Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Submission from Daniel Feakes, University of Sussex

  1.  I am a Research Fellow in SPRU—Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Sussex. I am affiliated to the Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons (HSP) which is an inter-university collaboration for research, communication and training in support of informed public policy towards chemical and biological weapons. I have been following chemical and biological warfare (CBW) issues since 1997 when I was seconded from HSP to work in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Since returning from the OPCW in 2000, I have particularly focused on the implementation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

  2.  The Committee's decision to undertake an inquiry into non-proliferation, and particularly its broad remit that includes chemical and biological weapons in addition to nuclear weapons, is very welcome. Given that much attention will inevitably focus on nuclear disarmament, my submission concentrates on CBW, a field which is often overlooked. A number of developments in this area require attention, not least follow-up to the April 2008 Second CWC Review Conference, preparation for the 2011 Seventh BWC Review Conference and the ongoing need to keep pace with developments in the rapidly advancing field of science and technology. Given the renewed focus on nuclear disarmament, it is important that such issues are not neglected.

  3.  This submission first examines the CBW-related aspects of the National Security Strategy, then assesses the effectiveness of the current disarmament and non-proliferation system for CB weapons before highlighting some future challenges and potential initiatives and concluding with some suggested recommendations.


  4.  The National Security Strategy published by the Government in March 2008 is welcome in its comprehensive assessment of the threats and challenges facing UK security. The Strategy recognises the interconnectedness of the modern world and acknowledges that the UK cannot tackle many of the threats that it faces alone. The way in which it presents a holistic view of threats to UK national security and an integrated set of policy responses is a significant advance on the traditional way of conceptualising national security as primarily a military issue.

  5.  The Strategy identifies "nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction" as one of the security challenges facing the UK.[351] It is likely correct in its view that no country currently poses a direct threat to the UK with CB weapons, and it sensibly says that the Government will continue to monitor countries suspected of possessing CB weapons. The Strategy describes the Government's "integrated, multilateral approach" to tackling CB weapons. Having observed UK participation in many BWC and CWC meetings, I can state that this approach appears to work well, with the UK frequently being among the more effective delegations. It would also appear that the related institutional machinery—the Counter-Proliferation Committee and the Counter-Proliferation Implementation Committee—functions effectively. Furthermore, the UK is unique in that its CWC National Authority, which is based in BERR, has at its disposal an advisory committee made up of industrialists, scientists and academics. The UK deserves praise for this innovation and the Government should encourage other CWC states parties to establish similar committees.

  6.  It is unfortunate that the National Security Strategy uses the term "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD). The term is convenient shorthand and is useful in that it acknowledges the many linkages between nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It is also a term defined by the United Nations and used in several multilateral treaties. However, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and many others, has argued that "a failure to differentiate [nuclear, biological and chemical weapons] can lead to seriously flawed policy" as it "conflates very different threats from weapons that differ greatly in lethality, consequence of use, and the availability of measures that can protect against them."[352] The WMD conflation also ignores the significant political and legal distinctions between international responses to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is not a disarmament treaty; it divides its states parties into nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states. The BWC and CWC in contrast are fully-fledged disarmament treaties; all states parties are treated equally, and all are required to renounce and destroy any CB weapons they possess. One hopes that the Strategy uses WMD as convenient shorthand and that actual assessment, analysis and policymaking within Government are based on a clear understanding of the distinct characteristics of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

  7.  Another consequence of CB weapons being conflated with nuclear weapons under the WMD rubric is that most attention actually focuses on nuclear proliferation with consideration of CB weapons very much a second-order priority. This is illustrated in the National Security Strategy which, although a document from which fine detail should not be expected, devotes relatively little space to CBW. It can also be seen in the responses received to this Committee's inquiry which overwhelmingly address nuclear issues. Even the FCO's own submission only devotes three of its 54 pages to CBW and none of the eight "serious challenges" to the international counter-proliferation system listed in the submission relate to CBW. This neglect of CBW is not only limited to the Government. In Parliament, significant events such as BWC and CWC review conferences go almost unnoticed in comparison with their nuclear equivalents. The new focus on nuclear disarmament, while very welcome, may result in a further reduction in attention paid to CBW.

  8.  The apparent neglect of CBW in the National Security Strategy is of concern as the UK has long been one of the strongest supporters of CBW arms control and disarmament. This role dates back until at least 1968 when the UK tabled a draft biological weapons treaty in the Geneva disarmament conference. When the BWC emerged from the subsequent negotiations, the UK was designated as one of its three depositaries, alongside the USA and USSR. More recently, when negotiations to strengthen the BWC collapsed in 2001, the UK contributed to finding a way forwards with the publication of a Green Paper.[353] The UK also played an active role throughout the 20 years of the CWC's negotiation. When the CWC was finalised in 1993 a UK diplomat, Ian Kenyon, was chosen as Executive Secretary of its Preparatory Commission. Another British diplomat, John Freeman, is currently Deputy Director-General of the OPCW, and preparations for the Second CWC Review Conference were chaired by the UK Ambassador in The Hague, Lyn Parker. Any diminution of this record would be detrimental to the UK's external profile and to international efforts to sustain and strengthen the anti-CBW regime, with consequent repercussions for UK national security.


  9.  The effectiveness of the existing rules-based regime (which consists not just of the BWC and CWC but also the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the empowerment of the UN Secretary-General to investigate allegations of the use of CB weapons and UN Security Council resolution 1540) in curbing proliferation is difficult to assess. Any assessment depends largely on the political context within which it is undertaken and the expectations that are placed upon the regime. It is also important to understand that non-proliferation is only one element of the anti-CBW regime, the other key element is disarmament. In some ways, a focus on non-proliferation reflects the predominance of thinking about nuclear weapons where disarmament is a much less active part of the NPT regime. Within the CBW field, disarmament and non-proliferation are two sides of the same coin—they can be seen as respectively addressing the demand and supply side of the CBW threat. Disarmament contributes to non-proliferation by ensuring there are fewer weapons to proliferate and by giving states less reason to acquire their own CBW capabilities. Non-proliferation contributes to disarmament by hindering the re-emergence of CBW stockpiles. As was seen at the Second CWC Review Conference, non-proliferation is a contentious term, partly because of its roots in the NPT context. Within the CWC, where there is no distinction between haves and have-nots, non-proliferation is not a strictly accurate term, perhaps non-diversion might be more so.

  10.  One way to measure the effectiveness of the current system is to take a quantitative approach. The CWC has 184 states parties and is therefore not far from achieving universal adherence, although the remaining 11 states include some, such as Egypt, Israel, North Korea and Syria, which are suspected of possessing CW. The six declared possessor states (Albania, India, Libya, Russia, South Korea and the USA) have destroyed over 40% of the world's declared stockpile of 71,315 metric tonnes of chemical weapons.[354] Albania and South Korea have completed their destruction operations, but Russia and the USA are expected to miss their 2012 deadline. The OPCW has undertaken 3,491 inspections at 195 chemical weapon-related and 1,103 industrial sites on the territory of 81 states parties. The CWC has been one of the most significant multilateral achievements of the past 15 years, although it is among the least known or appreciated by the public. As a much less elaborate treaty, there are fewer quantitative yardsticks against which to measure the effectiveness of the BWC.

  11.  Taking a qualitative approach offers another perspective on the effectiveness of the current system. Neither the BWC nor the CWC are self-executing; they rely upon effective implementation at the national level and upon awareness among the relevant professional communities, such as the armed forces, scientists and industry. Analyses of the national implementation of both treaties shows that neither have particularly high rates of national implementation. In addition, to be truly effective national legislation has to incorporate the comprehensive nature of each treaty, which is enshrined in the "general purpose criterion" contained in both. Neither treaty is based on a list of prohibited biological or chemical agents using instead this criterion of purpose whereby all agents are prohibited unless intended for a permitted purpose, as long as in types and quantities consistent with such purposes. These "general purpose criteria" allow the treaties to keep pace with scientific and technological developments, ensure that they cover all relevant agents, even those not yet invented and permits the use of dual-use chemical and biological agents by legitimate industries.

  12.  Another measure of the effectiveness of the existing regime is the strength of its underlying norm. There is an ancient, cross-cultural taboo against the use of poison and disease in warfare which is today codified in the BWC and CWC. It is hard to imagine any country being able to use CB weapons without provoking widespread condemnation and sanction from the international community. Even the possession of CB weapons has been delegitimized to the extent that no country openly admits to it. Even those countries suspected of possessing CB weapons do not proudly parade them as countries do with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The delegitimisation of CBW means that the anti-CBW norm is strong. However, such normative considerations may not dissuade terrorists from acquiring and using CB weapons, and the norm against using poison and disease in warfare might start to unravel if "non-lethal" CB weapons came to be widely assimilated and deployed by military forces.

  13.  Studying how the existing system deals with challenges is another way to measure its effectiveness. In 2001, the BWC received its biggest blow when six years of negotiations to strengthen the treaty ended in failure. While many feared for the future of the treaty, a stop-gap "rescue package" exceeded all expectations and has now taken the BWC off in a totally new direction, which does however, seem better suited to the challenges now faced. At the forefront of these challenges are the dramatic advances in science and technology which are producing whole new subject areas, such as synthetic biology, which pose new challenges to policymakers. To complicate matters further, the disciplines of chemistry and biology are converging, and the life sciences are converging with information technology and nanotechnology. This convergence means that the BWC and CWC will have to demonstrate adaptability and devote time to investigating the areas of overlap between them.

  14.  Since its entry into force in 1997, the CWC has focused mainly upon its disarmament function given that possessor states were under a strict obligation to destroy their CW stocks within 10 years (with a maximum five-year extension to 2012). The CWC also contains much more detail within its text on destruction than it does on non-diversion. However, two out of the six possessor states have already completed destruction and two more (India and Libya) will have done so before the 2012 deadline. While it is likely that Russia and the USA will require some more time, the fact will remain that most CW will have been destroyed and the primary function of the CWC will shift from verifying destruction to ensuring that re-armament does not occur. This will entail a radical change in the nature of OPCW verification activities and will require states parties to elaborate upon currently underdeveloped CWC provisions regarding transfers, assistance, encouragement and inducement and military preparations. It will also require a broadening of the presently rather narrow approach to CWC implementation followed by many states parties who stick rigidly to the detailed text of the CWC. It was therefore disappointing that the transition was not discussed in more depth at the Second CWC Review Conference and it is worrying that many non-aligned states parties appear to be reluctant to focus more heavily on science and technology and non-diversion.

  15.  These current and impending challenges to the existing system have led to a situation in which the BWC and CWC are no longer the sole points of reference in the CBW field. One analysis describes the transition of the BWC from "lone monolith" in the early 1970s to "crucial keystone" among numerous instruments and initiatives today.[355] Another argues that "action is required at all levels; individual, sub-national, national, regional, like-minded, and international, public, private, government, and intergovernmental levels. Managing the biological weapons problems requires a rubric of measures from the individual to the international."[356] Therefore, international organizations and initiatives now relevant to CBW include: the 1540 Committee; the Australia Group; the European Union; the Financial Action Task Force; the G8; the Global Health Security Initiative; the International Committee of the Red Cross; the International Maritime Organization; Interpol; NATO; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; the Proliferation Security Initiative; the World Customs Organization; and the World Health Organization.


  16.  In terms of forthcoming diplomatic initiatives, both the BWC and CWC are currently between review conferences. The Seventh BWC Review Conference will convene in 2011, while the Third CWC Review Conference will convene in 2013. Both events will require significant planning and preparation, but both are sufficiently distant as to not require urgent action now. For the present, attention is focused on the regular cycle of BWC and CWC meetings, namely the BWC Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in early December and the CWC Conference of the States Parties at the same time in The Hague.

  17.  More important will be deciding on an appropriate response to the likely failure by both Russia and the USA to meet the 2012 deadline for the total destruction of their CW stockpiles. This eventuality could have extremely serious repercussions for the OPCW, and it was already casting a shadow at this year's Second Review Conference. The Government will need to decide its response to the fact that two key states parties are unlikely to meet one of the most fundamental obligations under the CWC. The outline of possible solutions is already apparent, but reaching consensus among the OPCW's current 184 member states is likely to prove very difficult and could impact negatively on other areas of CWC implementation.

  18.  The National Security Strategy states that "the international security architecture has yet to adapt satisfactorily to the new landscape."[357] This is equally true of the CBW field where the "new landscape" includes not only terrorism, but also the dramatic advances in science and technology and the global spread of infectious diseases. Space only permits mention of two initiatives, both of which have their origins in academia. One such proposal would criminalise CBW at the individual level, thereby filling a gap in the BWC and CWC which primarily apply at the state level.[358] The Government has already stated its support for this proposal during the Committee's inquiry into the 2002 BWC Green Paper.[359] Another initiative, at an earlier stage of development, proposes the negotiation of a "framework convention on biological and chemical controls" which would facilitate synergies between the BWC and CWC and which could more effectively keep pace with developments in science and technology and in related areas of convergent technology such as nanotechnology.[360] Finally, three books have been published recently calling for a "global governance" approach to biosecurity and the misuse of the life sciences.[361]


  19.  The brief overview presented here leads to a number of recommendations. First, the Government, but also Parliament, should pay proper and distinct attention to CB weapons and not simply conflate them with nuclear weapons under the WMD rubric. Second, reflecting the convergence of chemistry and biology, much more effort should be put into improving the relationship between the BWC and CWC and into creating synergies among the organizations listed above in paragraph 15. Third, with respect to the BWC, the Government should push for more regular, formal reviews of relevant developments in science and technology. Fourth, still on the BWC, the Government should support the strengthening of the Implementation Support Unit and other measures to address the BWC's institutional deficit. Fifth, on the CWC, the Government should support a broadening of its currently rather narrow agenda, perhaps through annual meetings similar to those under the BWC. Sixth, the Government should encourage other states parties to focus on the implications for the OPCW of the transition from disarmament to non-proliferation, and should make efforts to reach out to those states parties which appear reluctant to acknowledge the shift. Seventh, the Government should use the opportunity presented by the change of administration in the USA to explore new, possibly legally-binding, initiatives while still sustaining current activities. Eighth, Parliament itself should examine ways to improve its scrutiny of CBW issues, particularly around the time of BWC and CWC review conferences, and of the activities of the CWC National Authority which reports annually to Parliament.

16 November 2008

351   UK Cabinet Office, The National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom: Security in an Interdependent World, Cm 7291 (March 2008), p. 11. Back

352   Joseph Cirincione, Jon Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats, [Second Edition Revised and Expanded], Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Washington, DC, 2005), p. 3. See also George Perkovich, Deconflating "WMD", WMD Commission Paper No. 17 (October 2004); Wolfgang Panofsky, "A Damaging Designation", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 63, no. 1 (January/February 2007), pp. 37-39. Back

353   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention: Countering the Threat from Biological Weapons, April 2002, Cm 5484. Back

354   Figure provided at, accessed on 16 November 2008. Back

355   Piers Millet, "The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in Context: From Monolith to Keystone", Disarmament Forum, No. 3 (October 2006), p. 59. Back

356   Jez Littlewood, The Biological Weapons Convention: A Failed Revolution, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005, p. 234. Back

357   National Security Strategy, p. 17. Back

358   Matthew Meselson and Julian Perry Robinson, "A Draft Convention to Prohibit Biological and Chemical Weapons under International Criminal Law", Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, vol. 28, no. 1 (Winter 2004), pp. 57-72. Back

359   Foreign Affairs Committee, The Biological Weapons Green Paper, First Report of Session 2002-03, HC 150, 11 December 2002, Ev. 35. Back

360   Malcolm Dando, "The Merits of a Biochemical Framework Convention", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, web edition, 1 October 2008, available at Back

361   Nayef RF Al-Rodhan, Lyubov Nazaruk, Marc Finaud and Jenifer Mackby, Global Biosecurity: Towards a New Governance Paradigm, Editions Slatkine, 2007; Lawrence Gostin and David Fidler, Biosecurity in the Global Age: Biological Weapons, Public Health and the Rule of Law, Stanford University Press: Stanford, 2008; Barry Kellman, Bioviolence: Preventing Biological Terror and Crime, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Back

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