CRS — Proliferation Control Regimes

December 12, 2012

Proliferation Control Regimes (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via OpenCRS)

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD), especially in the hands of radical states and terrorists, represent a major threat to U.S. national security interests. Multilateral regimes were established to restrict trade in nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and missile technologies, and to monitor their civil applications. Congress may consider the efficacy of these regimes in the 112th Congress. This report provides background and current status information on the regimes.

The nuclear nonproliferation regime encompasses several treaties, extensive multilateral and bilateral diplomatic agreements, multilateral organizations and domestic agencies, and the domestic laws of participating countries. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, U.S. leadership has been crucial in developing the regime. While there is almost universal international agreement opposing the further spread of nuclear weapons, several challenges to the regime have arisen in recent years: India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998; North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003 and tested a nuclear explosive device in 2006 and 2009; Libya gave up a clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2004; Iran has been in non-compliance with its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards obligations since 2005; and Syria was building a clandestine nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance until a 2007 Israeli military strike. The discovery of the nuclear black market network run by A.Q. Khan spurred new thinking about how to strengthen the regime, including greater restrictions on sensitive technology. After the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States has focused more resources on preventing terrorists from acquiring WMD weapons and strengthened multilateral counterproliferation efforts. On the other hand, the extension of civil nuclear cooperation by the United States and other countries to India, a non-party to the NPT with nuclear weapons, has raised questions about what benefits still exist for non-nuclear-weapons states that remain in the treaty regime.

The chemical and biological weapons (CBW) nonproliferation regimes contain three elements: the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), and the Australia Group. The informal Australia Group coordinates export controls on CBW-related materials and technology. The CWC prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons, and mandates the destruction of existing chemical weapon arsenals. The BWC bans the development, production, and stockpiling of biological agents or toxins “of types and in quantities that have no justification for peaceful purposes.”

The missile nonproliferation regime is founded not on a treaty, but an informal agreement created in 1987, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The MTCR’s goal is to limit the spread of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The MTCR guidelines have been modified over time to include missile systems designed for the delivery of chemical and biological weapons. The regime, which has no enforcement organization, is thought to have been instrumental in blocking several missile programs, but has been unable to stop missile development in North Korea and Iran.

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