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Senator Looks to Strengthen WMD Nonproliferation in Middle East, North Africa

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON – A Senate Democrat on Wednesday submitted a bill aimed at applying lessons learned in threat-reduction operations in the former Soviet Union to strengthening WMD nonproliferation activities in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Next Generation Cooperative Threat Reduction Act of 2013 mandates a years-long initiative to work with regional partners via the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program and similar federal projects intended to prevent terrorists or other rogue actors from obtaining unconventional arms.

“The bill would authorize additional funding to support the creation of new and innovative activities to address the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their associated materials,” according to a press release from Senator Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.). “Funding will allow for expanded training, professional networking and civil society engagement, increased dialogue, tighter export and border control rules, encouraging and assisting with security and the destruction of chemical or biological weapons programs, and many more efforts to help combat the spread of dangerous weapons and materials.”

The Hill newspaper reported that the legislation includes $30 million annually for the required activities. Shaheen’s office did not confirm the figure by press time, and the bill text was not immediately available.

The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program was established in 1991 to provide funding and technical assistance in securing and eliminating nuclear weapons and other WMD materials in former Soviet states. Its successes include deactivation of more than 7,000 nuclear warheads, destruction of more than 1,600 ballistic missiles, and elimination of about 4,000 metric tons of chemical warfare materials.

The program has broadened its activities in recent years to support chemical weapons disposal in Albania and biological security at research laboratories in Africa.

Shaheen’s bill would use Nunn-Lugar as the example for work to be done in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Syrian government is believed to hold hundreds of tons of blister and nerve agents, along with rockets and other weapons that could be used to deliver the materials. The United States and allied nations have aired suspicions that chemical warfare materials have been used in the Syrian civil war. Another fear is that elements of the stockpile could be passed to militant organizations such as Hezbollah.

The Assad regime is also thought to have been secretly building a nuclear reactor inside a facility destroyed in a 2007 Israeli airstrike.

Meanwhile, Libya also holds a dwindling amount of chemical warfare materials and a number of nations in the region are establishing atomic energy capabilities that could be turned toward weapons work.

“Nuclear proliferation is one of the gravest dangers we face as an international community. It is imperative that we provide the necessary focus, time and resources to meet this threat,” Shaheen said in the release. “We need to remain vigilant, to think ahead, and to anticipate where the next threats will come from.”

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