U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called on the international community to renew its commitment to eliminate weapons of mass destruction as technological advances make it cheaper and easier for terrorist groups to produce and deliver materials for making the weapons.
Ban, speaking at a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council, said much good work has been done to curb the production of WMDs, including the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Security Council Resolution 1540 in 2004, which legally obligates U.N. member states to enforce measures against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
But he said technological advances have made it easier for terrorist groups to gain access to the materials needed for making such weapons.
“Vicious non-state actors that target civilians for carnage are actively seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons,” he said.
In fact, the possibility of the use of such weapons by terrorist groups, criminals and other non-state actors has become one of the most significant challenges to nations around the world, said Emmanuel Roux, INTERPOL’s special representative to the U.N. INTERPOL works to facilitate police cooperation around the world.
“Organizations such as al-Qaeda, [Japanese doomsday cult] Aum Shinrikyo, and other extremist groups have, in the past, expressly announced their intention — backed by real attempts — to develop, acquire, and deploy weapons of mass destruction against civilian populations,” he told the Council.
Roux said the threat of WMDs is more imminent than ever because terrorist organizations have become more complex, with more movement of fighters across borders in recent years, giving them more access to recruits who have expertise in WMDs.
For example, he said that in 2014 INTERPOL seized an Islamic State group laptop owned by a Tunisian chemistry and physics student that contained a 19-page document on how to develop biological weapons. The document also included instructions on how to test the weapons on mice.
Roux also noted that Belgian officials, in the aftermath of the attacks in Brussels last March, discovered that Islamic State operatives had been secretly videotaping the country’s senior nuclear scientists.
“Officials feared [the Islamic State group] was working to breach Belgium’s nuclear security and would launch a dirty bomb to follow the Brussels airport bombing,” he said.
Ban noted that the next review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is in May and he urged the Security Council to consider how to strengthen Resolution 1540 to ensure that terrorist organizations, criminals or other “non-state actors” don’t acquire WMDs. He said in light of outbreaks in recent years of Ebola, MERS and Yellow Fever, “I am extremely concerned that the international community is not adequately prepared to prevent or respond to a biological attack.”
Gregory Koblentz, director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University, said there are several emerging technologies that present challenges to international efforts to curb WMDs, including gene editing.
“Instead of gene drives being used to eliminate disease, they could be used to introduce new diseases into plant or animal populations,” he told the Council.
Other potentially dangerous emerging technologies include the use of drones and the use of the Dark Web, which can only be accessed using special encryption software, guaranteeing anonymity to its users.
Koblentz said that in 2014 the U.S. arrested two people who had sold the toxins abrin and ricin — ricin is classified as a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention — to customers in Austria, Canada, Denmark, England, India and the United States via a Dark Web marketplace called Black Market Reloaded.
“The global reach and anonymity of the Dark Web provides a new means for criminals and terrorists interested in dual-use equipment or materials to do business,” he said.