Meeting proliferation threats with capacity building assistance

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In 2014, the international community will mark the tenth anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1540 by the UN Security Council. The mandate of that resolution reflected growing concern over the widening WMD-proliferation supply chain, which, as a result of globalization, today extends to more countries in more corners of the globe than ever before.

In the wake of the exposure of the A. Q. Khan illicit proliferation network, few governments doubted the need to more aggressively pursue measures aimed at forestalling non-state actors’ acquisition of sensitive WMD-related technologies and know-how. Yet by 2006, following a full two years of outreach by the UNSCR 1540 Committee, there was little evidence of widespread implementation, particularly across the developing world. These ostensibly delinquent governments of the Global South recognized the importance of proliferation prevention. Still, for most of them, the reality of WMD terrorism, while horrific, was ultimately not as immediate a threat as other soft-security and development challenges. Consider this:

  • One quarter of the annual $4 billion small-arms trade is unauthorized or illicit, and every day around the world, 1,000 people die because of guns—with a disproportionate share in the Global South.
  • Gang violence associated with drug cartels has paralyzed large swathes of the globe and contributed to chronic underdevelopment. Estimates of the number of people killed in Mexico alone since late 2006—including cartel members, security forces, and civilians—surpass 60,000 deaths.
  • Millions of people around the world die each year from preventable diseases. In 2012, 1.3 million people died from tuberculosis alone. Among those fatalities, 95 percent occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Many girls, particularly in the developing world, have inadequate access to basic education. Only 56 percent of the world’s children of primary-school age live in countries that have achieved gender parity at this level of schooling. This percentage drops steadily for those children attending lower secondary school (30 percent live in countries that have achieved gender parity) and upper secondary school (about 15 percent).

In light of these more immediate challenges to their people, it was not unreasonable that these governments had failed to fully meet WMD nonproliferation standards mandated by UNSCR 1540. In the end, preventing proliferation was not and never will be—nor perhaps should it be—the highest priority for many governments. In much of the world, it is not one worthy of diverting scarce human and financial resources from more pressing challenges.

Yet recent incidents involving sensitive technology transfers indicate that the WMD-proliferation challenge is no longer merely a phenomenon facilitated by the most technologically advanced governments. Rather, dual-use technologies are increasingly being developed, manufactured, and transshipped by private actors amid deep regulatory vacuums around the world. Often these dual-use technologies are overseen by governments with little capacity to prevent dangerous actors from acquiring them illicitly.

In such an environment, it has become incumbent upon those most affected by the proliferation threat to break with traditional approaches to nonproliferation. Usual hectoring based upon legal mandates is an inadequate, ineffective, and increasingly immoral approach to prevention. Today, successful nonproliferation will require developing models of engagement where not only Western-prioritized hard-security demands are satisfied, but where developing countries’ higher-priority soft-security and development needs are equally validated—and ultimately ameliorated.

In 2006, the Stimson Center and the Stanley Foundation, in cooperation with the government of Finland, sought to conceptualize and implement an innovative new approach to proliferation prevention in the Global South. This strategy—a dual-benefit nonproliferation engagement—necessitated an unprecedented new “whole-of-society” methodology that leveraged a wider spectrum of interests and capabilities. It required a new recognition on the part of the national security community that development and human security interests are equally critical factors in long-term peace and prosperity. And it demanded a willingness to widen the dialogue to include not only a more expansive variety of government interests and ministries but also new contributors from outside of government, in the private sector and in civil society.

Figure 1: By borrowing upon the good work and preexisting relationships built over decades by government-development agencies, soft-capacity providers, and nongovernmental interests, the nonproliferation community can not only ensure near-term interest and long-term sustainability to its programming, it can also make meaningful contributions to economic growth and development.

This new approach operates on the understanding that in order to address the security challenges of our modern and globalized era, we must appeal to the enlightened self-interest of all partners. Doing so is the only way to transform these critical partners from recalcitrant targets of our nonproliferation policy into sustained advocates for nonproliferation engagement.

Over the last seven years, this so-called “Beyond Boundaries” approach promised to yield tangible nonproliferation activities that are not only more sustainable but also ultimately less costly because of the effective merging of resources across multiple portfolios. It facilitated partnerships among project partners in international and regional organizations; national governments in the Caribbean, Central America, the Andean region, the Middle East, eastern Africa, and Southeast Asia; and civil-society and private-sector organizations. The dual-benefit model fundamentally altered ingrained approaches to proliferation prevention across countries of the Global South.

For instance, in the Caribbean, project partners successfully linked assistance provided to enhance strategic border and export controls with companion aid to prevent the trafficking of small arms and narcotics. This assistance in turn promoted efficiencies at transit hubs, facilitating trade expansion, business development, and national competitiveness within the global supply chain—all while ensuring greater implementation of UNSCR 1540. Also in the Caribbean Basin, assistance proffered to develop pre- and post-WMD incident response has enhanced governments’ capacity to detect earthquakes.

Elsewhere, the project team helped advance efforts aimed at the prevention of human trafficking, a growing moral priority for many governments across Southeast Asia, by opening the door to new resources and capacities for detecting the movement of terrorists across borders. By identifying financial streams of assistance from the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction for the detection of biological incidents, the team promoted consideration of a functional disease-surveillance network in the Andean region. And in the Middle East, the team helped to link governments’ pursuit of energy diversification through nuclear power with technical and capacity-building assistance from nonproliferation funding. This approach held the simultaneous promise of being possible while reinforcing global confidence in government adherence to the global nonproliferation regime, thus expediting regulatory approval and international confidence.

In addition to abetting the material implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1540, the Beyond Boundaries initiative also demonstrated the meaningful role that both civil society and private industry can play in conceptualizing and ultimately realizing policy change at the global level. In a series of unique partnerships, civil society has worked with governments to identify critical capacity shortfalls, connect industry and civil-society actors with innovative capacities to share, and provide matchmaking services between donors, private providers, and governments in need.

With the Beyond Boundaries initiative, Stimson and the Stanley Foundation have demonstrated that wider collaborations with constituencies inside—but perhaps even more importantly, from outside—of government can lead to more effective and sustainable measures to address transnational challenges. In this case, a consortium of governments, international organizations, industry, and civil society came together to translate the nonproliferation of WMD from an ethereal-seeming threat for most of the world into a resource-sharing mechanism to address long-term security and development challenges.

In short, around the globe, as a result of the Beyond Boundaries model, new assistance streams were developed, linking the hard-security priorities of donors to an array of higher-priority development needs in the Global South. New programmatic activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Interpol, and others were launched in countries once disconnected from those organizations’ mandates. In several cases, most notably in the Caribbean and Latin America, governments in those regions became assistance providers themselves, sharing knowledge, training, and resources in innovative South-South partnerships. And private industry has stepped up, not as contractors filling short-term contracts, but as partners addressing longer-term security challenges that mutually impact business operations and international peace and stability.

Over seven years, the Beyond Boundaries approach also migrated from the margins of official outreach by UNSCR 1540 donor states in the Global North to mainstream policy discussions by these governments. The 1540 Committee itself now routinely recognizes—both in its formal work plans and in its less formal outreach—the value of linking 1540 assistance to the priorities of recipient partners.

The tenth anniversary of resolution 1540 yields an important opportunity for the international community to reflect upon the successes and failures of its decade-long engagement. Even the most cursory reflection on that history indicates that the traditional nonproliferation policy toolkit is becoming increasingly irrelevant to developing countries, where proliferation threats are seemingly growing the fastest due to lack of the resources needed to manage the intersection between technological innovation and illicit activities. If proliferation threats are to be managed in the twenty-first century, then this reality must give impetus to more inventive approaches to nonproliferation engagement.

In sum, while it is clear that the Beyond Boundaries approach to bridging security and development is not a panacea for evolving proliferation challenges in the Global South, it is a necessary component of any proliferation policy that aims to remain relevant in an era of globalization. By thinking creatively about how to address these growing threats, proliferation can be better managed while mutually addressing the—rightfully—higher-priority concerns of the developing world.

This article is adapted from a volume entitled Southern Flows: WMD Nonproliferation in the Developing World. That publication, released in February 2014, assesses the successes of the “whole of society” approach to UNSCR 1540 through a series of six chapters drafted by regional experts.

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