When discussing strategies for the prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery (e.g., ballistic and cruise missiles, unmanned drones, manned aircraft, etc.), the logical starting point, and one with a reasonable record of success, is the negotiation and enforcement of international agreements intended to regulate commerce in the sale of technologies and services that could contribute to the development of such weaponry. For each category of WMD, there is at least one, and often several, international agreements or treaties in effect that have limited the spread to both states and non-state actors of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weaponry, and the ballistic missile technology state actors like Iran and North Korea covet. Below is a list of such treaties and the dates on which they went into effect:
Biological: Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons of 1972;
Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or Other Gasses, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, 1925 (also known as “the Geneva Convention”);
Chemical: Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, 1997;
Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or other Gasses . . .(see above re biological weapons);
Nuclear: Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 1970;
The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, 1996 (also applies to ballistic missile technologies)
Missiles: Missile Technology Control Regime, 1987
This is not a complete list, but it does include most of the relevant international treaties and agreements regarding the spread of WMD technologies. Their importance lies in the formalization of agreements on the part of signatory countries, for example, the United States, France, Germany, etc., to take steps necessary to prevent these technologies from falling into the wrong hands. They are not a panacea, as Iran’s and North Korea’s programs, developed in tandem, to design and construct long-range ballistic missiles intended to carry nuclear, chemical and biological weapons attest, but there is no question that those nations’ abilities in this respect have been seriously hampered by the effectiveness of these agreements.
In short, the broad agreement among most major industrialized nations to restrict the flow of WMD-related technologies – nonproliferation – is a key component of these nations’ efforts at denying terrorists and rogue regimes advanced weapons technologies.
Beyond nonproliferation efforts, and the administration of former President George W. Bush’s Non-Proliferation Security Initiative program, which authorized “direct actions” against proliferators like Libya under the late Moammar Gaddafi (in short, military seizures of foreign maritime vessels or aircraft suspected of transporting WMD materials to other rogue regimes or nonstate actors), efforts at preventing the possession and use by hostile regimes and terrorist organizations include the myriad measures adopted by the newly-established Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the wake of the September 11,, 2001 terrorist attacks. These measures include working with private companies to develop and deploy advanced sensors designed to detect the presence of WMD materials that may be smuggled into the country, and working with foreign governments to similarly utilize such technologies to detect WMD materials headed for American ports. This is no easy task, as the United States has a 5,500 mile border with Canada, as 2,000 mile border with Mexico, and, most importantly, over 12,000 miles of coastline across which over 11 million large cargo containers each year. Combined with the amount of cargo transported by truck across the Mexican and Canadian borders, the odds of detecting all such smuggling attempts are not comforting. The U.S. Government implemented what it calls its Container Security Initiative in 2002 with the intent of radically increasing the amount of cargo traffic scanned for smuggled WMD components, but the scale of the problem makes complete security impossible.
These are just some of the measures taken to mitigate the risk to the United States of weapons of mass destruction being used against it by state and nonstate actors alike. It is a task of monumental complexity, and entails considerable financial cost, but there it is.