Abdul Hamid al-Youssef’s wife Dala and twins, Ahmed and Aya, were killed in a suspected Sarin attack in Syria. “My children, my children, they were beautiful”, the widower screams in a heartbreaking footage of his visit to the makeshift burial site where his beloved wife and children were laid to rest. Humanity was at its lowest again, and there was nothing he could do about it.
A simple, hardworking family was torn apart by this devastating war. There are thousands of Abduls struggling right now, and millions more will if the international community does not protect them. Nuclear, chemical and biological warfare has come to occupy centre stage in international politics since the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan during World War 2, yet it has never been more relevant and urgent than it is now. With the advancement in technology and more backdoor support for non-State actors, the threat of acquisition of weapons of mass destruction for biological warfare by non-state actors is very real. There are already well-established treaties and agreements to promote non-proliferation of WMDs, but are they enough?
The extensive use of poison gas in World War I, resulting in over a million casualties and over 100,000 deaths led to the Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibiting the use of both poison gas and bacteriological methods of warfare. After the establishment of the UN, there were massive debates and discussions regarding complete disarmament of chemical and biological weapons, which in 1975 led to passing of a resolution titled ‘Convention on the Prohibition of the Development Production and Stockpiling Of Bacteriological (Biological) And Toxin Weapons And On Their Destruction’, popularly known as the Biological Weapons Convention. Although the BWC was a progressive step towards the elimination of WMDs, its execution posed huge implementation challenges and even to date is not satisfactory enough. Around the same time, in 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty was put into force. This treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty towards the goal of disarmament by the states that possess nuclear-weapons. The treaty was a major step in global disarmament as it had 191 signatories. The Chemical Weapons Convention was another framework, aimed at curbing the use of chemical weapons. All these treaties were the backbone of chemical and biological disarmament that ultimately led to the adoption of the Resolution 1540 in April 2004. The resolution imposed binding obligations to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and their means of delivery, and establish appropriate domestic controls over related materials to prevent illicit trafficking.
With the ever growing power of non-state actors, the world community is an imminent threat from these groups launching full-scale attacks on countries by acquiring these weapons of high destructive powers. There have been instances where these people have breached security and stolen dangerous materials. International friction has been an obstacle to cooperation between countries, which in today’s world has become an utmost necessity. Proper security measures need to be in place for materials that can be used for the creation of such weapons. Countries should be encouraged, persuaded and threatened to cut off money laundering and financing of terrorist groups, making it extremely difficult for them to make any purchases. Advancement in science has erased the traditional lines between nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, thus increasing the need for cooperation between relevant organisations such as the BWCISU and IAEA, with special emphasis on information sharing. Proper implementation of all the non-proliferation treaties and the 1540 resolution should be monitored and should be prioritised with immediate effect.
The recent passing of the resolution on the complete ban on nuclear weapons is a step that is welcome and will help to carve the path ahead. By simple logic, if there are no weapons, one will not be able to acquire them. Unfortunately, the implementation of this log isn’t as simple. The absence of major players during the voting process raises question over the applicability of the new resolution. The international community must realise the danger posed by the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by these non-state actors. These people are neither under any international law nor do they bear any state obligations, making them even more dangerous. It is about time we ready ourselves to face the future, a world where these terrorist groups and their weapons, both will be more powerful than ever.
By Rishabh Shekhar and Atharva Tandon