Famous last words

Since I just quoted Dr Ben Ouagrham-Gormley in the last post, it seems only fair that I mention this past article she wrote, published in the July/August issue of Arms Control Today.

The bottom line of her article, ‘An Unrealized Nexus? WMD-related Trafficking, Terrorism, and Organized Crime in the Former Soviet Union’ is this:

In 2004 the uncovering of the Abdul Qadeer Khan network fueled new concerns that trafficking in WMD material could give rise to a parallel black market of nuclear material linked to organized crime. Pointing out that terrorist organizations and organized crime had already cooperated in the drug trafficking business, a number of analysts warned that organized crime might decide to channel WMD material to terrorists.

Much of the concern about a possible nexus between WMD trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism focused on the former Soviet Union, particularly Central Asia and the Caucasus. There, a large number of insufficiently secured nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities are located in close proximity to trafficking routes for drugs and small arms. Powerful radiation sources also are plentiful and inadequately protected. Furthermore, several terrorist groups in the region have become increasingly radicalized since the September 11 attacks.

Even though these developments suggested that a perfect storm was brewing, more than five years later there is no compelling evidence of a solid nexus among WMD-related trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime in the former Soviet Union. To be sure, a cautionary note is in order. Serious data collection problems in the region make understanding trafficking patterns an inherently limited proposition at best. They also make it essential to improve the quality and quantity of data collection and sharing by local and regional authorities.

Nonetheless, all available evidence indicates that the character of WMD trafficking in the post-2001 period has remained essentially the same as in the pre-2001 period, displaying amateurish features and dominated by the supply side. Trafficking cases involving weapons-grade nuclear material have entailed minuscule quantities, and their number has substantially decreased compared to the pre-2001 period, when most of the proliferation-significant events involving kilogram-level quantities of material were reported.

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