Transnational groups of proliferation concern include terrorists, insurgents, opposing factions in civil wars, and members of organized criminal groups. Such groups are not generally bound by the same constraints and mores or motivated by the same factors as are nation-states, but pose significant threats to the interests of the United States and our allies and friends worldwide. Terrorist acts pose an especially potent threat to U.S. interests. When carried out by small, close-knit groups, these attacks are difficult to detect in advance, despite diligent intelligence efforts.
This category of proliferation threat is truly a global problem, cutting across all regions. The threat has been starkly demonstrated by the 1995 nerve gas attack in Japan, the bombing of the New York World Trade Center, and the increased involvement of criminal groups in the smuggling of nuclear materials. Furthermore, with numerous ongoing insurgencies and civil wars worldwide, there are additional dangers for escalation should NBC weapons or missiles be introduced to the conflict. Finally, there is an increased potential for leakage of NBC weapons or missile technology, or individuals with technological know-how. Such leakage would most likely occur between states that have reduced or dismantled their programs and states with programs under development.
Terrorist groups that acquire NBC weapons and stridently oppose U.S. policies could pose significant potential dangers to U.S. interests. Terrorists armed with these weapons can gain leverage for their demands because of the weapons' nature.
Terrorists might wish to obtain NBC weapons for a variety of motives. Such groups might threaten using NBC weapons as "saber rattlers" to raise the ante in response to Western political or military actions or to achieve a specific objective, but would risk losing its base of support.
Most terrorist groups do not have the financial and technical resources necessary to acquire nuclear weapons, but could gather materials to make radiological dispersion devices and some biological and chemical agents. Some groups have state sponsors that possess or can obtain NBC weapons. Nations such as Iran and Libya have backed numerous groups over the years, but no sponsor has yet demonstrated a willingness to provide such groups with NBC weapons, perhaps a testament to the looming and certain threat of retaliation should the state be identified as the supplier.
Terrorist acts involving NBC weapons represent a particularly dangerous threat that must be countered. The ability of terrorists to take the initiative in the choice of targets and timing of attacks significantly complicates our ability to combat this threat. U.S. policy in countering terrorism is four-fold: make no concessions to terrorists, use political and economic instruments to pressure states that sponsor terrorism, exploit fully all available legal mechanisms to punish international terrorists, and help other governments improve their capabilities to combat terrorism.
Insurgent groups and separatist movements, should they acquire NBC weapons or missiles, pose another potential threat to U.S. interests. Presently, there are dozens of insurgencies ongoing throughout the world. Insurgent groups aim to overthrow existing governments, thus destabilizing regional balances of power. In some cases, such groups have kidnapped U.S. citizens or conducted economic retaliation against U.S. commercial interests abroad. For the most part, these groups operate with unsophisticated weapons, receive little financial backing, and lack an industrial base to develop or produce NBC weapons or missiles.
The primary proliferation concern about insurgent groups is that they might capture such weapons, acquire them from sympathizers in the government's forces, or purchase them, possibly from organized criminal groups. Insurgents might also attract sympathizers among knowledgeable scientists and technicians who might aid in developing weapons. Acquisition of such weapons could alter the regional balance of power and change the terms of conflict, if not its outcome, decisively.
Opposing factions in civil wars also could have access to NBC weapons and missiles. Such factions might be motivated to use these weapons as force multipliers to achieve quick and decisive victories. Factions could threaten or actually use the weapons against civilians for psychological and strategic effect. Tactically, the weapons might be used against a larger conventional force to disrupt staging or resupply efforts, thus prompting an evacuation of noncombatants.
Recently, opposing factions in two civil wars acquired and employed ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, Afghan rebel factions acquired a number of SCUD missiles, some of which the rebel groups fired at government forces in Kabul in January 1994. The second instance involved the Yemen civil war. During the spring of 1994, the southern faction launched SCUD missiles against civilians in the northern cities of Sana and Tai'z. None of the strikes in these two cases caused significant damage or casualties or affected the fighting significantly.
The potential for international organized criminal groups to obtain, use, or sell NBC weapons has grown in the last few years. In the wake of the Cold War, some of these groups have emerged as a growing threat to U.S. interests. This situation is particularly critical in the former Soviet Union.
A careful distinction must be made, however, between material the criminal groups claim to offer for sale and what they can deliver. For example, numerous criminal elements throughout Europe have been implicated in scams involving the sale of what was advertised as weapons grade nuclear materials. To date, those materials seized by law enforcement officials have been well below enrichment or quantity levels suitable for weapons. Most appear to have come from research facilities rather than from weapons-related facilities.
Over the past several years, organized criminal groups and smugglers have become increasingly involved in trafficking illegal nuclear materials. The growing number and sophistication of groups attempting to acquire these materials or weapons is an increasingly crucial concern for international law enforcement.
Beginning in 1991, multiple incidents involving criminal activity and the theft of nuclear material surfaced in Europe. During a 1994 appearance before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the head of the German Federal Criminal Police (the Federal Bureau of Investigation's German counterpart) offered his insight into criminal trafficking of nuclear material. He reported that the number of incidents involving nuclear materials within Germany was increasing over time: from 41 in 1991, to 158 in 1992, to 241 in 1993, and to 267 in 1994. In late 1994, responding to the incidents involving nuclear material smuggled into Germany in August 1994, Moscow and Bonn agreed to new bilateral security measures.
Controlling or containing proliferation involving transnational groups is particularly difficult because these groups evade or defy recognized export controls or nonproliferation regimes. Should these groups acquire NBC weapons or missiles, they may be more inclined to employ them in order to achieve their goals than would a member in good standing of the international community of nations. Countering the transfer of these weapons and related technologies to or from these groups has become increasingly difficult. Furthermore, the sophistication of some of the groups -- especially organized crime -- involved in the smuggling of NBC-related materials has complicated the related problems of locating stolen materials and disabling weapons. In some cases, the difficulty is further complicated by the dual-use nature and availability of the raw materials associated with biological or chemical agents.
Of the transnational groups discussed above, the greatest dangers to U.S. interests stem from terrorists and, to a lesser extent, organized criminal groups. One of the most volatile and frightening scenarios for U.S. defense planning posits a terrorist group, whose actions are directed principally against the United States, with nuclear material or an actual NBC weapon. Though direct U.S. interests are always exposed to some risks, it is unlikely that attacks from insurgents or opposing sides in a civil war that involved such weapons would focus their main attacks on U.S. interests specifically.
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