Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 2, 2006

Blix Commission releases “Weapons of Terror” report

Filed under: Biosecurity,Investigation & Enforcement,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Christian Beckner on June 2, 2006

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission led by Hans Blix (not to be confused with the Silberman-Robb WMD Commission) released its final report yesterday, “Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Arms.” The release of the report was covered in stories by The Guardian, UPI, and the AP. From the latter story:

A study led by former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix called Thursday for outlawing nuclear weapons and reviving global cooperation on disarmament, including security guarantees to curb the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

As long as any nuclear, chemical and biological arms remain in any country’s arsenal, “there is a high risk that they will one day be used by design or accident,” the two-year probe by the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission concluded.

Despite the end of the Cold War, the stocks of such weapons remain “extraordinarily high” including 27,000 nuclear weapons, about 12,000 of them still actively deployed, the commission said.

The commission made 60 recommendations to free the world from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Other media commentary focused on comments by Blix criticizing the United States for its missile defense system and its general lack of leadership on counterproliferation.

Pages 154-55 of the report are the most relevant to homeland security, discussing the impact of efforts related to the “control of movement of goods”:

The difficulties of preventing proliferation-related activities hiding under the cover of legitimate commerce led the United States in May 2003 to launch the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which focuses on interdicting and seizing illicit shipments while in transit. By September 2003, the United States had assembled a coalition consisting of 10 additional states (Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom), which agreed to a Statement of Interdiction Principles. Since then, many additional countries have joined this initiative, including all members of the EU and the G8.

Described by one of its architects as an ‘activity’ rather than a ‘treaty-based bureaucracy’, the PSI has encouraged greater international cooperation in undertaking interdictions, including joint participation in a number of exercises organized in different regions. Its participants have stressed that the interdiction activities will be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with international law.

It is difficult, however, and perhaps somewhat premature to assess the value of the PSI, as little concrete information has so far been made available to the public about its application, beyond press releases about interdiction exercises and official claims that it has been a great success. Although the initiative has gained the support of a large number of states, it has also generated concerns among critics who prefer a more multilateral approach, tied more closely to the treaty regimes and the UN Security Council.

The launch of the PSI marks the first time that states and organizations have cooperated to improve the security of the full supply chain for goods in international trade. Efforts have also been made in recent years to control the movement of thousands of large shipping containers that travel through world commerce each day. Such efforts have led to new capacities and cooperation for outbound inspection (for export control enforcement), and inbound inspection (for threat reduction), and control of goods and individuals at borders. Technology is being sought to make this process as nonintrusive as possible. The World Customs Organization (WCO) is also working to secure and protect the international trade supply chain from being used for acts of terrorism or other criminal activity.

I’m glad that the report includes this finding; too often these “homeland security” concerns are ignored by the counter-proliferation community. I disagree with the concern about the fact that the PSI is not multilateral, but Blix is correct to demand more transparency into the PSI so that its performance can be publicly gauged. The report then makes the following recommendation in response to this finding:

All states should conduct audits of their export control enforcement agencies (customs, police, coast guard, border control and military) to ensure that they can carry out their tasks effectively. States should seek to establish a universal system of export controls providing harmonized standards, enhanced transparency and practical support for implementation. Members of the five export control regimes should promote a widening of their membership and improve implementation in view of current security challenges, without impeding legitimate trade and economic development.

That sounds like an appropriate long-term goal for export control and cargo security.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 5, 2006 @ 1:17 pm

By the 2028 Presidential election in the U.S. the Blix report will and the failure to heed it will be a huge campaign issue for the parties then in existence. The Democrats and Republicans will have been long gone after their demonstrated incompetence at retarding WMD proliferation in the early 21st Century.

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