Proliferation of WMD

| last update: 2020-03-09

Stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and demobilizing existing stockpiles is an important goal for international politics. Since the end of the Cold War the deterrence role of strategic weapons virtually vanished. Nevertheless some states seek to obtain WMD or will not reduce their reserves.

State failure becomes a dangerous threat as it may happen that WMD fall into the hands of non-state actors or even terrorists. Besides bolstering chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense it is important to tackle those problems on an international level.

Proliferation Control Regimes

Proliferation Control Regimes are international institutions that are to disrupt or at least monitor the spread of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies.
Their task is complex. States breaching international agreements make an effort hiding their trails. So-called dual use goods can be likewise used for legitimate civil reasons or to build weapons. Oftentimes just those states eager to build WMD capacities did not ratify the relevant international agreements.
All too often control regimes may be suspicious of a certain state but lack authority to initiate in-depth inspections. It is not surprising that states like the U.S. fill the gap and put pressure on states that aroused suspicion. Besides that intelligence agencies play a major role in tracking proliferation.

It is no wonder that the efficiency of control regimes is a contended issue. But in spite of their lack of assertiveness international regimes are widely seen neutral. That is an important source of trust. The fact that no WMDs were found in Iraq undermined the standing of the US government and its intelligence agencies. It is a common belief that they outright lied to justify the invasion.

Important Control Regimes

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
The IAEA is the most important nuclear control regime. This agency assists states that want to use nuclear power. Meanwhile it monitors fissile material to make sure those states do not use their nuclear power program as a disguise for a military purpose. Unfortunately many states suspected of hidden programs do not participate in the agreement or did only ratify the first version which does not allow for unannounced spot checks.
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
The OPCW received the 2013 Nobel peace prize. Beforehand it was in the focus of international media coverage as it plays an important role in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.
Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)
For decades states debated about a ban of nuclear tests. Since 1996 a contract is at hand but still it went not into effect as not enough states ratified it yet. States like China, the US or Iran signed but did not ratify the treaty. Nuclear armed states like India, Pakistan and North Korea did not even sign. However the CTBTO has built a worldwide monitoring network to register and locate secret nuclear tests.
Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)
The MTCR seeks to limit the spread of unmanned delivery systems (ballistic missiles / cruise missiles / …).
Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)
The NSG is an association of supplier countries. They seek to avoid that cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy leads to proliferation of nuclear weapons. All UNSEC veto powers participate in this regime.
Australia Group
The Australia Group is an informal group of states which harmonize their export controls to limit the spread of biological and chemical weapons. 42 states participate, but neither Russia nor China.
Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)
A couple of states under US leadership pursue the goal to intercept the transport of WMDs and delivery systems at high see.
Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL)
A regional regime

An overview of further regimes can be found in the List of Treaties and Regimes or in the 2012 CRS Report "Proliferation Control Regimes: Background and Status".

Advocacy groups

Research on WMD Proliferation

Think Tanks specialized on Proliferation Research