The WMD Commission One Year On: Impact and Assessment

1 August 2007

John Burroughs

June 1, 2006, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission chaired by Hans Blix released its Final Report, Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms.[1] As the Commission acknowledges,[2] it is the latest - and indeed builds upon - a series of prestigious international bodies that have sought to set the world on a course away from reliance on nuclear weapons. Among them are the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security in the early 1980s,[3] the 1996 Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,[4] and the 1999 Tokyo Forum for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.[5] The question naturally arises, why have these and similar calls for action preceding the WMD Commission Report failed to yield the results they called for?

It is true that the Canberra Commission Report helped shape the 2000 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agenda for achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free world, but the United States and other nuclear weapon states have subsequently tried to ignore that agenda. To his credit, Hans Blix seems determined to avoid the fate that has befallen previous reports. Over the past year he (sometimes accompanied by other Commissioners) has engaged in a whirlwind of meetings, press briefings, op-eds, and speeches (from the UK Parliament to the World Peace Forum in Vancouver, Canada), to bring the message of Weapons of Terror to governments, publics, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) all over the world.[6]

How the Report Was Received

What has been the outcome so far? It is fair to say that none of the innovative proposals in the Report - convening of a World Summit of heads of state on disarmament, nonproliferation, and terrorism; adoption of a non-consensus rule for procedural decision-making at the Conference on Disarmament (CD); a review conference for the Outer Space Treaty - have been set in motion. Nor has implementation of familiar proposals - from the standard arms control agenda to reform of NPT governance - been initiated. How much governments have taken on board the Commission's analysis and recommendations is hard to assess. While observations of the Commission have occasionally been cited, and some high officials in non-nuclear weapon states have referred favourably to the Report (for example German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier), governments have not visibly promoted particular recommendations in official settings.[7]

In the United States, a target audience for the Report, response from the media and government was fairly tepid. Aside from an excellent New York Times story[8] and appearances by Dr Blix on Meet the Press and National Public Radio, major media generally ignored the Report. Dr Blix met with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate and in September 2006 testified before a House subcommittee,[9] but had no meeting with administration officials. Further, the interest of members of Congress and much of the press revolved more around what Blix has to say about the situations regarding Iran and North Korea, the risk of nuclear terrorism, and his experience with Iraq as head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), than what the WMD Commission says about reducing the dangers posed by existing nuclear arsenals.

NGOs in a number of countries have promoted the Report, assisting in its translation into several languages and hosting events. The Arms Control Association held a press briefing with Dr Blix and commentators in Washington.[10] The Middle Powers Initiative, an international civil society coalition, featured Dr Blix as a speaker in meetings with non-nuclear weapon states, and its briefing papers draw on WMD Commission observations and recommendations.[11]

In the United States, my organization, the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, joined with Western States Legal Foundation and Reaching Critical Will of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to initiate a project to respond more systematically to the WMD Commission Report. Initially, we conducted a media campaign. We then produced a book analyzing the Report and its implications for US nuclear weapons policy, Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security? U.S. Weapons of Terror, the Global Proliferation Crisis, and Paths to Peace,[13] which was released internationally on May 1, 2007 at the NPT PrepCom, and in the United States a few weeks later at a Congressional staff briefing in Washington.

While the WMD Commission has received press attention around the world and at least mention by various research institutes, Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security appears to be the only in-depth analysis of the Report. It offers mostly praise, but sometimes criticism, and goes well beyond the WMDC Report to provide a stand-alone assessment of US policy.

Overview of the Report

As Dr Blix's preface to Weapons of Terror indicates, the formation of the Commission in part was inspired by the conviction that the US/UK invasion of Iraq was the wrong way to deal with feared acquisition of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons, and that the international community (and the United States) needs to find a more constructive and effective response to proliferation.[14] It would appear as well that the Commission was intended as a means to continue deliberation and agenda-setting regarding control and elimination of nuclear weapons, since the more established mechanisms in the NPT and other official international settings had been brought to a de facto halt with the advent of the Bush administration in early 2001 and the redrawing of agendas after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Commission's mandate was to examine ways and means to achieve "the greatest possible reduction of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction", aiming at "preventing the further spread of weapons as well as at their reduction and elimination", with attention paid as well to the problem of terrorist acquisition.[15] Weapons of Terror analyzes the threats posed by chemical and biological weapons, and recommends measures to strengthen the existing bans on those weapons contained in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). The bulk of its analysis and recommendations, however, is focussed upon nuclear weapons and related treaties and international institutions. These are the subject of this article.

The WMD Commission's approach is multifaceted and comprehensive. Many proposals are advanced for reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons in those states that possess them and for preventing their spread. Analysis and recommendations regarding arms control for the most part represent an updating and sharpening of the standard agenda - verified reductions, the test ban, a fissile materials treaty, standing down nuclear forces, etc. - developed in part in US-Soviet management of their nuclear rivalry and codified by the NPT conferences of 1995 and 2000. The Commission characterizes the nuclear age as marked by three waves of proliferation: first, the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China; second, Israel, India, and Pakistan, as well as South Africa until it dismantled its arsenal; third, Iraq and Libya, both of whose programmes were reversed, North Korea, and possibly Iran.[16]

The Commission cautions against drawing dire conclusions regarding the third wave, noting that "the world is not replete with would-be proliferators nor, as yet, with nuclear-capable terrorists".[17] But it also remarks that "[i]f Iran and North Korea do not reliably renounce nuclear weapons, pressure could build for a fourth wave of proliferation".[18] The Commission makes sensible proposals for persuading Iran and North Korea to implement such a renunciation.[19]

Dr Blix has been outspoken about the need for the United States to negotiate with Iran and has also urged consideration of region-wide measures, especially a freeze on nuclear fuel-cycle activities in the Middle East, as part of the solution. Regarding the proposed US-India nuclear cooperation deal, the Commission calls for it to be conditioned on commitments by both countries to participate in a verifiable fissile materials treaty and to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).[20]

While most of its analysis concerns the established universe of nonproliferation and arms control measures, there is no mistaking the Commission's conviction that the world must aim and work towards universal prohibition of nuclear weapons. It recommends acceptance of "the principle that nuclear weapons should be outlawed, as are biological and chemical weapons", and calls for exploration of "the political, legal, technical and procedural options for achieving this within a reasonable time".[21] The Commission finds that a "nuclear disarmament treaty is achievable and can be reached through careful, sensible and practical measures".[22] It states that "[a]ll states possessing nuclear weapons should commence planning for security without nuclear weapons".[23]

Taken as a whole, Weapons of Terror is about the need for revival and implementation of already agreed commitments and improved utilization of existing treaty regimes on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons as well as the United Nations, especially the Security Council. While the Commission does envision the achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free world, it does not, unlike some critics of the nonproliferation regime on both the right and left, seem to foresee the NPT's near-term wholesale revision or replacement.

Although its points are well articulated, and some are pithy and quotable, the Report does not compare to that of the Canberra Commission in terms of cogency, force and sharpness; nor does it seek to be visionary in tone. The contrast is understandable in that the Canberra Commission Report came at a time of apparent paradigm shift, while the WMD Commission was meeting over a two-year period when the predominant sentiment was that the nuclear weapons states have failed to do what they promised at the 1995 and 2000 NPT conferences, and should be called to account.

Nor does the Commission seek in any ambitious way to relate its analysis to broader global shifts in values, economy and communication. While the Report observes that "[p]romoting peace is the prime means of avoiding both the acquisition and the retention of WMD",[24] it makes no clarion call for redefining security. In contrast, in Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security Jacqueline Cabasso argues that "success will require placing the demand for elimination of nuclear weapons within the framework of a new concept of global (not 'national') and human security based not on the threat of horrific annihilation, but on human needs and ecological values".[25]

The Commission's Report thus has a sort of old school flavour. This is reinforced by the fact that, reflecting Dr Blix's long history at the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Report appears to support the worldwide expansion of nuclear power by proclaiming its inevitability and seeking to manage it. As Michael Spies explains in Nuclear Disorder,[26] the Commission does not even refer to the possibility of limiting or ending reliance on nuclear power; it merely lays out options - international fuel bank, multinational control, creation of a class of supplier states and one of user states - for controlling the spread of nuclear fuel (and therefore weapons) production capabilities.

Countering the impression of a certain stodginess is the Commission's enthusiastic support for the role of NGOs, and of civil society more broadly (professional associations, businesses, scientists, etc.), in accomplishing and sustaining elimination of NBC weapons,[27] and its recognition of the role of gender. On the latter point, the Commission states: "Women have rightly observed that armament policies and the use of armed force have often been influenced by misguided ideas about masculinity and strength. An understanding of and emancipation from this traditional perspective might help to remove some of the hurdles on the road to disarmament and nonproliferation".[28] As noted by Jennifer Nordstrom and Felicity Hill, "This is a fairly novel acknowledgment in discussions of NBC weapons, where gender qualities and related values are frequently unstated and unnoticed while they powerfully affect and direct actions and decision-making".[29]

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Report

Weapons of Terror is a truly comprehensive survey of the nuclear weapons landscape, covering matters from prevention of acquisition by terrorists to preparing for a nuclear-weapon-free world. The comprehensiveness in itself is a virtue: for non-specialists, it is an excellent entry point into the field, and for specialists, it is a useful current reference source. What follows is a selective discussion of some of its strengths and weaknesses.

Treaty regimes, global norms, and the Security Council

One of the greatest strengths of the WMD Commission Report is its clear explanation of the indispensable role of treaty regimes and global norms in controlling and eliminating NBC weapons.[30] It describes how states participate in and support implementing agencies and review processes, and buy into the rules on non-use and non-possession. It also effectively conveys that regimes work when there is reciprocity and cooperation, and emphasizes the lack of such reciprocity regarding implementation of the NPT disarmament obligation.

The Commission persuasively rebuts the neoconservative contention that international law is not enforceable. It observes that most states accept the need for law, and that they honour and implement their obligations concerning NBC weapons and want to be seen to be doing so as respectable, law-abiding members of the international community.[31] The Report highlights the power of the Security Council to mandate a broad range of enforcement measures, including inspections, economic sanctions and military action.[32] It also endorses the Council's role as a global legislator in adopting Resolution 1540 aimed at preventing non-state actor acquisition of and trafficking in NBC weapons and related material and equipment.[33]

In remarks at the Arms Control Association press briefing, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Robert Einhorn stated that "policymakers should heed the Commission's advice to strengthen the nonproliferation role of the UN Security Council".[34] He elaborated: "In particular, the Security Council should be prepared to mandate supplementary verification authority to the IAEA and the OPCW (the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), when existing verification authorities are insufficient for those agencies to do their job... The Security Council should also press for a more robust implementation of Security Council Resolution 1540 than we've seen today... It's a nonproliferation tool with vast potential, but it's been in effect now for about two years and two months, and that potential has not yet begun to be tapped".[35]

In Nuclear Disorder, I offer a more critical assessment of the Commission's view of the Security Council, noting points that are either ignored or just alluded to in Weapons of Terror.[36] The five veto-wielding permanent members of the Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China - all have nuclear arsenals that they are showing no operational signs of intending to eliminate. This means that Council decisions regarding compliance with nuclear nonproliferation requirements are automatically suspect in the eyes of much of the world. Also, dominated as it is by the five World War II victors, the Council is conspicuously not representative of today's world. Further, the Council by design is a political body that acts on an ad hoc and sometimes inconsistent basis. In light of the Security Council's legitimacy and accountability deficits, it is crucial to strengthen mechanisms to induce or compel compliance short of Council action, for example by strengthening NPT governance, as the Commission supports.[37]

The Council should strive to develop less confrontational and more flexible techniques for authoritatively addressing compliance issues, avoiding when possible any implication of resort to military action. This indeed has been the tendency of the Council in the wake of US and UK abuse of past resolutions in attempting to justify their illegal invasion of Iraq. In general, it is imperative to reform the Council to make it more representative, transparent, and accountable.

Regarding Resolution 1540, the UN Charter makes no provision for the Council to engage in such global law-making, and the imposition of such obligations runs counter to the principle that international law is based on the consent of states. When there is an urgent need, and when the Council acts within the bounds of a general consensus, states may accept the Council taking this role. But legislation by Security Council resolution is not the optimal way to strengthen and create law-based global regimes that engender compliance through reciprocity and participatory decision-making. The emphasis going forward should be on making the existing NBC weapons regimes more effective, and on negotiating new multilateral treaties as needed.

Also inadequate is the view taken in the Report of the causes of the US turn away from the multilateralism whose revival the Commission clearly seeks.[38] While not seeking to provide a full explanation, the Report states that "that NPT violations by Iraq, Libya, and North Korea resulted in a severe loss of confidence in the effectiveness of the treaty".[39] It adds that "weakness and difficulties" regarding the lack of universality of the NBC weapon regimes, the option of withdrawal, and verification and compliance weaknesses "may have contributed to some scepticism of the treaty regimes - even a shift of approach - on the part of some policy makers. This is especially true of the United States".[40] Dr Blix has emphasized this view in his speeches.[41] However, the US focus on the problem of "rogue" states is less a response to real world events than the ideology of a section of the US political and military class and a nuclear weapons establishment that, as noted by Colin Powell in 1991, no longer had a threat to plan for.[42]

What deserves more attention is the nature of the US response to the new strategic context. The NPT came into existence at a time when the extreme dangers of nuclear 'deterrence' as practised between the Soviet Union and United States gave rise to a corresponding need to develop structures of stability such as the NPT, which aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Bilateral talks in the early 1960s initially sought to prevent acquisition by states including Germany, Japan, Israel, China, and India. In the event, Israel, China and India were not captured by the effort. Now the United States is facing a new strategic context, with China and India as emerging powers.

US planners appear to have concluded that the United States should not build up a relationship of 'deterrence', stability and arms control with China, but rather seek to maintain military superiority vis-à-vis China and build a strategic partnership with India. A 1999 US National Defense University paper states that "the United States should not allow a mutual vulnerability relationship to emerge with other states [besides Russia], either intentionally or otherwise".[43] In this approach, missile defences, improved delivery systems, and the option of space-based systems are the chosen policy instruments, not arms reductions, missile controls, a space security agreement, and strengthening global institutions.

Arms control/disarmament measures

Another strength of Weapons of Terror is that it catalogues and provides substantive, up-to-date analysis of arms control/disarmament measures. Among the many measures addressed by the Commission are verified reductions of US-Russian arsenals, standing down nuclear forces, reversing the doctrinal trend to expand options for use of nuclear weapons, the CTBT, and a fissile materials treaty.

US-Russian reductions and de-alerting

The Commission calls for negotiation of a new US-Russian treaty requiring verified and irreversible reductions in strategic nuclear weapons that would include a requirement of dismantlement of weapons withdrawn under the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT aka Moscow Treaty).[44] This recommendation is especially important in view of recent indications that the Bush administration will allow START - which provides some monitoring mechanisms for SORT and limits on multiple warhead missiles - to expire in 2009, with only "confidence-building measures" regarding transparency as a substitute.[45]

The Chair's summary of the NPT PrepCom states that: "States parties noted that START I and the Moscow Treaty were due to expire in 2009 and 2012 respectively, and called for bilateral follow-up agreements. It was stressed that the principles of irreversibility, verifiability and transparency should guide all nuclear disarmament measures".[46] While awareness of this fundamental matter should not be attributed to the WMDC Report, it is nonetheless helpful that the Commission also made this call. In addition, the Commission makes the strong operational recommendations that the launch-on-warning option should be removed and that nuclear forces should be stood down, and argues for a joint US-Russian commission to be established to facilitate implementation.[47]

The Commission is clear about the need for verification of reductions in the US and Russian arsenals. It further identifies the need to draw other states with nuclear weapons into the disarmament process, calling inter alia for the publishing of aggregate holdings of weapons.[48] This recommendation is taken further by the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), which has called for declarations of fissile materials contained in military stocks and warheads.[49] It is regrettable, however, that Weapons of Terror includes no discussion of means of disarmament verification, especially in view of its relatively lengthy analysis of the verification of compliance with nonproliferation obligations.[50] At the very least, the Commission could have noted ongoing work in this field by the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the US National Academy of Sciences (CISAC),[51] and by the United Kingdom[52] and others. A crucial point is that achieving confidence that commitments to reduce and eliminate arsenals have been implemented remains challenging, principally due to the possibility of hidden warheads, stocks of fissile materials or other relevant capabilities and materials. The National Academy of Sciences study found that confidence would increase based on monitoring programmes undertaken on an ongoing, long-term basis in an atmosphere of transparency and cooperation.[53] An implication is that verification and transparency measures need to be implemented beginning now, particularly for US-Russian stocks and reductions.

Doctrines of use

The Commission strongly criticizes doctrinal trends that are expanding options for the use of nuclear weapons, and urges their reversal and the adoption of policies of no first use.[54] In a statement submitted to the US House of Representatives hearing featuring Dr Blix, Baker Spring of the Heritage Institute rejected this recommendation along with others including ratification of the CTBT and standing down nuclear forces. According to Spring, the US "policy of constructive ambiguity is designed to enhance deterrence and limit the opportunities for aggression... Issues related to the use of nuclear weapons are necessarily linked to issues related to the use of conventional weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction".[55]

In contrast, this was one of the aspects of the Commission's Report singled out by Einhorn for praise. He stated that "[i]f the nuclear powers act as if nuclear weapons are becoming more and more useful and more and more indispensable to their national security strategies, then we can expect additional countries to want nuclear capabilities of their own".[56]

Adoption of a no first use policy would certainly be going in the right direction. However, the Commission missed the opportunity to state that there is no circumstance in which these "weapons of terror" can rightfully, lawfully, and prudently be used. The Commission approvingly quotes the unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice that states are obliged to "pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament".[57] But the Commission does not at any point set forth the incompatibility between the use of nuclear weapons and international humanitarian law governing the conduct of warfare. This probably is due to the Court's failure to reach a conclusion concerning an extreme circumstance of self-defence in which the very survival of a state is at stake.

The Commission could nevertheless have made the point on its own authority, as did the US National Academy of Sciences in 1997, which stated that "[i]n the [CISAC] committee's view, the inherent destructiveness of nuclear weapons, combined with the unavoidable risk that even the most restricted use of such weapons would escalate to broader attacks, makes it extremely unlikely that any contemplated threat or use of nuclear weapons would meet [the criteria for lawfulness identified by the Court]".[58]

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

The WMDC Report highlights the importance of the test ban, stating that the "single most hopeful step to revitalize nonproliferation and disarmament today would be ratification of the CTBT by all states that have nuclear weapons".[59] Among the objectives served by the CTBT, the Commission states, is that it would "prevent or inhibit qualitative improvements in existing weapons".[60] The Commission is correct in indicating that the CTBT would not necessarily stop all qualitative improvements. During 15 years of observing a testing moratorium, the United States has been able to upgrade its warheads, and in the instance of the B61-11 the nuclear laboratories produced a nuclear bomb with enhanced earth-penetrating capability. In its so-called 'Lifetime Extension Programme' (LEP) the United States is seeking to add a 'ground-burst capability' to the existing warhead (W76) mounted on submarine-launched missiles.[61]

For this reason, and also because measures aimed at restricting the supply of nuclear weapons like the CTBT and the fissile materials treaty are in the end secondary to measures that restrict or end the deployment of nuclear weapons, the Commission arguably has overstated the value of the CTBT. If and when the CTBT enters into force, its nonproliferation credibility and durability will be in question if the nuclear weapon states insist, as they now project, on keeping nuclear weapons central to their security postures for decades to come.

In Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, Jacqueline Cabasso points out that the WMDC Report fails to examine how, especially in the United States, nuclear weapons research and development infrastructures have been reinforced to compensate for the apparent end to testing.[62] Nor does the Commission "provide any critical assessment of those infrastructures in making possible, and even in driving, new arms races".[63]

That potential is well illustrated by the effort of the US nuclear weapons establishment to obtain approval for development of a family of warheads going under the label of the 'Reliable Replacement Warhead' (RRW) programme. While the programme is currently characterized as aimed at fulfilling existing military requirements, US officials have stated unambiguously that the RRW programme and its underlying infrastructure would be capable of fulfilling new military missions as needed.[64] Aside from the impetus they provide to modified or new-design warheads with enhanced military capabilities, the infrastructures are a constant source of political influence and ideology in favour of long-term maintenance of nuclear forces. Nuclear Disorder accordingly recommends that states with nuclear arsenals "halt research, development, testing, and component production while reductions of arsenals are in progress, not afterwards, with production and research facilities subject to an intrusive verification regime at the earliest possible time".[65]

Regarding replacement or modernization of nuclear forces, currently a contested issue in the United States and the United Kingdom, the Commission appears to bow to political constraints, merely recommending that "[a]s a minimum, [a state] must refrain from developing nuclear weapons with new military capabilities or for new missions".[66] Admittedly, NPT commitments and obligations are not specific on this question. Nonetheless, especially in view of the inherent illegitimacy of the weapons, it is not a stretch to hold that preparing for maintenance of nuclear forces for decades to come through replacement/modernization programmes is contrary to the unequivocal undertaking to eliminate nuclear arsenals and the commitment to a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies, both agreed in 2000, and more broadly to the Article VI obligation to negotiate cessation of the nuclear arms race and the general legal obligation to conclude good-faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament.[67]

Fissile materials treaty

The Commission provides a cautious analysis of prospects for a fissile materials treaty. It indicates that verification is feasible based on IAEA experience with uranium enrichment plants in non-nuclear weapon states and also holds open the possibility that the treaty would address existing stocks.[68] The Commission should have gone further on the latter point. The International Panel on Fissile Materials, for example, supports subjecting military materials declared "excess" to military "needs" to a verified ban on weapons use, and verifiably barring the conversion of existing large stocks of civilian materials in the weapons states to military use.[69] Pending negotiation of a fissile materials treaty, the Commission rightly calls for an agreement among all nuclear weapon possessing states to cease production of fissile materials for weapons purposes.[70] This recommendation was endorsed by Einhorn as a means to "head off what could be a new competition in fissile material production involving China, India, and Pakistan".[71]

Counterproliferation, preventive war, and the term 'WMD'

The Commission rightly, if diplomatically, condemns the US policy of preventive war against alleged threats posed by NBC weapons or capabilities. The Commission states that it "shares" the view of "a large number of UN members" that "unilateral armed action" is legal only in response to "armed attacks when they are actually under way, or imminent"; otherwise, there is time "to submit the threat to the Security Council for it to judge the evidence and authorize - or not to authorize - armed action or decide on other measures".[72] However, as Cabasso observes, what receives no attention from the Commission is the way that the identification of a category of "weapons of mass destruction" has stimulated and accompanied the development of the policy of preventive war.[73] Particularly disturbing is that the entrenchment of this category has also supported expansion of options for use of nuclear weapons, including in pre-emptive attacks.[74]

Counterproliferation policy equates the threats posed by all three types of weapons and increases the number of potential scenarios under which nuclear weapons might be used, thus significantly lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. For example, the US Department of Defense 2004 Strategic Deterrence Joint Operating Concept states: "Nuclear weapons threaten destruction of an adversary's mostly highly valued assets, including adversary WMD/E [weapons of mass destruction/effect] capabilities ...."[75]

The Commission was bound by the terms of its mandate to address 'WMD'. It does recognize that "some regard the differences [among NBC weapons] as so significant that they will not lump the three types of weapons together under the single term of WMD".[76] The Commission artfully ameliorated this problem by referring to NBC weapons as all "weapons of terror", which indeed they are. However, the Commission was wrong not to squarely address the fact that the category of 'WMD' has been manipulated to expand options for using nuclear weapons and to attempt to shore up the legitimacy and, indeed, renewal of nuclear weapons by their current holders.

Missiles and missile defences

As Andrew Lichterman comments in Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, the Commission's recommendations concerning missiles and other delivery systems are "notably weak" in comparison with recommendations on the nuclear and other warheads they may carry.[77] The recommendations are limited to strengthening nonproliferation measures and modest stability-enhancing mechanisms, including launch notification and data exchange. They stand in stark contrast to those made by the Canberra Commission, which called for a "global treaty controlling longer range ballistic missiles" and as an interim step, exploration of a missile flight test ban.[78] Such a treaty, the Canberra Commission stated, would "increase the confidence of nuclear weapon states that nuclear disarmament will not damage their security" and "avoid the potential destabilizing effect of ballistic missile defence systems".[79]

The WMD Commission's recommendations regarding missile defences are also weak.[80] From the US perspective, having ruled out universal controls on missiles, and facing slow missile proliferation, the incentives become stronger for development of the shield of anti-missile systems and the sword of advanced delivery systems. In this context, Lichterman explains, the United States has begun development of a next generation of long-range delivery systems, from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to new kinds of re-entry vehicles deliverable by missile or perhaps in the future from re-useable launch vehicles.[81]

Although some of these systems are envisioned as exploiting advances in accuracy to deliver conventional weapons by missiles at previously impracticable distances, they may also be capable of delivering nuclear weapons should a decision be made to do so. Meanwhile, the United States has deployed anti-ballistic missile interceptors in Alaska and California, and recently announced plans to do so in Poland with a radar missile tracking installation in the Czech Republic. While the effectiveness of anti-missile systems remains very much in doubt, the destabilizing impact is already visible in the strong Russian reaction to the US announcement, including reference to the possibility of increased Russian missile deployments. The consequences of the US withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty are now being felt.

Lichterman notes that the backsliding of the WMD Commission from the Canberra Commission position reflects the "decline of arms control prospects over the last decade".[82] While, to say the least, the times have not been propitious for far-reaching proposals, it is also the responsibility of analysts to come to grips with the realities of international security. In that spirit, Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security addresses this gap and calls for establishment of "controls on delivery systems and anti-missile systems as part of a global process of reducing and eliminating nuclear forces, banning weapons in space, limiting strategic weapons generally, and implementing a policy of 'non-offensive defense.'"[83]


The WMD Commission, and especially its Chair, Hans Blix, have made a major effort to publicize Weapons of Terror in both governmental and civil society settings. While the Report has garnered respectable attention, as yet it has not had any clearly identifiable impact on governmental policies or positions. It is perhaps too early to expect such impacts; after all, it was not until four years after its release that the perspectives and recommendations of the Report of the Canberra Commission could be seen to have influenced the outcome of the 2000 NPT Review Conference.

So far, one can speculate that the WMD Commission Report has had a general positive effect. Its timing was fortuitous, coming after the failed 2005 NPT Review Conference and the omission of any mention of disarmament and nonproliferation by the September 2005 World Summit. In that dismal context, the WMD Commission has contributed to a climate of determination to revive the arms control/disarmament agenda. Without question, it has provided a very useful and comprehensive matrix of topics and recommendations for analysis and deliberation.


[1] Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, Final Report, Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Arms, (Stockholm, June 1, 2006) ("Weapons of Terror"). Online at For an account of the Commission's work, see Randy Rydell, "Security Through Disarmament: The Story of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission", The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 2 (2007) pp 81-91.

[2] See Weapons of Terror, pp 12, 28.

[3] See The Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues, Common Security: A Blueprint for Survival (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982).

[4] See Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, 1996 ("Report of the Canberra Commission"). Online at

[5] See The Report of the Tokyo Forum for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Facing Nuclear Dangers: An Action Plan for the Twenty-First Century (Tokyo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 25, 1999). Online at

[6] See "list of events since the launch of the Report on 1 June 2006," online at A notable presentation is the one Blix made on October 16, 2006 to the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security of the UN General Assembly. Online at

[7] A New Agenda paper does draw on WMD Commission Recommendation 23 regarding replacement or modernisation of nuclear-weapon systems. Working paper submitted by Ireland on behalf of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden as members of the New Agenda Coalition, NPT PrepCom 2007, May 1, 2007, NPT/Conf.2010/PC.I/WP.15, para. 20. Access at In the 2006 opening plenary session of the General Assembly, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, and the Swedish representative to the United Nations, Anders Lidén, generally urged consideration of the Commission's ideas and recommendations. Statement by Dermot Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, 61st Session of the General Assembly, September 26, 2006, p 7, online at; Statement by Anders Lidén, Permanent Representative of Sweden, 61st Session of the General Assembly, September 27, 2006, p 2, online at

[8] Warren Hoge, "Lack of U.S. Leadership Slows Nuclear Disarmament, Report Says", New York Times, June 2, 2006. Online at

[9] House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, Hearing on Weapons of Mass Destruction: Current Nuclear Nonproliferation Challenges, September 26, 2006, Serial No. 109-242 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2007) ("Hearing on Weapons of Mass Destruction"), pp 21-59. Online at

[10] Arms Control Association, "Press Briefing: Hans Blix Reports on WMD Dangers and Solutions", Washington, June 7, 2006 ("ACA Press Briefing"). Online at

[11] See for briefing papers, speeches, and reports for Middle Powers Initiative meetings in Ottawa in September 2006 and Vienna in March 2007. The papers, which I authored, highlight the Commission's calls for a World Summit and for nuclear weapon states to commence planning for security without nuclear weapons, and also cite the Commission regarding matters including the need for a new U.S.-Russian strategic reductions treaty, standing down nuclear forces, negotiation of a fissile materials treaty, bringing the CTBT into force, improved NPT governance, implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution, the Iran and DPRK situations, and regulation of the nuclear fuel cycle. This article occasionally draws on the papers.

[12] See The Arms Control Association participated in the initial phase of the project.

[13] Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, Western States Legal Foundation, Reaching Critical Will of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security? U.S. Weapons of Terror, the Global Proliferation Crisis, and Paths to Peace (2007) ("Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security"). Contributing authors: John Burroughs, Jacqueline Cabasso, Felicity Hill, Andrew Lichterman, Jennifer Nordstrom, Michael Spies, and Peter Weiss. Edited by Michael Spies and John Burroughs. Foreword by Zia Mian. Executive Summary and Recommendations online at Order at

[14] Weapons of Terror, pp 11-12.

[15] Ibid., p 206.

[16] Ibid., p 60.

[17] Ibid., p 63.

[18] Ibid., p 23.

[19] Ibid., pp 67-72.

[20] Ibid., p 82.

[21] Ibid., p 19.

[22] Ibid., p 109. For analysis of a treaty eliminating nuclear weapons, and a model of such a treaty, see Merav Datan, Felicity Hill, Jürgen Scheffran, and Alyn Ware, Securing our Survival (SOS): The Case for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, 2007). Order or access online at

[23] Weapons of Terror, p. 109, Recommendation 30.

[24] Ibid., p 44.

[25] Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, Executive Summary, p. xxviii. See generally Cabasso's section, "Redefining Security in Human Terms," as well as those by Peter Weiss on the role of language and Jennifer Nordstrom and Felicity Hill on the role of gender.

[26] Ibid., sections by Michael Spies on "Climate Change and Nuclear Power" and "Iran and the Nuclear Fuel-cycle."

[27] Weapons of Terror, pp. 157-162.

[28] Ibid., p 160.

[29] Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, p 166.

[30] See, e.g., Weapons of Terror, pp 169-171.

[31] Ibid., p 168.

[32] Ibid., p 176.

[33] Ibid., p 182.

[34] ACA Press Briefing.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, my section on "The Role of the UN Security Council".

[37] Weapons of Terror, pp 63-64, 66, and Recommendation 4.

[38] See Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, my section on "Understanding U.S. Policy".

[39] Weapons of Terror, p 53.

[40] Ibid., p 54.

[41] Eg, ACA Press Briefing.

[42] See Don Oberdorfer, "Strategy for Solo Superpower: Pentagon Looks to 'Regional Contingencies'". Washington Post, May 19, 1991.

[43] Center for Counterproliferation Research at the National Defense University and Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, US Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century: A Fresh Look at National Strategy and Requirements, Executive Report, July 1998 (emphasis supplied). Online at

[44] Weapons of Terror, p 18 and Recommendation 18

[45] See, eg, Dr. Christopher A. Ford, U.S. Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation, Opening Remarks to the 2007 NPT PrepCom, April 30, 2007, Vienna, p 4: "We are already beginning to work with our Russian colleagues to develop the contours of our strategic relationship to follow the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and hope to build a strong and productive post-START relationship of transparency and confidence-building measures with Moscow." The statement is online at

[46] 2007 NPT PrepCom, Chairman's Working Paper, NPT/CONF.2010/PC.I/WP.72, May 4, 2007, para. 14. Unofficial version online at

[47] Weapons of Terror, pp.90-92 and Recommendation 17.

[48] Ibid., pp 94-95 and Recommendation 19.

[49] Global Fissile Material Report 2006, first report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, pp 51-56. Available online at

[50] Weapons of Terror, pp 169-175.

[51] Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Sciences, Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear-Explosive Materials: An Assessment of Methods and Capabilities (Washington: National Academy Press, 2005 ("Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear-Explosive Materials"). Online at

[52] "Verification of nuclear disarmament: final report on studies into the verification of nuclear warheads and their components", working paper submitted by the United Kingdom to the 2005 NPT Review Conference, NPT/CONF.2005/WP.1, and previous working papers cited therein. Online at

[53] Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear-Explosive Materials, pp 219-220.

[54] Weapons of Terror, pp 88-90, 92, and Recommendation 15.

[55] Hearing on Weapons of Mass Destruction, p. 166. Online at

[56] ACA Press Briefing.

[57] Weapons of Terror, p 109, quoting paragraph 105(2)F of International Court of Justice, "Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons," Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996, ICJ Reports (1996), p 226. Access at

[58] Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Sciences, The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy (Washington: National Academy Press, 1997), p 87. Online at

[59] Weapons of Terror, p 61.

[60] Ibid., p 106.

[61] Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, "U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2006", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2006 , pp 68-71; Greg Mello, "That Old Designing Fever", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2000, pp 51-57.

[62] Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, p 85.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ambassador Linton F. Brooks, Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration, Department of Energy, speech to the East Tennessee Economic Council, March 3, 2006, p 4. Online at

[65] Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, p 106.

[66] Weapons of Terror, p 99.

[67] See Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, pp 63-64.

[68] Weapons of Terror, pp 103-105.

[69] Global Fissile Material Report 2006, pp 47-49.

[70] Weapons of Terror, p. 105 and Recommendation 27.

[71] ACA Press Briefing.

[72] Weapons of Terror, p 56.

[73] Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, p 78.

[74] Ibid.

[75] U.S. Department of Defense, Strategic Deterrence Joint Operating Concept (February 2004), pp 32-33. Online at "Joint Operating Concepts" are part of a set of planning documents intended "to assist in the development of enhanced joint military capabilities needed to protect and advance U.S. interests." The goal is "to realize the Chairman's vision of achieving Full Spectrum Dominance by the Joint Force." Ibid. at p 1.

[76] Weapons of Terror, p 23.

[77] Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, p 107.

[78] Report of the Canberra Commission, Part Two.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security, p 116.

[81] Ibid., pp 110-114.

[82] Ibid., p 108.

[83] Ibid., p 122.

John Burroughs, J.D., Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, New York, and adjunct professor of international law at Rutgers Law School, Newark. He is co-editor and contributing author, Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security? U.S. Weapons of Terror, the Global Proliferation Crisis, and Paths to Peace (2007), and author of The Legality of Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons: A Guide to the Historic Opinion of the International Court of Justice (1997).

Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security? U.S. Weapons of Terror, the Global Proliferation Crisis, and Paths to Peace (2007) can be ordered at Sponsoring organizations: Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, Western States Legal Foundation, and Reaching Critical Will of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Contributing authors: John Burroughs, Jacqueline Cabasso, Felicity Hill, Andrew Lichterman, Jennifer Nordstrom, Michael Spies, and Peter Weiss. Edited by Michael Spies and John Burroughs. Foreword by Zia Mian. Executive Summary and Recommendations online at

See also: WMDC Recommendations.