This is the 19th issue of the feature called the IBC Threat Assessment (IBC-TA) that we 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.
Topics covered in this threat assessment
- Strong pressure for Security Council resolution to sanction Syrian government as mandate of Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) expires on September 24th
- New Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index as important decision-support tool for government and international organizations
- Decontamination efforts at Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant are still not under full control and are creating extra costs
- North Korea continues with tests of nuclear weapons and missiles
- The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) published its annual Cluster Munitions Monitor 2016
The Threat Assessments are based on open sources. End date of collection: September 20, 2016
Strong pressure for Security Council resolution to sanction Syrian government as mandate of Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) expires on September 24th
- The Syrian Network for Human Rights has made public an archive of 392 verified videos related to 139 incidents in which chemical weapons were used in Syria.
- On August 25th, an intermediate report of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was presented to the UN Security Council and discussed a week later.
- In its final report presented before the expiration of its mandate on September 24th, the JIM identified a number of specific military units allowing for the adoption of a new resolution with punitive measures directed against the Syrian regime.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights has made public an archive of 392 verified videos related to 139 incidents in which chemical weapons were used in Syria. The videos are analyzed and presented in a timeline and an interactive map. The latest incidents that were added are the August 10 attack in Zabadiyah (Aleppo) by government forces, the August 16 attack in Marea (Aleppo) by Daesh and the September 6 attack in Sukkari (Aleppo) by government forces. The most recent reported attack on September 17 in the villages of Harbal and Um Hosh (Aleppo) by Daesh has not been included yet.
The findings of the Syrian Network for Human Right run parallel to the findings of the JIM. The JIM estimated that there have been more than 130 alleged chemical or toxic chemical weapon attacks in the period of December 2015 to August 2016, including attacks with mustard (12x), sarin (13x), VX (4x) and chlorine (41x), other toxic chemicals (61x)
On August 25th, the final report of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was presented to the UNSC and was discussed a week later. The JIM concluded that the Syrian regime had been responsible for two chemical attacks (2014 attack in Talmenes and the 2015 attack in Sarmir) and Daesh had been responsible for the 2015 mustard gas attack in Marea. Due to the dire security conditions that precluded visits and interviews with local eyewitness, the JIM had only definite judgements in three of the nine investigated incidents. For the other cases it presented varying degrees of certainty.
In the 4th report by the Joint Investigative Mission (JIM) specific Syrian government units were held accountable for chemical attacks in the period of April 2014-August 2015. The report identified two helicopter squadrons (22nd Div. and 63rd Brigade) and two squadrons (253 and 255) of the Syrian government. It is unclear whether the report will assign blame to specific individuals. The report is due to be discussed in late September.
Based on the report of the JIM with definite judgements on some of the investigated incidents on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the UNSC now has to decide on the imposition of sanctions or a request to the ICC to investigate the matter as a war crime. In August, Russia demanded additional information before it could accept the findings of the JIM on the incidents in which the Syrian government is held accountable. It does however accept the conclusion on the mustard attacks by Daesh. Russia ruled out an extension of the mandate of the JIM which expires on September 24. Also Syria rejected the findings of the Jim and indicated that it will continue its own investigation of all incidents.
With the confirmation of the involvement of Syrian government units, there will be a very strong pressure in the late September meeting to adopt a resolution to impose sanctions on the Syrian regime. With the recent open clash between the US and Russian UN ambassadors about the ‘accidental’ American bombardment of Syrian government forces in Deir Ezzor, adoption of such a resolution will be highly unlikely.
New Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index is an important decision-support tool for government and international organizations
- A new Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index has become available as a decision-support tool for governments and international organizations to mitigate the spread and effects of potential transnational outbreaks.
- The majority of the most-vulnerable countries form a solid near-contiguous belt from the edge of West Africa to the Horn of Africa in Somalia.
- An outbreak in this disease hot spot belt could easily spread across borders in all directions.
Researchers of RAND have developed an Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index that is intended to help governments and international organizations to identify the most vulnerable countries and thereby mitigate the spread and effects of potential transnational outbreaks. The index was developed by using data on all factors with an impact on a nation’s ability to prevent or contain a disease outbreak (e.g factors related to health care system, demographics, political-domestic situation public health system, economy, disease dynamics, political-international situation).
For each factor a measure was chosen and weights were determined. These were used to calculate a normed score for each country that could be ranked. According to the ranking, the ten most vulnerable countries are Somalia, CAR, Chad, South Sudan, Mauritania, Angola, Haiti, Afghanistan, Niger and Madagascar. The toll was designed to be interactive. End users can change the weights to reflect their beliefs or changing realities on the ground. The assessment algorithm used in the report is inherently applicable to all outbreak-prone infectious diseases.
The vulnerability index developed by RAND researchers highlights the connection between economic development, political stability and disease vulnerability. As a decision-support tool, the index can be used by governments and international organizations to set priorities and develop programs with a focus on the most vulnerable countries.
A high vulnerability score alone, does not necessarily condemn a country to poor outcomes with regard to disease outbreaks. The RAND report about the new index illustrates that early identification and culturally sensitive interventions in public health, health care, incident management and governance, as well as prompt global aid response, can help in mitigating an infectious disease outbreak.
Decontamination efforts at Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant are still not under full control and are creating extra costs
- The public costs of the cleanup operation at the Fukushima nuclear plant continue to rise and TEPCO has asked for additional help from the government.
- The ice wall is not effective and as the amount of decontaminated water is accumulating, TEPCO is running out of space for storage tanks.
- In the coming months, the protective walls around reactor one will be removed in order to remove the fuel assemblies from the spent fuel pool in addition to the melted nuclear fuel.
In the coming months the protective walls around reactor one of the Fukushima nuclear plant will be removed. After the removal the reactor’s interior can be assessed. This assessment will determine when and how the fuel assemblies can be removed from the spent fuel pool in addition to the melted nuclear fuel.
TEPCO had built an ice wall around the reactor to prevent the groundwater from mixing with radioactive substances. It now turns out that this wall is not effective and that a new plan has to be made. The amount of decontaminated water is accumulating as around 100 tons of water are injected every day in order to cool the reactor units. On the other hand about 150 tons of groundwater is seeping into the same areas each day. Only a portion of the decontaminated water can be treated and the radioactivity removed. As a result more storage tanks have to be constructed and TEPCO is running out of space. The problem has been described as a ticking time bomb.
In an attempt to expedite the cleanup process the government plans to use state funds. It is the first plan to decontaminate the ‘difficult to return to zones’. The work within the designated ‘reconstruction bases’ will include removing buildings, replacing soil and paving roads. With these costly and intensive radiation cleanup effort the government hopes it will be able to lift the evacuation orders in five years.
The public costs of the cleanup operation are expected to keep rising. TEPCO is already asking for additional help from the government.
TEPCO has to adapt its decontamination plans and change the budget as costs are constantly rising. Progress is slow and TEPCO is continually facing new issues. Most likely new problems that will cost extra money will arise. In the meantime the government is under severe pressure to normalize the situation and lift evacuation orders in contaminated zones. Given the size of the decontamination tasks, it can be seriously questioned whether the planned deadline of five years to lift the evacuation orders will be respected. sufficient progress to lift the evacuation orders within five years will be made .
North Korea continues with tests of nuclear weapons and missiles
- Until now North Korea has executed two nuclear tests and 17 missile tests in 2016.
- The tests are part of a program to improve its technological capabilities with the ultimate goal of an operational nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missile that could be reached by 2020.
- As the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) has been stepped up, it is expected that North Korea may have sufficient fissile material to build up to 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.
On September 9th, North Korea carried out its fifth and largest nuclear test so far. The
nuclear test followed a series of missile tests indicating that the country is gradually improving its technological capabilities related to ballistic missiles and the nuclear program. The tests were widely condemned by the international community. The international consensus on an adequate response, however, has been fractured and indecisive. While some have called for stronger international sanctions, others have called for a return to a multilateral negotiation framework. It is generally assumed that tougher sanctions will not be able to force the country to dismantle its nuclear weapons in a comprehensive and verifiable manner. The fear that punitive economic sanctions would destabilize North Korea makes it unlikely that China will cooperate with the US on more stringent sanctions at the United Nations. It is also expected that North Korea will be able to circumvent sanctions or find loopholes as it has done in the past.
While North Korea’s own claims about its nuclear capacities are generally viewed with skepticism, there is a growing consensus among foreign experts and intelligence officials that North Korea is gradually improving its nuclear capabilities and slowly moving in the direction of reaching the goal of an operational nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missile. While the country has made progress in engine and missile technology there are still a number of technological obstacles to overcome, e.g. the technology to protect a warhead against heat during its re-entry phase or the technology to produce a more destructive hydrogen warhead.
The current mistrust between the US and China will save North Korea from tougher international sanctions. Unilaterial American sanctions will not be sufficient to force North Korea to change its policies as it will find new loopholes and ways to circumvent them. Several experts have suggested a next US president should step up efforts to overcome this mistrust and send a special ambassador to China to convince the Chinese regime of its real intentions and the necessary steps to take or, as others have suggested, to restart a multinational dialogue without preconditions.
The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) published its annual Cluster Munitions Monitor 2016
- Despite an international ban on cluster munitions the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) found evidence of the new use of cluster munitions in Syria and Yemen (non-signatory states). Unconfirmed use was reported in Nagorno-Karabakh and Somalia.
- Since the 2008 ban on cluster munitions, 17 State Parties and one non-signatory ceased production of cluster munitions, while 29 states (out of a total of 40) completely destroyed their stockpiles (representing 93 percent of the total stockpile)
- A total of 24 states (13 State Parties, one signatory and ten non-signatories) and three other areas, are contaminated by cluster munition remnants that need to be cleared.
The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) is an international civil society campaign working to eradicate cluster munitions and prevent further harm from these weapons. On August 1, 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) entered into force after 30 states had ratified it. The CCM prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. It also requires destruction of stockpiled cluster munitions within eight years, and assistance to victims, including those injured by submunitions, as well as the families of those injured or killed.
The CMM 2016 takes stock of developments since the convention entered into force and provides detailed information divided into four chapters: cluster munitions ban policy, contamination and clearance, casualties and finally the status of the convention.
The CMM 2016 documents the new use of cluster munitions in two non-signatory states, Syria and Yemen. The Syrian government forces used at least 13 types of air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munitions from July 2012 until July 2016. During that period there were at least 360 cluster munition attacks in 10 of Syria’s 14 governorates. The Monitor also found compelling evidence that Russia has been using cluster munitions in Syria.
In Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and possibly other members of the coalition it has led, used cluster munitions against Ansar Allah (the Houthi) since March 25, 2015. The Monitor documents at least 19 attacks between April 2015 and February 2016, in which seven different types of cluster munitions were used.
Unconfirmed use of cluster munitions was documented in Nagorno-Karabakh and Somalia. The countries involved (Kenya, Azerbaijan and Armenia) deny the accusations.
In total, 417 cluster munition casualties were reported in 2015, with the highest number in Syria (248) followed by Yemen (104). Civilians accounted for the vast majority (97%) of casualties.
A total of 24 states (13 State Parties, one signatory and ten non-signatories) and three other areas, are contaminated by cluster munition remnants. The contamination has increased in Sudan, Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Out of a total of 40 states with stockpiles, 29 states have completely destroyed their stockpiles. In 2015, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mozambique and Sweden completed their stockpile destruction, while France completed its destruction in 2016.
The CMM is not a technical verification system or a formal inspection regime. It is an attempt by civil society to hold governments accountable for their legal obligations. State Parties provide transparency reports and several dozen researchers assisted by CMC campaigners collect the information and write the country reports.
The CMM works in good faith to provide factual information about issues it is monitoring in order to benefit the international community as a whole. The new monitor provides important information on the progress being made to ban cluster munitions. Unfortunately there are still states thinking they can get away by using cluster munitions in ongoing armed conflicts.
The CMM is an important instrument in blaming and shaming these states for behavior that is rejected by most other states. Under severe international pressure, the United States (a non-signatory) finally decided to stop the transfer of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia after reports of their use in civilian areas in Yemen.
The CMM also provides a detailed overview of the work that still needs to be done, like the destruction of remaining stockpiles, the clearance of contaminated areas, and assistance to victims. In this respect the CMM is the most important reference work that is available.