News | May 1, 2008

International Partnerships to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Paul I. Bernstein CSWMD Occasional Paper 6

Building international partnerships is a central element of U.S. strategy to combat weapons of mass destruction (WMD). U.S. policy recognizes that the proliferation problem is far too large, complex, and important for any one nation to tackle alone. Meaningful and sustained progress in combating WMD requires active collaboration among all states that have a stake in managing the problem and the will and capacity to contribute. Current policies build on a foundation of global cooperation that dates back decades, even as they reflect significant changes in emphasis to adapt to contemporary proliferation challenges.

These challenges result in large part from the ongoing and in some respects intensifying impact of globalization. As many have observed, the phenomenon is twofold—technological and political—and both dimensions are making the WMD proliferation problem more complex and difficult to manage. Technologies with broad legitimate uses that could be applied to unconventional weapons continue to spread globally at a rapid rate, and the growing demand (and competition) for energy, in particular, has the potential to fuel nuclear proliferation pressures in strategically important and sometimes unstable parts of the world. Politically, globalization has contributed to the erosion of traditional state power and boundaries and served to empower both smaller states that are seeking to challenge the status quo and nonstate actors—ranging from individuals to transnational networks—with independent and often extremist agendas. The results are clear enough: significant proliferation challenges from states whose WMD programs confer on them disproportionate strategic importance; growing interest on the part of terrorists to acquire WMD; and weak states and poorly governed spaces where illicit radical and criminal networks flourish. As these phenomena converge, new proliferation pathways are likely to emerge.