Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sen. Lugar Praises Nunn-Lugar on Albania; Next Stop North Korea?

Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) put out a celebratory op-ed on Saturday praising his namesake Nunn-Lugar program for successfully destroying Albania’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Lugar writes, “In a remote corner of Southern Europe, the United States and Albania recently scored a quiet but important victory in the battle against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This success points the way toward helping resolve some of the greatest threats the world faces from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.”

While his paean may overstate the significance of the elimination of Albania’s 16 tons of chemical weapons agents, Lugar is nevertheless correct that it is important victory, even if it is a largely symbolic one. Albania did, after all, earn the title of first nation to completely destroy all of its chemical weapons under the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

But 16 tons is still a drop in the global bucket, considering that only approximately 24,000 tons of the over 74,000 tons of declared chemical agents have been destroyed. Also significant is that several countries not party to the CWC, notably Syria and North Korea, are suspected of possessing chemical weapons, while other countries that are party to the Convention, such as Sudan and China, are suspected of not fully disclosing their stockpiles.

That is not to say, of course, there that has not been progress. There has. All of the declared chemical weapons production facilities have been “inactivated,” with 61 of the 65 declared facilities having been either destroyed or converted for peaceful purposes. And over 30% of the 8.6 million chemical munitions and containers covered by the Convention have been verifiably destroyed, although this still falls far short of the 100% goal set for in 2007.

As Lugar points out, the destruction of Albania’s chemical weapons arsenal “was an important first test of the Nunn-Lugar program outside the former Soviet Union, proving we can work with other governments in new environments. And it shows the value of expanding the Nunn-Lugar program so the United States can respond to nonproliferation opportunities wherever they may appear.” And although the program’s primary focus is still on Russia, Lugar writes, “the Albanian success shows we can and must be prepared to address similar risks in the Middle East, Asia and anyplace else where supplies of weapons of mass destruction may be.”

But of particular note is that Lugar concludes by suggesting that recent progress in the negotiations with North Korea could mean that that country too could eventually be aided by the Nunn-Lugar program in dismantling its weapons of mass destruction programs. Considering that North Korea is one of only seven countries that hasn’t even signed the CWC, this could be a tall order, but one that is nevertheless crucial for global security interests.


Plutonium Page said...

"A drop in the global bucket" - isn't that the truth. Having just read War of Nerves, I'm stunned at the amount of nerve agents made by the US alone, and the relative ease with which they can be synthesized, regardless of the hazards of the intermediate products, not just the end product.

In other words, getting North Korea to dispense with its chemical weapons arsenal is indeed a tall order. Those are the "poor man's nukes" - fast, cheap, easy, and nearly as deadly (depending on which agent, of course).

I'm a bit of a cynic (and this isn't my blog), so I'll be less polite than you when you say:

"While his paean may overstate the significance of the elimination of Albania’s 16 tons of chemical weapons agents..."

I'll say that he's rather self-congratulatory, although I do agree that a symbolic victory is definitely important, laying the groundwork and the confidence for bigger gains.

You know more about this than I do in that respect. How likely is it that Syria will be interested in disarming? I'm of the mind that they most likely do have the weapons (everyone else does in that region, especially Israel, hence the arms race).

Jeff Lindemyer said...

From what I understand, Syria began to develop its chemical weapons capabilities during the early 1980s in order to offset Israel's superior conventional warfare capabilities. NTI thus refers to Syria's chemical weapons program as "strategically defensive." It has since developed both the chemical weapons and the delivery systems necessary to strike Israel, but remains dependent on outside assistance. This could be a means of preventing Syria from expanding their capabilities. But, absent a peace deal (or at the very least a relaxing of tensions) between Syria and Israel, I don't foresee Syria absolutely foregoing what it views as a deterrent.