Ambassador: Mexico Key in Expanding G-8 WMD Nonproliferation Effort

A firefighter treats a mock victim of a WMD attack during a 2004 response drill at the Pentagon. The United States is working to bring additional countries into a decade-old multilateral program to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a senior State Department official said on Thursday (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta).
A firefighter treats a mock victim of a WMD attack during a 2004 response drill at the Pentagon. The United States is working to bring additional countries into a decade-old multilateral program to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a senior State Department official said on Thursday (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta).

WASHINGTON – The recent addition of Mexico to the G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction is a key first step in an effort to expand participation in the initiative to new parts of the world, U.S. Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins said Thursday.

The State Department announced on Dec. 14 that Mexico had become the first Latin American country to join the Global Partnership, which the so-called Group of Eight leading industrial nations established in 2002. The initiative, which historically has promoted nuclear security and other nonproliferation efforts, now has 25 member nations and has distributed approximately $21 billion worldwide.

Speaking at the Hudson Institute on Thursday, Jenkins said participating nations began focusing on the goal of expanding membership in recent months. She predicted Mexico would be the first of several new countries to join the partnership in the near future.

“We’ve actually made a number of overtures to 19 or 20 countries to talk about joining the Global Partnership,” Jenkins said. “I know that there are a number of countries in Southeast Asia [and] in South America who are interested and we are just going to keep working with them, but I would anticipate getting more countries joining from the conversations I have had.”

In addition to seeking new members, the Global Partnership is also establishing working groups in new subject areas, said Jenkins, the department's coordinator for threat reduction programs. For example, a new group on chemical security – which involves ensuring that commercial facilities that use dangerous chemicals are shielded from potential attack -- will meet for the first time in February, she said.

Despite these apparent strides, some issue experts raised concerns about the future of the partnership.

Andrew Semmel, former deputy assistant secretary of State for nuclear nonproliferation, noted during Thursday’s discussion that the partnership does not presently have member nations in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. For this reason, he questioned whether the Group of Eight – which excludes large countries such as China, India and Brazil – was the appropriate international group to host the partnership and whether it might be better served by the broader Group of 20 nations.

Jenkins suggested such a change is unnecessary. “The G-20 is a different animal – I don’t think they have a huge security side,” she said. The Global Partnership “has a number of countries that are in the G-20, and we’ve also made overtures to China.”

Last year, Global Partnership members agreed to extend the initiative beyond its initial 10-year mandate. However, according to Semmel, “it’s not clear how long the extension will be or how programs and projects funded through the Global Partnership will be financed in the future." The United States has indicated it plans to provide up to $10 billion in continued funding over 10 years, subject to annual congressional appropriations.

Jenkins said she was not concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the extension of the initiative. “That’s not something that bothers us … These initiatives don’t necessarily have end dates and no one’s really concerned about the fact that there’s no time frame,” she said. “We’re trying to address problems that are global and are going to be around for a long time. It’s very unlikely that all 20 of our countries are going to just stop funding nuclear, radiological and biosecurity issues.”

As of February, the initiative had supported elimination of more than 20,000 tons of chemical warfare materials; disassembly of nuclear submarines and secured removal and storage of the vessels' nuclear waste; augmented border capacities to prevent the smuggling of nuclear and radiological substances; and efforts meant to encourage scientists to pursue careers not associated with weapons development

Paul Walker, director of the environmental security and sustainability program at Global Green USA, said establishment of the Global Partnership 10 years ago “was a big step forward because we could argue here in Washington that the burden [of funding WMD security] was being shared among” several countries.

In recent years, however, countries including the United States, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom bore the brunt of the funding burden, while others, such as Italy and France, were “very disappointing in meeting their pledges and not spending the money” they had promised toward the initiative, Walker said.  He questioned whether all current and future members of the initiative would meet their commitments going forward.

Jenkins suggested that funding commitments were “relative” and that “everyone can’t be the United States.”

“What we want is countries to continue to fund work at the level they have been,” she said, adding that “countries like Italy and France which were not able to finish all their commitments” remain “very dedicated” to the initiative.

According to Jenkins, Italy has engaged in other activities that count toward commitments made at the nuclear security summits in Washington and Seoul, including establishing a “center for excellence” for nuclear security. “It all counts – the money they’re putting toward their commitments in the nuclear security summits counts toward” Global Partnership obligations, she said.

“A lot of it is also riding out the time and seeing what happens,” Jenkins added. “Hopefully the financial situation will be better for a lot of us.”

December 21, 2012
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WASHINGTON – The recent addition of Mexico to the G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction is a key first step in an effort to expand participation in the initiative to new parts of the world, U.S. Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins said Thursday.

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