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Report Weapons of Mass Destruction

Our Study Tour ended with a briefing on Weapons of Mass Destruction by Ms. Kerstin Bihlmaier. It was quite noteworthy that while Ms. Bihlmaier was a member of the 2002 NMUN Delegation of the Freie Universität Berlin, she now works in the Weapons of Mass Destruction branch of the Department for Disarmament Affairs of the United Nations. She is particularly concerned with NBC weapons (nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) and the threat posed by terrorist acts committed by individuals.

To begin with Ms. Bihlmaier presented her department to us. It is concerned with topics such as conventional weapons, Weapons of Mass Destruction and outer space warfare. She excelled in communicating to us the utmost importance of disarmament. Our speaker mentioned that a mere 2.5 % of the annual global military expenditures of $ 800 billion would be sufficient to cover the annual costs of $ 21 billion for appropriate AIDS control mechanisms. About $ 50 billion would be enough to provide clean and safe energy worldwide for an entire year.

Then we were told about the fundamental NBC weapons regimes. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which came into force in 1997, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) which became effective in 1975 and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), enacted in 1968 and prolonged indefinitely in 1995. Our speaker told us that among these treaties only the BWC does not contain a verification mechanism, although in 2001 considerable effort was put into enacting one. The treaty is rather a confidence-building mechanism aimed at global information and data exchange and the reduction of global ambiguities connected with biological weapons.

Due to the importance of the issue, the rest of the briefing was devoted to the NPT. The treaty distinguishes between Nuclear and Non-Nuclear States. The first group consists of the five permanent Member States of the Security Council (P5), who are obliged to abstain from any use or merely the threat of use of nuclear weapons, bind themselves to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons or fissile material and assure that they will not support any country in the research and development of nuclear weapons. The Non-Nuclear States, on the other hand, are obliged to abstain from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons or fissile material. Further elaborating on the Non-Proliferation Treaty Ms. Bihlmaier mentioned that all Member States have the duty to cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. According to the NPT the P5 are irreversibly obliged to disarmament, although they have not been very active in this regard as they still have approximately 20,000 units of nuclear weapons.

In the following Ms. Bihlmaier introduced us to the control mechanisms for the compliance with the NPT. On the national level it shall be enforced via nuclear safeguards, on the international level via export controls. The most important surveillance body is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). On the one hand it can apply traditional measures like monitoring, inspections and training of national officials. These shall guarantee compliance of the Member States with the safeguard agreements. On the other hand the 1997 additional protocol to the NPT, which has been signed by only 62 of the 188 Member States, can be applied by the IAEA in order to detect undeclared nuclear weapons or fissile material. It shall guarantee the compliance with NPT-standards. Our speaker stressed that even under this stringent control regime the IAEA still needs the approval of the country subject to the inspection, in order to enter any of its facilities. If this approval is denied, the international community has to take action. Potential instruments that might be used are for example the withdrawal of technical assistance by the IAEA or the seizure of the United Nations Security Council of the matter, which may thereupon authorize sanctions or the use of force.

In the last part of the briefing Ms. Bihlmaier referred to the conduct of North Korea as a member of the NPT. North Korea joined the treaty in 1985 and ratified its safeguard agreements in 1992. However, in January 2003 the country announced an unprecedented withdrawal from the NPT after having admitted to the maintenance of a uranium-enrichment program. Therefore, the next NPT conference in mid 2005 will give priority treatment to North Korea as well as to Iran.

After this very detailed briefing Ms. Bihlmaier was at our disposal for questions. She replied to our queries about the possibilities of a more comprehensive convention replacing the NPT as well as about the chances of convincing countries like India, Israel or Pakistan of ratifying the NPT.

Kevin Radev