Weapons of Mass Destruction Control Act (1992) (Major Acts of Congress)
David A. Koplow
With the Weapons of Mass Destruction Control Act (P.L. 102-484, 106 Stat. 2569), Congress expressed its strong fear that, in a postold War world, the greatest dangers to U.S. national security and global stability came from the threatened proliferation of advanced and extraordinarily lethal weapons. The act reflects the belief that American policy and funding ought to put a higher priority on efforts to impede those developments.
The act addresses several categories of modern armaments. The term "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) includes nuclear weapons first and foremost. But it also includes chemical and biological weapons (which might prove cheaper and more accessible for poor countries and terrorist groups). The act also highlights missile systems that could be used to deliver WMD or other arms with great speed and precision while evading many countries' defensive systems for detecting and intercepting aircraft. Together, these weapons of extraordinary lethality threaten to undermine peace and stability because they could give an aggressor country a substantial advantage in a surprise first strike. Such a strike could deliver a devastating blow to an unsuspecting target country, deciding the outcome of a war in the opening moments.
Through this law, Congress sought to take greater advantage of the "unique expertise" of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy in international nonproliferation activities, including "(A) to detect and monitor proliferation, (B) to respond to terrorism, theft, and accidents involving weapons of mass destruction, and (C) to assist with interdiction and destruction of weapons of mass destruction and related weapons material." Although the statute declares it to be "the sense of Congress" that U.S. policy ought to "seek to limit both the supply of and demand for" WMD, most of the statute's provisions are aimed at limiting a country's access to, rather than its demand for, such arms.
The law has two key aspects of operation. The first requires a wide-ranging report to Congress from the secretaries of defense and energy
The other key aspect concerns increased funding for a variety of activities in the category of the "nonproliferation technology initiative." Congress here authorized additional support for research, testing, and procurement of systems to sense chemical and biological weapons, to accomplish seismic monitoring of nuclear explosions, and to detect concealed nuclear materials. It also permitted further assistance to international nonproliferation activities, such as providing international organizations with money, supplies, equipment, personnel, and training to support security, counterterrorism, and related efforts. One example of such activity authorized by the act is the assistance the Department of Defense gave to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) for its inspections in Iraq. The Defense Department provided U-2 surveillance flights and other intelligence and logistics support at a cost of $15 million per year. The U.S. support to UNSCOM was suspended after the December 15, 1998 UNSCOM pullout from Iraq.
See also: ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT ACT AND AMENDMENTS; NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION ACT.