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Promise Seen in African Nation’s Nonproliferation Push

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- An international bid this year to bring Angola into two key arms control regimes sheds light on obstacles in a broader effort to extend legal prohibitions on chemical and biological arms to every corner of the globe, issue experts said.

Holdout governments could face increasing pressure to join the pacts as membership increases, but observers said compliance can prove tricky for a number of otherwise amenable nations with limited resources and more pressing foreign policy priorities. Governments must submit legal documents and take steps such as assigning implementation responsibilities and filing regular declarations of potentially sensitive materials.

Angola has not signed either the Biological Weapons Convention or the Chemical Weapons Convention, nor has it cleared a number of additional hurdles to becoming party to the agreements.

Early last year, though, the nation’s top diplomat said Luanda wanted to join both treaties and blamed “administrative capacity issues” for the delay.

Smoothing the nation’s path to entry was the goal of two simultaneous workshops held in the Angolan capital this spring. Their “similar agendas” reviewed the key components, requirements and accession procedures for each accord, according to a statement by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Hague, Netherlands-based agency is charged with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. It announced in May that Somalia had submitted its ratification documents, bringing total membership to 189 nations. That leaves two nations that have signed but not ratified the treaty – Israel and Myanmar – and five that have not taken any formal steps toward participation: Angola, Egypt, North Korea, South Sudan and Syria.

Some of these states have clear strategic reasoning for not joining the treaty. Syria, for example, is believed to hold a large chemical arms stockpile that it is suspected of using during the nation’s 2-year-old civil war. Israel, meanwhile, has indicated its willingness to adhere to the global nonproliferation regime is connected to Middle Eastern peace efforts.

Angolan Foreign Affairs Minister Georges Chikoti reaffirmed his government’s plans to accede to both treaties at the start of the parallel two-day workshops on April 22.

It is unclear when Angola plans to finish acceding to the accords. The Angolan Embassy in Washington did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but Global Green USA chemical-weapon expert Paul Walker said the African nation and Myanmar are both expected to ratify the treaty by the end of next year.

One expert drew a sharp distinction between nations that have avoided joined the pacts “for strategic and political reasons” and nations such as Angola, which he suggested simply see accession as “another hassle.”

Outside powers have generally focused less on accession by such countries because they are not believed to threaten international security, said former OPCW assistance and protection head Hassan Mashhadi.

“They don’t have economic interests” such as chemical industries to encourage their accession, he told Global Security Newswire. Provisions in the treaties are intended to facilitate peaceful biological and chemical sector cooperation among member states.

Still, Washington and London want to promote an “international norm to be inside the convention and not to refrain from signing,” Mashhadi said.

Mashhadi called for the creation of a U.N. body to facilitate government accession to various arms control regimes.

The United Kingdom funded the biological arms treaty workshop, which it organized with the BWC Implementation Support Unit and the nongovernmental Verification, Research, Training and Information Center.

The chemical ban’s wide overall membership means Angola’s anticipated accession would probably do less to bring in new countries than its participation in the Biological Weapons Convention, which a significant number of African countries have yet to join, VERTIC senior legal officer Scott Spence said by telephone on Wednesday. The treaty has 170 states parties.

“It would send a very positive signal, and we told them that,” Spence said.

A senior U.S. counterproliferation official said “small arms, human trafficking [and] border issues” typically take priority over other security concerns in African nations.

“Naturally countries are going to be more concerned about the threat that’s closest to them,” Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. State Department coordinator for threat reduction programs, said during an interview last month.

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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