This is the 30th 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.
End date of collection: September 28, 2017
Topics covered in this issue of the threat assessment
- At the 20th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) a total of 96 percent of declared chemical weapon stockpiles have been destroyed
- The ongoing civil war in Yemen contributes to the expansion of a cholera crisis that already has affected more than 612,000 people
- Technical problems and additional safety precautions resulted in another revision of the cleanup plan for the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in Japan
- While the diplomatic window is gradually closing the risk of a military confrontation in North Korea is increasing
- New database (CABNSAD) to gain a better understanding of the psychology and decision-making of potential perpetrators of CB attacks
At the 20th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) a total of 96 percent of declared chemical weapon stockpiles have been destroyed
- Russia has declared that it has destroyed 99 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile and that it will destroy the remaining one percent before the end of the year.
- The experiences gained during the elimination process of chemical weapon stockpiles in a fixed time period should be an example for treaties aimed at eliminating other categories of weapons of mass destruction.
- As North Korea is one of the states that has not signed and ratified the CWC, this should be included in the threat assessments related to the ongoing crisis related to its nuclear weapon program.
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was signed in 1997 and requires its 192 signatories to destroy all of their chemical weapons. Three states have neither signed nor ratified the convention (Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan). Israel has signed but not ratified. The CWC is the first multilateral agreement in history that stipulates the elimination of an entire class of weapons of mass destruction during a fixed period. The destruction process is overseen by the organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
A total of 72,524 metric tons of chemical agent, 8,67 million chemical munitions and containers and 97 chemical weapon production facilities (CWPFs) were declared to the OPCW. The CWPFs were located in 14 countries. As of December 2015, 67 have been destroyed while 23 others were converted to peaceful purposes.
As of now a total of 96 percent of the declared stockpiles have been eliminated. The United States and Russia had the biggest arsenals. Their stockpiles are scheduled to be eliminated respectively by 2020 and 2023. This includes stocks of unitary weapons such as sulfur mustard, and primary precursor chemicals for producing deadly nerve agents, like sarin.
Russia has declared that it’s destruction process is ahead of schedule and that it will have destroyed 100 percent of it’s chemical weapon stockpile by the end of 2017, not 2018. By accumulating experience along the way it was able to speed up the process. A total of 400 tons of weaponized chemicals remain at the last facility in operation to store and destroy the chemical weapons, in the Kizner village in the Udmurt region. By using safe technologies Russia claimed that there have been no emergencies during the elimination process.
The United States is currently disposing of its own remaining chemical weapon stockpile and has until the year 2023 to do so. It has postponed deadlines several times due to lack of funds. The US already has destroyed 90 percent of the 30,500 metric tons of chemical weapons.
The completion of the verified destruction of Russia’s chemical weapon program is a major milestone in the achievement of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It is expected that despite postponements of deadlines also the United States will successfully destroy its chemical stockpile by 2023.
The Russian experience shows that the process can be speeded up without emergencies by using safe technologies. Other countries that still have to eliminate their stockpiles could profit from this experience. The destruction of a complete class of weapons of mass destruction within in a fixed period should be an example for other classes of weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, developments related to nuclear weapons are not positive, as several major powers are currently modernizing and expanding their nuclear stockpiles.
With the current crisis about North Korea’s nuclear program it should not be forgotten that North Korea has not signed and ratified the CWC and possibly has an extensive stockpile of chemical weapons that could be used during a military conflict.
The ongoing civil war in Yemen contributes to the expansion of a cholera crisis that already has affected more than 612,000 people.
- The civil war in Yemen has resulted in conditions that have contributed to an outbreak of cholera that has affected more than 612,000 people and killed already more than 2,000 people.
- Military operations have resulted in a breakdown of the medical system and a blockade of airspace and ports prevents humanitarian aid from reaching the country.
- A further spread of the disease is likely as long as military operations continue and the blockade of airspace and ports is not lifted.
The civil war in Yemen has led to famine, widespread internal displacement and a cholera epidemic that has exceeded 612,000 cases. Already more than 2,000 people have died of the water-borne disease. Although the number of new cases slowed from 5,000 tot 3,000 per day, the current number of infected people is more than double the number expected earlier by the World Heath Organization (WHO). The outbreak was caused by deteriorating hygiene and sanitary conditions, as a result of an intense military air campaign by a Saudi-Arabian-led coalition.
The governorates of Aden, al-Hudaydah, Sana’a and Taiz are most affected by this campaign. Eight in ten cholera deaths occur in rebel-held territories. The behavior of the parties in the conflict including indiscriminate attacks on civilians and protected objects, sieges, blockades and restrictions of movement, has resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis. Nearly 18.8 million people are in need of humanitarian aid and 7.3 million are on the brink of famine. Less than half of the country’s medical centers are still functional. More than 14.5 million people don’t have access to clean drinking water. One person dies nearly every hour of cholera. Over half of the population has no access to clean water. Eighty percent of households are in debt and need to borrow money to feed their children.
The collapse of the medical system has allowed cholera to balloon across the country. A blockade of imports has caused shortages of among other things, food, medical supplies, fuel, chlorine, and restricted humanitarian access.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is among the worst in the world and the continuing air campaign by the Saudi-led coalition supported by Western countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, is making it even worse. The ongoing blockade of airspace and ports is complicating humanitarian aid efforts. Even if this blockade would be lifted there would not be enough aid as governments pledged only half of the amount of money needed to prevent the country from becoming a completely failed state. The UN had estimated that $2.1 billion would be needed.
The available aid should be used to treat the sick people fast, to organize clean drinking water and improve the food situation. The population should also be educated what they can do to prevent a further spread of the disease. But all these efforts are useless as long as the country’s infrastructure is not protected and the civil war is not stopped. Only than aid organizations will be able to open supply lines and reach people in remote and recently hit areas. UN calls for investigations of war crimes are not likely to have an immediate effect on the ground.
Technical problems and additional safety precautions resulted in another revision of the cleanup plan for the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in Japan
- Technical problems and additional safety precautions have resulted in a new revision of the plans for the complicated removal of spent fuel rods and corium from three units of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.
- As of now Japan still has no idea where it will finally store the highly radioactive waste that it plans to remove from these three units in the coming years.
- Awaiting further decision-making on what to do with contaminated cooling water stored in tanks, the risk will remain that natural disasters could cause an uncontrolled release of the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
Technical problems and additional safety precautions forced Japanese authorities to again revise their cleanup plan for the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. According to the revised plan the removal of radioactive fuel rods from reactor Units 1 and 2 will be delayed by another two years. The extraction will now begin in fiscal year 2023. The plan to remove the rods from the Unit 3 reactor will remain on schedule and will begin next year.
The removal of the spent fuel is the most challenging part of the process because its exact location is unknown. Robots have to be built that are durable enough to handle the high levels of radiation. Until now it has not been possible to search for melted fuel in Units 1 and 2. Robots and other technology still have to be developed before the actual removal can begin in 2021.
TEPCO has released the first images made by a robot sent into the pool of Unit 3 in last July, with the task to survey the damage and locate the corium, the mixture of fuel rods and other structural materials that forms after a meltdown. Information about the location and corium are essential for the plan to safely remove the radioactive materials. The budget allocated to the exploration and cleanup process more than doubled to $188 billion in 2016. The Japanese government and TEPCO still have to make a plan about what they will do with the highly radioactive waste removed from the cores of the three reactor units. Managing the waste will require new technologies to compact it and reduce its toxicity. It also has no idea yet where it will store the waste as it already has problems finding suitable sites for normal radioactive waste.
Another cleanup challenge for TEPCO is the decision on what to do with the 770,000 tons of water contaminated with tritium, when it was used to cool down the plant’s cores. It is said that the only solution is to release the contaminated water in a controlled way into the Pacific Ocean. Decision-making has been postponed as fishermen and local residents fear a negative image and a possible health impact.
In mid-September, Japan was again faced with a forceful earthquake (6.1) at a distance of 200 miles from Fukushima. Earthquakes and/or tsunamis could endanger the water storage tanks and cause uncontrolled releases of the contaminated water.
As the heat of the spent fuel resulting from radioactive decay has decreased significantly, the risk of a large-scale fire breaking out in one of the pools has gone down. But reporting on the cleanup operation indicates that there still is much uncertainty. To a certain extent the problem is not even defined, and if the problem would be clear new technologies have to be developed to solve it.
The clean-up is a slow and painstaking process and only by trial and error sufficient information can be gathered to make plans that have to be constantly revised and adapted to new circumstances. As the process gradually moves on it will become clear that the original targets set will not be met, that the costs will further rise and that there will be several problems for which there probably is no suitable solution at all. From this perspective it can be concluded that Japanese government claims that the cleanup operation can be completed in 40 years is an illusion.
While the diplomatic window is gradually closing the risk of a military confrontation in North Korea is increasing
the North Korean regime in an attempt to force it to back down and stop testing new intercontinental missiles and nuclear tests.
- The General Assembly of the UN was used by American and North Korean officials to exchange personal insults and make military threats.
- Although the US military threats can be interpreted as a means to force China to implement the UN sanctions as it does not want a conflict on the Korean peninsula, another interpretation could be that the diplomatic window is closing and that military conflict is getting nearer.
During the past month the war rhetoric between the United States and North Korea reached unprecedented new levels. Officials from both countries exchanged insults and threatened with military action. In response to North Korean missile test and a new nuclear test, the UN Security Council introduced a new package of sanctions to strangle the North Korea economy. The United States unilaterally introduced additional sanctions against North Korea. Military commanders publicly stated that military options are being discussed that would not result in unwanted escalation and high numbers of casualties and widespread destruction. President Donald Trump made clear that he considered diplomatic efforts a waste of time.
On the basis of the ‘fire and fury’ statement by Donald Trump, some experts alluded to the possibility of the use of new types of weapons that have not been used in military conflict before. Western media continued their barrage of negative information about North Korea and its leadership to prepare Western audiences psychologically, in order to legitimize possible military action. Think tanks started to issue reports in which attacks scenarios of both sides are discussed in detail. Diplomats discussed the conditions for successful negotiations that possibly could result in a deal that would address the security needs of all parties.
Since his inauguration Donald Trump has made clear the time of a policy ‘strategic patience’ has gone and that North Korea should be dealt with, better sooner than later. The US administration is, however, divided. One faction holds the view that North Korea can be persuaded to freeze its nuclear program like other countries have done, if given the right incentives. In their view the nuclear crisis can be solved through a process of sanctions and negotiations rather than military conflict. The problem is that there is until now no shared vision of the ultimate goal.
The other neocon faction that now appears to have gained the upper-hand, holds the view that the only way to deal with the North Korean nuclear crisis is military action and regime change. In their view a war is now inevitable and there may be military options that are not as bad as simulations have indicated in the past. The neocon faction may also be tempted to possibly use new types of weapons that if shown successful on the battlefield may boost the US military industrial complex.
Sanctions do take time before they have a significant effect and North Korea has mastered the skills to circumvent them. With the stepped up accusations and threats and the deployment of more advanced military assets in the region, the window for diplomacy is gradually closing and the likelihood for military conflict is increasing. A war on the Korean peninsula would have far reaching consequences for the global economy. This is a reason why many countries are still willing to continue the search for a diplomatic solution. There are indications that the parties involved are still reaching out to each other in order to come to an agreement on the near and long-term goals and the necessary arrangements to reach them.
New database (CABNSAD) created to gain a better understanding of the psychology and decision-making of potential perpetrators of CB attacks
- A new database with information on violent non-state adversaries (VNSAs) using chemical and biological (CB) weapons is currently used to identify key drivers and barriers influencing their decision-making behavior.
- A better understanding of the psychological profiles of CB adversaries can be translated into early-warning indicators. In combination with information on capabilities and resources this may result in better CB threat assessments.
- It is hoped that the methodology used to analyze chemical and biological adversaries can also be applied to radiological and nuclear adversaries in a later stage of the project.
To gain an in-depth understanding of the motivations, psychology and decision-making of potential perpetrators of CB attacks START has created the Chemical and Biological Non-State Adversaries Database (CABNSAD). It brings together available open source data on all identifiable previous non-state users and attempted users of CB weapons or devices. Currently the new database contains information on 488 individual perpetrators that have been identified in the period of 1932 to September 30, 2016. CB terrorism represents only a tiny percentage of all terrorist attacks (0.23%). The database includes information about 126 lone actors, 70 formal organizations and 27 unaffiliated cells. They were involved in 108 incidents of successful use of a CB weapon, 84 interdicted plots, 14 failed attempts and 12 terminated plots.
Approximately half of all the perpetrators in the database were able to progress to the point of a successful use of a CB agent. An important aim of the research project is to identify points at which a violent non-state actor (NVSA) was obliged to make a decision (implicit or explicit) to proceed towards utilizing a CB agent or instead adopting an alternative solution for achieving their goals.
The research project aims to identify the key drivers and barriers that influence the behavior and decision-making of VNSAs. Until now these drivers and barriers were poorly defined and unclear and were not sufficiently supported by quantitative data. On the basis of the information in the CABNSAD database it is hoped that a more useful psychological profile of CB adversaries can be developed. First findings of the project indicate that two-thirds of all identified actors are under 40 and that there are likely to be better educated than the population as a whole. Severe mental illness excludes actors from potential perpetrator groups and degrades their ability to design or implement plots. The CB choice of perpetrators operating as members of an organization, are strongly influenced by organizational goals and the preferences of leaders. Cults and groups with a secular left-wing ideology are more likely to use chemical and biological weapons. Groups with other ideologies have a tendency to focus on chemical weapons. In incidents involved lone actors personality genetics and mental health play a more important role. If, however, individuals are members of a group, the group ideology and other collective factors, have a tendency to become more important.
The START research project may result in important psychological early-earning indicators that may signal to observers that an actor or set of actors possess the motivation to acquire and or use CB weapons. In combination with existing information on a group’s capabilities and resources this may result in better CB-threat assessments. A potential outgrowth of the research is the application of the methodology and adversary psychological framework to radiological and nuclear VNSAs.
Even when CBRN attacks represent a tiny percentage of the overall number of terrorist attacks they can have severe consequences. Media hypes about CBRN threats still play an important role in creating fear in populations. A better insight in the psychology and decision-making of the VNSAs may reduce this fear and result in better threat assessments to mitigate the threat.