Non-proliferation and terrorism: EU visions and policies

16 December 2005

The European Policy Centre and the Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung held a Policy Dialogue on Non-proliferation and terrorism: EU visions and policies. The keynote speakers were Annalisa Giannella, Personal Representative of the Secretary General/High Representative Director, Council of the European Union; Gustav Lindstrom, EU-Institute for Security Studies, Paris; and Rolf Tophoven, Director, Institute of Terrorism Research and Security Policy, Essen. Opening remarks were made by Markus Russ, Director, Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung, Brussels Office. Antonio Missiroli, EPC Chief Policy Analyst, chaired the event. A question and answer period followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

Markus Russ said the international security environment was the most complicated the world had ever known because of new terrorist threats and their highly complex nature. Recent events in Iran clearly showed a need for new responses to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The EU was playing a role in encouraging these new responses by helping to strengthen the international system on non-proliferation and pursuing multilateral solutions through close cooperation with its partners. "We must build on what has been done so far and fill in current gaps", he concluded.

Annalisa Giannella reminded the audience that the European Security Strategy (ESS) identified the proliferation of WMDs and terrorism as the two major threats to world security. Accordingly, the European Council had adopted a preventative EU strategy against the proliferation of WMDs, which was based on two main principles.

The first was effective multilateralism, through support for the United Nations and verification agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In 2004, the Council adopted a joint action in support of an IAEA programme to combat nuclear terrorism. Through this programme, the EU was helping to increase the physical protection of nuclear installations and radioactive sources (e.g. hospitals, waste sites, etc) in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Furthermore, the Council was supporting the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which monitors Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) compliance.

The second principle was international cooperation. Here, Mrs. Giannella stressed the need for better synergies and more coordination with international partners such as US, China, Japan and Russia. The EU and its Member States were also cooperating in the context of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a global programme aimed at preventing the trafficking of WMDs and related materials to and from states and terrorist groups. Following the Madrid and London attacks, the Council also updated its threat assessment and priorities, including the protection of physical resources, nuclear and biological.

The guidelines on radioactive sources in the EU code of conduct were even more stringent than those of the IAEA. The Union was also working on new regulations for the import and export of radioactive materials and a peer-review process. A "WMD clause" in agreements with third countries was also an important element of the EU’s strategy. Such a clause had, for example, been inserted in agreements with Tajikistan, Albania and Syria, and action plans for all the countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy.

In the end, Mrs. Giannella stressed, the best way to prevent the proliferation of WMDs was through a "widely shared international system". The international community system had coherence and it was important to support it in its entirety - not pick and choose the more appealing elements.

Gustav Lindstrom said the most frightening scenario involved the intersection of terrorism and WMDs. He outlined several reasons why the global security environment required attention, including the situation in Iran, North Korea and Iraq; the perceived weakness of international regimes (the 2005 review conference of the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty was "not what participants had hoped" for); the rise of non-state actors and the impact this had on deterrence; the availability of dangerous materials (in hospitals, industrial sites, third countries like Russia); and the role of technology and communications in spreading knowledge about how to carry out terrorist acts.

It was crucial to differentiate between threats and potential consequences. Hence, radiological dispersal devices - or "dirty bombs" - were better classified as WMDs because although they had only a limited ability to cause casualties, they had a high ability to cause disruption (e.g. panic, economic turmoil, decontamination issues). Likewise, a nuclear device was potentially catastrophic, but acquiring and converting the necessary materials was difficult.

Mr. Lindstrom also pointed to two trends in terrorism: the significant increase in the number of fatal attacks between the period before 11 September 2001 and 2004 (in 2004, there were 4,985 deaths associated with terrorism compared to 777 in 2000); and the fact that terrorists were still relying heavily on the use of explosives, with 255 of 678 - or 38% - of terrorist acts carried out in this way.

He also surveyed the EU’s "multipronged" approach to combating terrorism. Externally, there was the Union’s strategy against proliferation of WMD, collaboration with the G8, the non-proliferation clause and participation in PSI exercises. Internally, there was the solidarity programme to strengthen and facilitate cooperation at EU level, Preparatory Action in Security Research (PASR) and the European Security Research Programme (ESRP).

Finally, he recommended that the EU "pick the low hanging fruit" in its approach to dealing with terrorism;. that is, the Union should focus on what was easiest to implement, such as the protection of toxic chemical transport networks, rather than investing billions to prepare for unlikely terrorist scenarios such as a nuclear device going off in city.

Rolf Tophoven said suicidal terrorism was the "most powerful and dangerous threat to society". The use of WMDs could also eventually become a threat, but "not today or tomorrow". Suicide bombings were an easier and cheaper way to cause destruction than the unknown quantity of WMDs. It was a "flexible technology". Still, there was "no doubt" that Jihadis would use WMDs in the future, particularly since Osama Bin Laden had claimed that it was the duty of every Muslim to acquire such weapons in the battle against the West.

Mr. Tophoven argued that the extreme scenarios on the threat of WMDs painted in the West played into the hands of terrorists, who benefited from the heightened sense of insecurity.

Suicide bombings were becoming more complex to combat because the profile of terrorists was increasingly difficult to identify. For example, the 7 July London attacks were perpetrated by terrorists largely unknown the to authorities. But the choice of the UK as a target was in line with Al-Qaeda’s tactic of hitting countries which participated in initiatives against it.

Europe was also being targeted because of its western ideology and political opposition to radical Islam. Mr. Tophoven estimated that there were 10,000 active supporters of Al-Qaeda established in the UK and another 32,000 in Germany, of which about 10% were "very radicalised". Militant Islam was firmly entrenched in Europe.