The Use of the Existing WMD Free Zones as an Example and a Potential Framework
For Further Initiatives Banning Ballistic Missiles
HCOC RESEARCH PAPERS NO. 3
Taken as a wide-ranging notion, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have not produced significant instruments in international security over time, UNSCR1540 being an exception. As such, there are no existing WMD free zones (WMDFZ) which can be used as examples and as potential frameworks for further initiatives banning ballistic missiles.
The MTCR has been the only multilateral effort and instrument to curb missile proliferation until the adoption of the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). There is no multilateral legally binding instrument against the spread of ballistic missiles either in force or under negotiation.
The purpose of this study is twofold: first, it is to assess the potentiality of the WMDFZ approach to curb the proliferation of ballistic missiles; second, it is to draw lessons from the implementation of the seven nuclear weapon-free zones (NWFZ) being in force as potential frameworks for new initiatives against the proliferation of ballistic missiles.
If the notion of a NWFZ is by no means new, the notion of a WMDFZ is more recent. It was diplomatically mooted by Egypt in 1990 in the form of the “Mubarak proposal”, concerning the Middle East. The two notions have subsequently formally coexisted and taken shape, if not as a political project at least as a diplomatic reality in various arenas.
Since its diplomatic formulation by General Assembly Resolution 4630 in 1991, the goal of a WMDFZ in the Middle East continued to be addressed during the annual sessions of the UN General Assembly. It resurfaced in a regional framework: the “Madrid process” and in the NPT Review Process. This double dynamic has not made any quantifiable progress so far. It must be added, however, that whereas the regional approaches to address WMD generally do not imply delivery vehicles, the zonal approach in the Middle East has been an exception: the issue of delivery vehicles has become part of the scope of such a future zone over time.
As to the NWFZs, a general assessment can be proposed for the Latin American, South Pacific, South-East Asian and African NWFZs and several lessons can be drawn: NWFZs were designed to fit the particular needs and constraints of a region. All NWFZs were built on an existing regional architecture for cooperation and security. Each NWFZ was negotiated among a limited number of parties. CBMs preceded the establishment of the zone. Peace was a condition. Once it prevailed, agreeing to establish a zone was not an issue. Last, regional initiatives, whatever their success or their failure, provide a solid basis and background materials for future global negotiations.
These lessons could prove useful for further initiatives banning ballistic missiles worldwide.
Given the particular dynamics indicating that the Middle Eastern region may face a conventional missile race in the near future, this paper insists on two specific initiatives:
- First, Iran might be willing to abide by missile limits as part of a region-wide effort to ban longer-range ballistic missile systems. The EU could encourage regional track 2 dialogues on this issue as a first step.
- Second, the co-conveners of the so called “2012 Helsinki conference” could encourage, and support, a region-wide effort to negotiate a ban on missiles capable of carrying WMD. Such effort could be proposed and supported by the EU during the current NPT review process towards 2020.
“Delivery vehicles have for a long time been the poor relation of the arms control thinking and the term “delivery vehicle” has never been defined properly”
Defining A WMD
Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) constitute a familiar notion and a poorly defined one at the same time. According to W. Seth Carus who conducted a study on the definition of WMDs1 in 2005, more than fifty various definitions could be found at that time in American literature only.
All of them, however, belonged to one of the following categories:
- Nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons (NBC)
- Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons (CBRN)
- CBRN and high explosive weapons (CBRNE)
- CBRN weapons capable of causing mass destruction or mass casualties
- Weapons, including some CBRN weapons but not limited to CBRN, capable of causing mass destruction or mass casualties
- WMD as weapons of mass effect capable of causing mass destruction or mass casualties or that cause mass disruption.
It is worth noting that none of these six categories mentions delivery vehicles as part of a definition. Even if historians usually date the first known use of the term WMD to 19372, its modern usage appeared in November 1945 in a joint declaration by the President of the United States, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, and the prime minister of Canada. They asked for a United Nations (UN) Commission to make proposals “for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.”3 In legal terms, the notion of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) came as a follow up within the United Nations system in 1948. Indeed, the first definition of WMDs was presented by the UN Commission on Conventional Armaments (CCM) in August 1948: “The Commission for Conventional Armaments resolves to advise the Security Council: 1. that it considers that all armaments and armed forces, except atomic weapons and weapons of mass destruction, fall within its jurisdiction, and that weapons of mass destruction should be defined to include atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above.”4
Hence, the very first legal definition of WMDs does not mention delivery vehicles either, even as part of a sub-definition of what a “weapon” is. It must be added that the 1948 definition was nor endorsed by the USSR. Only in 1977 did the UN could collectively endorse the 1948 WMD definition when the USSR’s position evolved. The UN General Assembly then adopted Resolution 32/84, which contained the language accepting the 1948 CCA definition for use in disarmament diplomacy.5 Delivery vehicles were not either clarified or even mentioned by the 1977 UNGA Resolution.
In the common language of contemporary arms control experts and observers and within the various national security communities, WMDs usually concern nuclear, biological and chemical weapons including their means of delivery.6
Banning Ballistic Missiles
Delivery vehicles have for a long time been the poor relation of the arms control thinking and the term “delivery vehicle” has never been defined properly. As pointed out by Mark Smith, “Means of delivery’ is a loose term, and strictly speaking can refer to anything used to transport WMD to their target, but it can be principally understood as a tacit reference to missiles”.7 The MTCR was the only multilateral effort and instrument to curb missile proliferation until the adoption of the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). There is no multilateral legally binding instrument against the spread of ballistic missiles either in force or in negotiation.
Taken as a wide-ranging concept, WMDs have not produced significant instruments in international security over time. As such, there are no existing WMD free zones which can be used as examples and as potential frameworks for further initiatives banning ballistic missiles.
The purpose of this study is twofold: first it is to assess the potentiality of the WMD Free Zone approach to curb the proliferation of ballistic missiles, second it is to draw lessons from the implementation of the seven nuclear weapons free zones (NWFZ) being in force as potential frameworks for further initiatives against the proliferation of ballistic missiles. […]
1 Seth Carus, Defining “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, Occasional paper 8, Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction National Defense University, National Defense University Press Washington, D.C. January 2012 (edition revised), 91 p.
2 Christmas address, Archbishop of Canterbury, William Cosmo Gordon Lang: “Take, for example, the question of peace. Who can think without dismay of the fears, jealousies, and suspicions which have compelled nations, our own among them, to pile up their armaments? Who can think at this present time without a sickening of the heart of the appalling slaughter, the suffering, the manifold misery brought by war to Spain and to China? Who can think without horror of what another widespread war would mean, waged as it would be with all the new weapons of mass destruction?”, “Archbishop’s Appeal: Individual Will and Action; Guarding Personality,” The Times (London), December 28, 1937.
3 Department of State, Historical Office, Documents on Disarmament, 1945–1969, Volume I: 1945–1956, pub. 7008, August 1960.
4 CCA, UN document S/C.3/32/Rev.1, August 1948.
5 “Reaffirms the definition of weapons of mass destruction, contained in the resolution of the Commission for Conventional Armaments of 12 August 1948, which defined weapons of mass destruction as atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons and any weapons developed in the future which might have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above.”
6 Radiological weapons are rarely included in the notion since they are rather considered as weapons of mass disruption.
7 Mark Smith, “The HCOC: Current challenges and future possibilities,” HCoC Research Paper, n°1, FRS, 2013.