Vol. 5 Num 568 Sat. December 31, 2005  

Post Breakfast
European response to WMD proliferation and terrorism

For the past few years the world has been engrossed in the fight against militant terrorism. What started with 9/11 has since become part of our daily life in most countries in Asia, Europe and North America. We have seen the emergence of this pernicious factor also in Bangladesh. Millions of people are hostage today in the hands of misguided militants. They are seeking solutions to problems through the juxtaposition of religious fervour and violence.

Such events have encouraged various countries to re-evaluate their options with regard to disarmament, non-proliferation and potential acts of terror. They have been forced to adopt measures compatible with the high-risk scenario.

The European Union has also initiated steps in this regard. They are now beginning to play a more inter-active role in the global effort not only towards non-proliferation but also in the containing of terrorism. Such involvement has been a good things.

This is also understandable, given the fact that, the international security environment has become more complicated than the world has ever known. New terrorist threats and the highly complex nature of negotiations between the EU and Iran have clearly shown their need for new responses to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). This active engagement has also been acting as a brake to unilateral action by any individual country.

The EU is now playing a role in encouraging these new responses by helping to strengthen the international system on non-proliferation and pursuing multilateral solutions through close cooperation with its partners. EU negotiators appear to believe that they must build on what has been done so far and fill in the current gaps.

The European Union today has a simple Security Strategy (ESS). It identifies proliferation of WMDs and terrorism as the two major threats to world security. The European Council has accordingly adopted a preventative EU strategy against the proliferation of WMDs.

This approach is based on two main principles.

The first is effective multilateralism. The EU believe that this can be achieved through support for the United Nations and verification agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In 2004, its Council adopted a joint action initiative in support of an IAEA programme to combat nuclear terrorism. Through this programme, the EU helped to increase the physical protection of nuclear installations and radioactive sources (e.g. hospitals, waste sites, etc.) in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Furthermore, the Council also supported the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which monitors the compliance of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The second principle targets international cooperation. Here, the EU stresses the need for better synergies and more coordination with international partners such as US, China, Japan and Russia. The EU and its member states have undertaken such cooperation through the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a global programme aimed at preventing the trafficking of WMDs and related materials to and from states and terrorist groups. Following the Madrid and London attacks; the EU Council also updated its threat assessment and priorities, including the protection of physical resources, nuclear and biological.

I am writing about the EU response to these twin issues and their initiative because of their closer association in Asia. This has been one of the important areas of their participation in contemporary international relations. In a way, this has also been one of the few steps that has been welcomed as being less controversial in nature and character.

The EU's association and interest in safe use of nuclear energy has stemmed from the fact that it relies largely on this source for much of its demand. Consequently, they also have very stringent guidelines with regard to radioactive sources. Some have claimed that the EU code of conduct is even stricter than those of the IAEA.

Greater consciousness about the environment has also led the Union to work on new regulations for the import and export of radioactive materials and a peer-review process. A "WMD clause" has accordingly become an important element in agreements with third countries as part of the EU strategy. Such a clause, for example, has been inserted in agreements with Tajikistan, Albania and Syria, and action plans for all the countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy. Such a measure is now being seen as part of a widely shared international system and the best way to prevent the proliferation of WMDs.

It is beginning to be apparent that the EU today believes in a nightmare scenario. This involves the intersection of terrorism and WMDs. They also consider that the global security environment requires greater attention, given the situation in Iran, North Korea, Palestine and Iraq. They are also worried about the existing weakness of international regimes and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. They are also thinking about the rise of non-state actors and the impact this has had on deterrence; the availability of dangerous materials (in hospitals, industrial sites, third countries like Russia); and the role of technology and communications in spreading knowledge about how to carry out terrorist acts.

Analysts within the EU today, particularly in the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris, the Institute of Terrorism Research and Security Policy in Essen and the Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung in Brussels have been stressing on how crucial it has become to differentiate between threats and potential consequences. Hence, they are now classifying radiological dispersal device or "dirty bombs" as WMDs because although they have only a limited ability to cause casualties, they have a high ability to cause disruption (e.g. panic, economic turmoil, decontamination issues).

It would be interesting to refer here to certain observations that were made in a recent workshop in Brussels in the European Policy Centre. Researchers pointed out two interesting trends in terrorism: the significant increase in the number of fatal attacks between the period before 11 September 2001 and 2004 (in 2004, there were 4,985 deaths associated with terrorism compared to 777 in 2000); and the fact that terrorists are still relying heavily on the use of explosives, with 255 of 678 -- or 38% -- of terrorist acts carried out in this way.

Participants in this workshop, after exhaustive discussion, recommended that the EU should "pick the low handing fruit" in its approach to dealing with terrorism. Wisely, it was also suggested that the Union should focus on what is easiest to implement -- the protection of toxic chemical transport networks, rather than investing billions to prepare for unlikely terrorist scenarios such as a nuclear device going off in city. From this point of view, the EU analysts have shown greater maturity than their counterparts in the USA.

Another aspect also drew the attention of the EU security strategists. They focused particularly on the new scourge of suicidal terrorism. Opinions were expressed that the incidents in London and Madrid had revealed that suicide bombings were not only a powerful and dangerous threat to society but also that such action were easier and cheaper for causing destruction and panic than WMDs. The EU has consequently, most appropriately, termed this weapon as a "flexible technology." We in Bangladesh need to learn from this analysis. The EU also recognises now that suicide bombings are becoming more complex to combat because the profiles of terrorists are becoming increasingly difficult to identify.

Many in contemporary Europe believe that militant Islam is firmly entrenched in that continent. They also feel that it is incumbent on authorities to begin a prevention policy immediately. In this context they are trying to identify the sources of terrorism and recruitment. They are also trying to create a matrix, which would not only identify possible motives of suicide terrorists but also help prepare their potential profiles. Strategic analysts however agree that putting together such a profile has become more difficult now that common denominators have been swept aside with the emergence of women bombers.

European security specialists are also acknowledging that it is becoming increasingly difficult to infiltrate terrorist cells through under-cover agents. Two factors are severely impeding their efforts -- 1) the language barrier (few officers in European police forces or the CIA have linguistic skills in Afghani and Iraqi dialects); and 2) the reliability of sources, who often accept money but provide false information in return. Nevertheless, they are not giving in, particularly at a juncture, when NATO's association with Asia continues to grow.

The recent upsurge of militant violence within our own country is presently being tackled with foreign assistance. In this context, I strongly suggest that the relevant authorities should consider approaching the European Commission for help in this regard. Accessing to information and data from the European security agencies might enable us to find out how our local militants are obtaining funds as well as the items required for making explosives. They might also be able to help us in stopping the trafficking of weapons.

This will be my last column for this year. Accordingly, I take this opportunity to wish all my readers best wishes for a Happy New Year. May it bring for them prosperity and peace.

Muhammad Zamir is a former Secretary and Ambassador who can be reached at