Twenty-First Century Proliferation: The Role of Illicit Networks
On June 10th, 2013, the Permanent Missions of Japan, Poland, and Turkey to the United Nations, in cooperation with the Stimson Center, convened a conference on twenty-first century proliferation and the role of illicit networks.
The event was the fifth in a series of roundtable discussions on non-proliferation and disarmament, the first two of which emphasized nuclear weapons proliferation tools and initiatives and how they can be applied in regional contexts. The third focused on the challenge of the global arms trade in the wake of the 2012 July Arms Trade Treaty conference, while the fourth explored sanctions regimes and non-proliferation tools of both WMDs and conventional weapons. This most recent seminar delved into how illicit networks are becoming increasingly sophisticated technologically and logistically and the effect the recent adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty could have on such operations (the agenda of the event can be found here).
More than 100 participants, including representatives of UN Member States, as well as think tank and NGO members, attended the conference. Inputs from UN diplomats, experts, and civil society representatives ensured that the conference enjoyed a cross-cutting and candid exchange of views rarely found at other UN meetings.
Ambassadors Tsuneo Nishida of Japan, Halit Çevik of Turkey, and Mr. Paweł Herczyński of Poland, welcomed the participants and speakers. Professor WPS Sidhu of New York University and Dr. David Asher from the Center for a New American Security kicked off the first panel by debating the current state of these proliferation networks and discussed the overlap and fluidity of illicit crime and terrorist operations. Moderated by Mr. Brian Finlay from the Stimson Center, the panel aimed to examine the future nature of these networks and ways to adjust the international community’s policy and response toolkit to address this mutating challenge. Ms. Patricia Taft from the Fund for Peace, the third panelist, described the challenges faced by States in tackling the illicit network and pointed out how terrorists and criminals have exploited similar networks to move their goods and funds. During the interactive segment of the panel, some participants raised the possibility of imposing thematic sanctions instead of relying only on targeted sanctions, encouraged better synchronizations between different UN Sanctions Committees, and noted the effectiveness of regional approaches to non-proliferation.
The second session zeroed in on the steps and measures needed to capitalize on the advantages the new Arms Trade Treaty presented and identified the challenges and issues in implementation. Ambassador Jim McLay of New Zealand, Professor David Bosco of American University and Ms. Allison Pytlak from Control Arms were the panelists. The session was moderated by Ms. Rachel Stohl from the Stimson Center. One panelist stated that once enough states ratified the ATT, the international community would need to mobilize to develop the institutions required to govern the treaty, as well as find agreement on how to navigate the parts of the treaty left deliberately vague. Early and rigorous needs assessments and prioritization of tasks at the national and regional levels must be completed early. Another panelist indicated that there would be a large role for civil society in monitoring implementation of the treaty, but that the effectiveness of these efforts would be largely determined by the quality and quantity of information produced by States under the reporting and transparency aspects of the ATT. A third panelist stressed the formidable challenge the ATT still faces to avoid becoming a mere, ineffective piece of paper, and urged the international community to study past examples of treaty implementation to avoid committing the same mistakes. A big factor in determining the ATT’s success, this panelist argued, will be the willingness of major States to champion its implementation. Participants agreed with the panelists that a strategic approach was needed to convince states of the treaty’s value and suggested encouraging regional and sub-regional actors to take ownership. Others declared that assistance to states in implementation must be tailored to each country’s situation.
The event featured a keynote address by Mr. Douglas Frantz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who discussed his latest book “Fallout: the True Story of the CIA’s Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking.” Mr. Frantz characterized the threat of proliferation as a “race between cooperation and catastrophe” with no room for mistakes. One lesson he had garnered from his investigation for “Fallout” was that deterrence truly matters in this dangerous game—states needed to send a clear message that there will be no light sentences or impunity for participating in proliferation networks. The cost of doing business must be punitively high. He stressed that every State must meet its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that major nuclear powers must continue to cooperate on disarming. It is necessary to fight the economic forces that push toward proliferation. The International Atomic Energy Agency should be better resourced and have better intelligence-collecting abilities to help root out these illicit networks. The subsequent discussion with the audience reinforced the message that stronger political will as well as the strengthening of existing laws and the creation of new ones will be critical in ensuring that there is no impunity for proliferators.
Ambassadors Nishida and Çevik ended the conference by giving some thoughts on the day’s discussion. Ambassador Nishida thanked participants for their continued support of Turtle Bay, reiterating that political will would be crucial going forward. The international community needed to use all of the tools at its disposal. A revolution in proliferation efforts is unlikely to happen, but steady and continued steps by relevant actors can lead to real changes in how the threat is addressed. Ambassador Nishida ended the conference by expressing his sincere hope that participants to Turtle Bay would continue their discussions on this crucial topic.
For more on the previous four Turtle Bays, follow the links below:
First event (May 31, 2011): http://www.un.emb-japan.go.jp/events/060211-2.html
Second event (December 5, 2011): http://www.un.emb-japan.go.jp/events/120711_2.html
Third event (May 21, 2012): http://www.un.emb-japan.go.jp/events/051212.html
Fourth event (January 18, 2013): http://www.un.emb-japan.go.jp/events/011813_2.html
UN diplomats, think tank and NGO members gathering at the conference
Ambassador Nishida of Japan making opening remarks
First Panel discussing the challenges posed by illicit networks: Sidhu, Asher, Taft and Finlay (from left)
Second Panel articulated challenges of implementing the Arms Trade Treaty: Ambassador McLay of New Zealand, Pytlak, Bosco and Stohl (from left)
Breakout sessions: A feature of the Turtle Bay Roundtable
Keynote address by Mr. Frantz of the Washington Post
Participants engaged in the panel discussion