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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2003

Chemical weapons as much a threat as nuclear proliferation


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of individuals or small bands of terrorists is as much a threat as nuclear weapons being developed by rogue states, delegates at U.N. disarmament talks warned Wednesday.

Speaking on the second day of the four-day United Nations Conference on Disarmament, chemical and biological weapons experts said that since the breakup of the Soviet Union, accounting for the proliferation of such weapons has grown harder.

"Much of the attention in disarmament circles has been on preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons," said Huang Yu, a director at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. "But chemical and biological weapons are easy to assemble and much cheaper.

"To give you some idea of how complex it has become to track such weapons, the OPCW, which was established by the U.N. to enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention, has carried out 1,500 inspections of military and industrial complexes in 56 countries over the past five years."

During that time, the organization verified that 7,000 tons of chemical agents and nearly 2 million tons of chemical munitions were destroyed. They estimate those figures account for 20 percent of the total declared amount of chemical munitions.

Under the terms of the convention, all chemical weapons must be destroyed by 2007. But Russia, and probably the United States, will not make that deadline because of their vast stocks, Yu said.

While emphasizing the danger of such weapons falling into terrorist hands, Yu and other delegates also cautioned against politicians who might exaggerate the danger. They said chemical and biological weapons are difficult to handle; must be released under the right atmospheric conditions and in large, concentrated amounts; and do not always achieve their casualty targets.

Gennadi Lutay, deputy representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW, said that while the Biological Weapons Conventions has done well to prevent growth in bioterrorism, it is now imperative that signatories to the pact create a better system to identify and destroy existing chemical weapons.

"To combat biological terrorism, a better system of verifying biological weapons stockpiles in all member states is needed," Lutay said. "International cooperation regarding the export and transfer of biological agents needs to be strengthened."



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