Friday, November 23, 2012

Lessons from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan

I am currently making my way through Mitchell Reiss fascinating book Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Contstrain their Nuclear Capabilities (1995). In his book, he describes how various countries decided to give up their nuclear weapons and shut down their nuclear weapons programs. Included in this book are the stories of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. These stories offer several lessons that people should keep in mind when looking at denuclearization options for other countries today. Not all of these lessons apply to every situation, but practitioners should at least determine whether they apply or not.

  1. Keeping Nuclear Weapons is Expensive. Maintaining nuclear weapons costs a lot of money and these three countries realized that they did not have the financial resources to maintain them if they were to focus on growing their economies.
  2. Removing Nuclear Weapons is Expensive. Because of economic considerations these countries wanted to get rid of their nukes, but also because of economic considerations these countries slow-walked their removal. To varying degrees, these countries tried to get economic compensation for the removal of these weapons.
  3. Nuclear Weapons are Bargaining Chips. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan all realized the risks of keeping nuclear weapons in their country. They did not have the financial resources or the local expertise to maintain them. Ukraine, especially, realized that having nuclear weapons made them a target in a Nato-Russia war. All that being said, these countries used nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip. Both Ukraine and Kazakhstan (Belarus not as much) bargained with Russia and the United States in order to get financial assistance and more international recognition.
  4. Denuclearization Takes Time. In all cases, denuclearization took at least a few years. Denuclearization included removing tactical and strategic nuclear weapons by train and also signing onto START and the Nuclear Nonprolifearation Treaty (NPT). Denuclearization takes times even if all parties want to see it.

All in all, a reading of these three cases offers the lesson that denuclearization is a complex matter with many different considerations (including economic). Negotiating an agreement with a country is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Structural Problems in Biosecurity

Biosecurity presents several structural problems to states.

First, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) does not guarantee states will not develop biological weapons. The BWC guarantees that states say they will not develop biological weapons. Although the BWC offers many benefits, such as reinforcing an international norm against bio-weapons, we should be cautious not to overstate its effect. In explaining the causes of war, Michael Fearon posited the “commitment problem,” which basically states that even if states sincerely promise to follow through on something, they may change their policy later. The Federation of American Scientists argues that the US has even re-interpreted its obligations under the BWC and now accepts development of bio-weapons as long as they are not lethal. For example, North Korea was a signatory to the Nuclear Nonpoliferation Treaty (NPT), but then changed course and build some nuclear weapons. It is always possible other states will do the same with regards to the BWC.

Second and related to the first, bio-weapons programs are often very hidden from the public and other states. Unlike commitments to not move troops near borders, bio-weapons programs cannot be viewed from satellites and leave a smaller footprint than troop movements. Bio-weapons programs present a difficulty similar to nuclear weapons programs however nuclear weapons programs receive much more attention in the international arena.

Third, bio-defense requires more international coordination than other security problems. The interconnectedness of our modern world means that biological attacks somewhere in the world could spread across international lines.

Fourth, biological attacks are very likely to be asymmetrical and unconventional. A small and weak group or state can threaten the strongest states with biological attack.

These are several problems that biological weapons present unlike other security threats. International cooperation is a difficult challenge, but must be pursued vigorously. Agreements are great, but what they actually mean in practice is key.