This is the 17th issue of the new feature called the IBC Threat Assessment (IBC-TA) that was initiated in November 2014. It is intended to inform our readers about ongoing and emerging CRBNe threats that need the attention of policymakers, experts and ordinary citizens. If left unattended, these threats may result in grave consequences for different sectors of our societies and/or the security of ordinary citizens. As the threat environment is constantly changing existing regulations, crisis plans or security protocols are often insufficient and in need of adaptation or review. Every TA will cover a threat for each CBRNe category. The TA’s are based on open sources.
Topics covered in this threat assessment:
- UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) making progress in its investigation of incidents of the use of chemical weapons in Syria
- Zika virus minor threat to Olympics, but infections are expected to rise this summer in Western Hemisphere
- A new statistical study emphasizes the need for better anticipation and more effective management of nuclear accidents
- North Korea continues to develop a functioning nuclear weapons program despite international sanctions
- A general reference document on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWPA)
The Threat Assessments are based on open sources. End date of collection: July 28, 2016
UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) making progress in its investigation of incidents of the use of chemical weapons in Syria
- This summer the JIM will continue its research into the chemical weapon incidents. It is investigating with the aim to present its final report in August.
- Special forces of the alliance have continued operations to disrupt R&D facilities of jihadist organizations and neutralize the coordinators of these programs.
- Jihadist organizations in the Middle East show a continued interest in toxic chemicals indicated by the distribution of tutorials via their media branches.
In June the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) reported on the progress it made in relation to the investigation of nine specific incidents in which chlorine and mustard gas was used in Syria. During the summer months the JIM will make additional field visits and witness interviews. Its final report is expected in August as its one-year mandate ends.
While new incidents of the use of chemical weapons have been reported in Syria and Iraq during the past months, special forces of the alliance have focused their attention on R&D facilities of Daesh and other organizations and the key figures involved in these programs. In March, they succeeded in capturing Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, the chief engineer of the chemical program of Daesh. The OPCW said that it has been confirmed that sulfur mustard had been used by Daesh in both Iraq and Syria. It is assumed that Daesh produces the chemical by it self. Although the produced chemical weapons are assessed to be of low quality, they still are of the highest concern.
Based on the status of the findings of the JIM to be presented in August, the UN Security Council can decide to extend the JIM mandate. If the JIM succeeds in presenting a list of names of persons responsible for the investigated incidents, the UNSC will have to adopt a new resolution to impose sanctions or take action against the perpetrators. The likeliness of this happening depends on the developments on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq in the coming months. Following a successful campaign against Daesh, a diplomatic stage in which cooperation with Assad will be necessary is likely to begin. In such a stage it will not be helpful to impose sanctions or take action against Assad. On the other hand, they could be used to put him under pressure to make him more willing to compromise.
With an upcoming large scale military offensive against Daesh in Mosul, the likelihood of the use of chemical weapons will probably increase. Prior to this offensive, special forces of the alliance are likely to disrupt more production and storage facilities before the real offensive begins. The availability of tutorials on jihadist websites will contribute to efforts by jihadist organizations to experiment with new types of chemicals to be used in IEDs, VBIEDs or other delivery vehicles.
Zika virus minor threat to Olympics but infections are expected to rise this summer in Western Hemisphere
- A further spreading of the Zika virus may cause rising health costs in a number of countries in the Western Hemisphere.
- Due to intensified summer traffic to and from the Western Hemisphere the number of reported cases of Zika in the US and Europe may increase. In the US also mosquito-borne outbreaks may occur. These are less likely for Europe.
- Models indicate that the pandemic may die out before an effective vaccine has been developed.
In August, the Olympics will begin in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, a country affected by the Zika virus. Brazil has registered more than 100,000 cases of Zika with at least 5,000 newborns affected by microcephaly. Zika virus infections were confirmed in May 2015. It took the World Health Organization nine months to declare an international health emergency. A total of forty countries and territories in the Western Hemisphere have mosquito-born transmission of the virus. As of June 22, no local mosquito-born Zika virus disease cases have been reported in the US, but there have been 820 travel-associated cases. Seven infants have been born with Zika-related health effects.
At least 298 million people in the Americas live in areas conductive to Zika transmission. Impoverished, overcrowded areas and the Gulf Coast region are particularly at risk. The WHO declared that there was only a minor risk of the pandemic spreading internationally as a result of people traveling to and from the Olympics. Not everyone agreed with this assessment. In a letter to the organization 150 doctors, scientists and researchers called for a removal or a delay of the Olympics to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus.
One mathematical model indicates that a total of 94,3 million people may be infected with the Zika virus, including 1,65 million pregnant women. Although eighty percent of the infected people will hardly have symptoms of the illness, the effects on the micro-cephalic babies that are born can be devastating. One to thirteen percent of the pregnant women may get micro-cephalic babies. These children may be blind or deaf. Some may never learn to stand, walk, or control their bowels. Serious learning disabilities persist from childhood on. As a preventive measure some governments have recommended women to delay conception. Another mathematical model indicates that the epidemic is expected to last about two to three years after which it will gradually die out. A new outbreak can be expected after a period of ten years.
There is no vaccine for the Zika virus. Two drug companies have received permission from regulators to begin human trials to test a vaccine. Phase 1 results are expected later this year.
The nearing end of the pandemic as indicated by the mathematical model may complicate the development of a vaccine. By the time a vaccine has been developed, the amount of infected people to test on will no longer exist.
Local mosquito-borne outbreaks of Zika virus may occur in the coming months in the United States as mosquito populations rise in the warm and humid weather. The number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States is also likely to increase. Due to US Congressional inaction the administration will be forced to reallocate funds to help combat Zika. Health officials have warned that this may leave other disease-fighting efforts underfunded.
As a result of travel to and from the Western Hemisphere also Europe may see a rise in the number of cases of Zika. Mosquito-borne outbreaks in Europe are less likely as the mosquitos responsible for transmission can only be found in some areas of southern Europe.
A new statistical study emphasizes the need for better anticipation and more effective management of nuclear accidents
- The morphology of nuclear accidents is changing from more frequent less costly accidents to less frequent more costly accidents.
- There is a 50 percent chance that a Fukushima event (or more costly) occurs every 60-150 years.
- To be able to better anticipate these dragon kings there is a need for more reliable data on accidents and adaptation of the current INES scale.
A new statistical study shows that the morphology of nuclear accidents is changing, from more frequent less costly accidents to less frequent more costly accidents. With 338 reactors in operation the researchers found that there is a 50 percent chance that a Fukushima event (or more costly) occurs every 60-150 years, and a Three Mile Island event (or more costly) every 10-20 years. It has been proved that the average costs of events per year is around the cost of the construction of a new plant.
While the researchers found a history of learning from previous accidents within the industry, especially after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, their research has a number of important implications for security management in the nuclear sector. There are significant gaps in the accident data and the researchers plead for more reliable data. They realize that a disclosure of more data will need to be balanced with legitimate security concerns of the nuclear industry and the need to avoid promoting a culture of panic and hysteria. The researchers conclude that the current INES scale of the IAEA should be replaced by a scale based on relevant physical variables and/or metrics (dollar costs). While their analysis focuses on accidents with at least $ 20 Million in damages, they ask for more attention for the ‘near misses’, the ‘false negatives’, the ‘minor mishaps’ and ‘residual risk’. Another finding was that when there was an accident with at least $ 20 Million in damages, there was a 10 percent chance that it would transform into a catastrophe with at least $ 1 Billion in damages.
The new statistical analysis based on a different dataset of nuclear accidents illustrates the risks and costs in the nuclear industry. It highlights the need for better anticipation and more effective management of accidents. The changing morphology of accidents underlines the risks of the so-called ‘dragon kings’, the accidents with exceptional high costs. With the number of new nuclear reactors under construction still rising, the risks can be expected to increase even further. The researchers have made a number of valuable suggestions to disclose more relevant information on accidents and adapt existing scales. If implemented, this may contribute to a better understanding and reduction of risk in the nuclear industry.
North Korea continues to develop a functioning nuclear weapons program despite international sanctions
- North Korea continues to develop its nuclear capabilities that appear to be part of a long-term plan of reunification with the South on its own terms.
- International sanctions have until now had almost no deterrent effect on its nuclear activities.
- US deployment of THAAD in South Korea have complicated regional politics and have decreased the chances for a re-opening of the Six Party talks.
During the past months relations between North Korea and its neighbors have deteriorated further following the international response to its human rights abuses and its nuclear activities and missile tests. In January the country executed its fourth nuclear test. In March it announced it had a miniature nuclear warhead. In April and June it executed several Masuadan missile tests and in April it executed a KN-11 SLBM test. There are signals that it may execute a fifth nuclear test in the near future. The country is estimated to have 13-21 small yield nuclear weapons with uncertain delivering options. Multilateral sanctions have so far failed to deter weapons development. The country is focused on a real functioning nuclear weapons program and could be on the way to getting it.
A new consensus is emerging about North Korea’s nuclear program. Analysts have been rethinking the underlying goals and motivations of the North Korean state. The current view is that it may not be willing to give up its nuclear program or missile programs. It appears focused on acquiring key nuclear capabilities including a demonstrated ability to strike the continental United States. The leadership believes it is facing a potentially existential crisis and is willing to take extreme steps to survive.
On July 7, the US launched a new round of sanctions targeting high-level North Korean officials (including leader Kim Jung-un) for human rights abuses. A day later the US and South Korea decided to deploy the much debated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Seongju.
North Korea responded with a suspension of its major channel of communication to the US through the UN and with a missile test that it claimed simulated a nuclear missile attack on US assets in South Korea.
As international sanctions hit the economy, the country is becoming more dependent on alternative ways to generate money, including cyber crime and forced labor.
While the tight economic sanctions may have damaging effects on the economy, they may have actually strengthened the North Korean aim to achieve full nuclear capabilities. The recent North Korean measures and international countermeasures have made a re-opening of the Six Party talks unlikely for the near future. The recent advances in its nuclear capabilities are believed to be part of a plan that is not only aimed at scaring off the US, but also to one day coerce the South into accepting the North’s long-standing demand of a reunification on its own terms. Reunification is believed to be the only long-term solution to the regime’s chronic security problems.
A general reference document on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWPA)
- In ongoing armed conflicts military operations often concentrate in densely populated urban areas causing devastating effects on the population and infrastructure (e.g. Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, Damascus, Idlib, Aleppo)
- The technical characteristics and the effects of three broad categories of weapons (large radius, inaccurate delivery system, wide-area effect) are described.
- The Armed Research Services (ARES) report can be read in combination with reports of the Toxic Remnants of War project, an initiative to map the environmental effects of warfare in populated areas.
In May, Armed Research Services (ARES) published a general reference document on explosive weapons in populated areas (EWPA). The report provides background information on the technical characteristics of these weapons and other factors relevant to their effects. The report wants to foster a better understanding of these weapons when used in populated areas. Many of the ongoing armed conflicts are concentrated in densely populated urban areas and the military operations using different categories of weapons have devastating effects not only on the population, but also on the infrastructure.
The first part of the report concentrates on the design and effect of explosive munitions and addresses concepts such as accuracy, fusing, the targeting process, collateral damage estimations and battle damage assessments.
The second part of the report provides generic information for the broad categories of weapon systems that deliver explosive payloads, such as artillery guns, mortars, rocket artillery, unguided aerial bombs and other types. The report includes three broad categories of weapons: weapons with a large destructive radius; weapons that tend to have inaccurate delivery systems and weapons designed to deliver a wide area effect. For each category the report describes primary and secondary effects.
With the increasing frequency of military operations in densely populated urban areas the ARES report fills a vacuum by providing a useful reference guide with technical information on the characteristics and effects of the different weapon categories. The report can be read in combination with the reports of the Toxic Remnants of War project, an effort by different NGOs and agencies to map the environmental effects of warfare in populated areas.