This is the 34th issue of the 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.
End date of collection: April 30, 2018.
Topics covered in this issue:
* Alleged chemical incident in Douma followed by massive Western military strike on three facilities related to Syria’s chemical weapon infrastructure
* Collapsing health system in Venezuela causes significant rise in mosquito-born diseases, including malaria, that may spread to neighboring countries
* Japanese trial experiment to use irradiated soil from the clean-up operation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster for road construction
* Upcoming summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump in May raises hope of a breakthrough in the crisis about North Korea’s nuclear program
* The changing nature of conflict has resulted in a significant rise of civilian casualties due to the use of air-launched explosives weapons in populated areas
Alleged chemical incident in Douma followed by massive Western military strike on three facilities related to Syria’s chemical weapon infrastructure
* On April 7 a new alleged chemical incident was reported in Douma, that was immediately followed by a massive Western retaliatory strike on April 12 on three facilities related to Syria’s chemical infrastructure.
* On April 14 an OPCW team arrived in Syria but it took several days before they could visit the alleged impact site to collect evidence and take samples.
* The quick military Western response based on questionable evidence may contribute to a further loss of trust in the military, intelligence services and politicans.
On April 7 a new alleged chemical attack was reported in Syria. Barrel bombs suspected of being filled with chemical munitions were reportedly dropped by a helicopter. Several dozen persons reportedly were killed while another 500 were injured. A chlorine bomb reportedly struck the Douma hospital while another bomb with mixed agents hit a building nearly. The remains of the two cylinders discovered after the attack strongly resemble those used in earlier attacks. While some observers see this strong resemblance to earlier aerial chlorine attacks as an indication that it may have been an attack in the long line of chlorine attacks executed by the Syrian air force, other observers still keep the possibility open the remains may have been deliberately placed to mislead.
The Syrian regime was publicly accused of conducting the attack during a military offensive. The regime and Russia categorically denied the allegations. The photographic and video footage of the attack was provided by a pro-Western aid organization that was known for manipulating information in the past about chemical attacks. Suspicion about the footage was immediately raised by many observers but Western leaders were convinced that a chemical attack had occurred and that the Syrian regime could be held accountable.
Western and Russian journalists visited Douma an interviewed witnesses and persons that were seen in the video footage as victims of the chemical incident. They told that there was no proof of a chemical incident. Russia and Syria transported some of the witnesses to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague to inform the OPCW of the possibility of manipulation of the media material. Russia claimed that the White Helmet video of the incident was clearly ‘staged.’ It is also argued that the Syrian regime had no motive, at the moment of victory, to use a pinprick chemical attack with zero military value.
Before even an official investigation of the incident was organized and finished, the US, Britain and France decided to execute a retaliatory military attack on three facilities related to Syria’s chemical weapon infrastructure: the Scientific Studies and Research Center at Barzeh, and two Him Shinshar chemical storage sites near the city of Homs. These sites were hit on April 12 by by more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles, air-to-surface stand-off missiles, SCALP cruise missiles and Storm Shadow missiles. The retaliatory attack was closely coordinated with Russia that gave the Western countries red lines for their military operation. The targets were carefully selected to be sure that a military strike would not cause an environmental disaster. As the Syrian regime had advance warning the facilities could be evacuated before the strike. The precision strikes reportedly did not cause any casualties.
A special OPCW team arrived in Syria on April 14. It was not until a full seven days had passed that it gained access to the reported impact site in Douma where the alleged chemical incident took place. The investigation is still ongoing and has not been finalized.
In recent months the Syrian chemical weapon issue has grown significantly more complex and challenging, both regionally and globally. As Western leaders had talked about red lines in the past months, they felt they were compelled to retaliate militarily after the alleged April 7 incident. The quick response before even an official investigation was executed and finished may motivate insurgent groups in difficult strategic situations in the future, to stage a false flag chemical attack to trigger a Western response.
The quick military Western response based on questionable evidence may contribute to a further loss of trust in the military, intelligence services and politicians. The claims by Western leaders that Syria’s chemical capabilities had been substantially degraded sound hollow after the statements by international organizations that Syria’s chemical weapons had been verifiable disarmed in 2017.
Collapsing health system in Venezuela causes significant rise in mosquito-born diseases, including malaria, that may spread to neighboring countries
* A collapsing health system as a result of the ongoing economic and political crisis in Venezuela has contributed to an emerging malaria crisis. Soon the number of infected people will reach half a million.
* As the government does not have sufficient means and is doing too little too late the health and food crisis is likely to worsen and will make it even more difficult to contain the spread of infectious diseases in the country.
* If the situation in Venezuela implodes an ongoing exodus is likely to increase and will place a burden on the health systems of neighboring countries and limit the possibilities to contain the spread of infectious diseases.
The ongoing economic and political crisis in Venezuela has resulted in the collapse of the national health system. Due to drastic cuts and a lack of money the authorities are no longer capable of providing basic healthcare to the population. In December 2017, an indepth report was published by a national newspaper titled ‘Venezuela’s Health Holocaust, to bring attention to the severity of the ongoing health crisis. More than three-quarters of the hospitals lack the basic service of running water and in more than half of them operation rooms are inoperative. The population have put pressure on President Maduro to open a ‘humanitarian channel’ that would allow the supply of medicine and other pharmaceutical goods.
The current situation has resulted to the spread of mosquito-born diseases, including malaria. While Venezuela was one of the first countries that had contained malaria in 1961, it now faces a situation in which it has to deal with more than half a million of infected people. Malaria is a life threatening disease caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitos.
In early April the government began a campaign to send operators and fumigation machines to several states to attack the malaria-transmitting mosquitos. It also began the delivery of more than 400,000 treatments to the most affected states. Earlier in the year it carried out a National Vaccination Plan against several diseases. As the health crisis further deteriorates angry protests were reported in almost all 23 states of Venezuela. Under current conditions the situation is not going to improve soon and may contribute to the further spread of infectious disease including malaria. An implosion of the country is likely to cause an exodus to neighboring countries that may contribute to the further spread of infectious diseases.
Venezuela reportedly is on the verge of imploding. A violent implosion is likely to cause an expanding exodus to neighboring countries that will impose a growing strain on their health systems, especially Colombia. Already more than 100,000 people are crossing the border each month to Colombia causing problems in the border regions.
Venezuela’s economy is likely to contract further by 15% this year and inflation is likely to rise to 13,000 percent. Shortages will have a negative impact on the food and health situation of the population. Upcoming elections in May are unlikely to change the political situation and President Maduro is likely to remain in power. Without real political change the current worsening health crisis will have lasting effects on the population and it is uncertain how the downward trend can soon be reversed.
Japanese trial experiment to use irradiated soil from the clean-up operation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster for road construction
* The Japanese government faces an expanding problem of irradiated soil collected in the clean-up operation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
* A trial experiment has begun in the city of Nihonmatsu to use bags of contaminated soil for road construction.
* A further roll-out of this program should be accompanied with a information campaign to convince local residents that there way of life will not be affected and that it will not be harmful to the environment.
New estimates of the amount of radiation dispersed into the environment by the 2011 three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan exceed the amount spread by the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster the Japanese government faces a severe problem of how to dispose of the 775 million cubic feet of irradiated soil that has been collected in the clean-up operation. More than 9 million bags of contaminated soil are awaiting disposal. The Japanese authorities eventually plan to hold all tainted material in temporary storage before transporting it to finanl disposal spots. This could take several decades.
The Japanese government now has begun an experiment in the city of Nihonmatsu to use the contaminated soil from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster for road construction. In the trial large black bags of contaminated soil will be buried under a planned road. More than 17,650 cubit feet of soil would be buried at a depth of 1.5 feet. These bags would then be covered with bags of clean soil to block harmful radiation. Those bags in turn, would be paved over with asphalt. The Environment Ministry said it would use soil emitting a maximum radiation of 8000 becquerels per kilogram. The average for soil used in road construction is around 1,000 becquerels per kilogram. If the trial is successful it may be replicated nationwide.
Local residents are opposed to the plans by the Environment Ministry. Farmers fear they will face problems selling their products in areas near roads built on contaminated soil.
The full impact of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is still uncertain as estimates of the total amount of radiation dispersed into the environment varies. New estimates indicate the Fukushima disaster can now be called the worst radiological disaster in history. As the Japanese government is faced with almost insurmountable clean-up problems it has to be innovative. The road construction experiment is an attempt to reduce the huge amount of contaminated soil that has to be disposed of. It should be closely monitored as the fear of local residents is justified. Any further roll out of this road construction program should be closely scrutinized and the government will have to do more to convince residents that it will be a safe way to reduce the total amount of irradiated soil.
Upcoming summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump in May raises hope of a breakthrough in the crisis about North Korea’s nuclear program
* In the past months a positive dynamic has developed that may contribute to intensified diplomacy to officially end the Korean War and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
* A comprehensive roadmap has been prepared that will be discussed at a planned summit later in May between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
* As of now it is highly uncertain whether the irreconcilable gap between the two positions on the issue of denuclearization can be solved and how a possible deal can be verified in a tightly controlled country.
Stepped up economic, political and military pressure by the US and other countries have forced North Korea to become more willing to come to the negotiation table. North Korea feared an American military attack and its fragile economy suffers from a series of sanctions that had a negative impact on its foreign currency supply. According to some estimates the country would run out of foreign currency by October.
In the past months confidence-building measures have contributed to a positive climate in which the involved countries are willing to compromise about peace on the Korean Peninsula and a willingness to take steps to realize a denuclearization of the region. South Korea removed the huge loudspeakers from the DMZ and North Korea set its clocks back 30 minute to synchronize time with the South. Following a plenary meeting of the ruling party’s central committee in North Korea on April 20, Kim Jong-un announced it will cease testing nuclear devices and missiles, and promised to shut down its primary nuclear test site at Punggye-ri. As the country had achieved its aim of becoming a nuclear state it will now focus on economic development.
During a meeting on April 27, between the presidents of North and South Korea, Kim Jong-un stated that he is willing to give up his nation’s nuclear weapons if the US promises to formally end the Korean war and not invade North Korea. The two leaders announced the beginning of a new age of peace. South Korean President Moon indicated that there was a ‘comprehensive roadmap’ that was shared with the United States. The historical meeting between the North and South Korean leaders will be followed by a summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump later in May. The historical April meeting followed a secret Easter meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-un in which they probably prepared the groundwork for a successful summit.
President Donald Trump is not going to participate in a meeting with Kim Jong-un if there is no chance of success. It is likely that some kind of deal already has been made in the secret diplomatic meetings of the past months. American officials have indicated that this time they are not going to take promises or words and that they are going to look for actions and deeds. They demand a complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea. The two sides, however, define denuclearization in different ways. As of now it is uncertain what Kim Jong-un may demand in return for giving up his nuclear arsenal. The existing gap between the two positions on denuclearization may prove impossible to bridge. Not least because Kim Jong-un has long regarded nuclear weapons as essential for its survival.
North Korea is known for its historical experience in manipulation. In the past, North Korea often used talks to just win time and divide its adversaries. Monitoring of a possible deal will be difficult in a country reluctant to loosen its tight grip on information and access. In addition to the complex discussion of the nuclear threat, also the conventional, biological and chemical threats of North Korea to its neighboring countries have to be included in the discussions during the upcoming summit.
The changing nature of conflict has resulted in a significant rise of civilian casualties due to the use of air-launched explosives weapons in populated areas
* In 2017, a total of 3,825 incidents in 59 countries caused 42,972 deaths and injuries by explosive weapons.
* Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen saw the highest number of civilian deaths and injuries in 2017.
* The biggest state users of explosive weapons in 2017 were the US-led coalition, Syria, the Saudi-led coalition, the USA and Turkey.
* Among a total of 55 different named non-state users of explosive weapons, Daesh, the Taliban, Ukrainian separatists, al-Shabaab and the Houthi rebels were the most prolific.
The impact of explosive weapons use worldwide is tracked by the Explosives Violence Monitoring project of the Action on Armed Violence (AOAV). In April the latest findings were presented in its 7thannual report on the year 2017. In this report the AOAV also summarizes the results of the trends since it began recording statistics on the use of explosive weapons.
The incidents that are recorded cover three broad categories: ground-launched explosive weapons (e.g. mine, shelling, mortar, tank shell, grenade, RPG), air-launched explosive weapons (e.g. airstrike, airdropped bomb, missile, rocket) and improvised explosive weapons (e.g. IEDs, car bombs, roadside bombs). In 2017, AOAV recorded a total of 3,825 incidents in 59 countries that caused 42,972 deaths and injuries by explosive weapons. Almost three-quarters of this number were civilians. Civilian deaths and injuries in populated areas represented 93% of all reported deaths and injuries. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen were the most affected countries. The biggest mass-casualty attacks in 2017 occurred in Mogadishu in Somalia (828 casualties), Kabul in Afghanistan (542 casualties), Bir al-Abd in Egypt (433 casualties), Sindh in Pakistan (431 casualties) and Parachinar in Pakistan (328 casualties)
The new AOAV report presents detailed statistics on the incidents, weapon types, perpetrators and targets. The biggest state users of explosive weapons were the US-led coalition, Syria, the Saudi-led coalition, the US and Turkey. The US-led coalition was responsible for 14% of the incidents that caused 2,867 civilian casualties. The Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 6% of the incidents that caused 1,414 civilian casualties. The AOAV emphasizes the rising importance of the use of air-launched explosive weapons. Incidents occurred in 17 countries and when the weapons were used in populated areas 93% of the deaths and injuries were civilians. For the first time since it began the monitoring project, air-launched weapons outdid both ground-launched and improvised devices in terms of the numbers of deaths and injuries caused.
Non-state actors were responsible for 1,377 incidents in 47 countries causing 17,980 casualties of which 79% were civilians. In 765 of these incidents no group or organization claimed the attack. The AOAV recorded 55 different named non-state actors that claimed attacks. The most prolific organizations in 2017 were Daesh, the Taliban, Ukrainian separatists, al-Shabaab and the Houthi rebels. IED attacks are exclusively used by non-state actors. Daesh was responsible for more than half of the total number of 348 IED attacks in 2017. An average IED attack causes 11 casualties. An average car bomb causes 29 casualties. In 2017, a total of 244 suicide bomb attacks were recorded that killed 8,726 people. An average suicide bomb attack causes 30 casualties. Suicide attacks occurred in 20 countries in 2017. Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Pakistan were the most affected countries.
By looking at the targets of IED attacks the AOAV found a 26% increase in the number of attacks on places of worship. These attacks on places of worship saw a 44% increase in the number of civilian casualties. An average attack on a place of worship caused 50 casualties. The most affected countries were Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan.
The consequences for civilians of the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas is a major international concern. Despite the critique one can have on the comprehensiveness of the data and the methodology used for the collection of the data, the EVM-project of the AOAV provides a useful factual base that can be used in international debates. The AOAV endorses the UN Secretary-General and ICRC recommendation that states should avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. Over the past seven years the AOAV has demonstrated the importance of systematic and continuous monitoring of explosive violence and its impact on populated areas. This monitoring must continue in order to assess whether the formulated recommendations are put to effect.
The AOAV is a member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) that urges states and all users of explosive weapons to acknowledge that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas tends to cause severe harm to individuals and communities and furthers suffering by damaging vital infrastructure. In an attempt to reverse the rising trend of civilian deaths and injuries caused by air war campaigns INEW calls for the development of international standards, including certain prohibitions and restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.