F. Pilch, from “The Bioterrorism Threat in the United States,” Monterey Institute of International Studies Report, prepared for the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (2003)
Walter Laquer, Post Modern Terrorism. In Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, no. 5, 1996.
NOVA backgrounder on Biological Weapons. Available on the world wide web at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bioterror/
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on the world wide web at: http://www.opcw.org/factsandfigures/
See also their Fact Sheets, including #5 Three Types of Inspection, and #2 Synopsis of the CW convention text.