Pursuit of WMD
Al-Qaeda, despite the global war on terror, and because of the outcome of the U.S. move to effect regime-change in Iraq, continues to exist as the largest and most potent non-state actor. In fact, its status as a transnational militant Islamist entity has been enhanced because of its devolution where al-Qaeda the organization has spawned a wider jihadist movement. Al-Qaeda the movement is composed of branches in countries and regions, groups affiliated with the network, independent entities, and lone-wolf jihadists.
Not only is proliferation of the group made possible by a transnational ideology and material conditions, the jihadists have demonstrated an ability to quickly adopt and perfect sophisticated means of carrying out attacks. Their modus operandi of suicide bombings has proven highly instrumental in terms of the successful delivery of improvised explosive devices. Furthermore, al-Qaeda has been highly innovative when it comes to overcoming the challenges posed by the asymmetry that exists between its own military capabilities and those of its opponent state actors.
By targeting transportation systems (airliners, buses, trains, and ships) and periodically coming up with newer methods of staging attacks, the jihadists have proven that they have an adaptive capability, and can come up with newer more creative ways of staging terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda has also focused on inflicting large number of casualties, and hence has an interest in a weapon capable of inflicting mass destruction.
In fact, there is ample evidence that al-Qaeda has invested a considerable amount of resources in acquiring WMD capability especially chemical and nuclear weapons technology. While it has yet to perfect any of these skills, the jihadist movement has also fully exploited the internet as a medium for proliferation of technology and training. This shows just how dangerous it would be for WMD technology to fall into jihadist hands. Al Qaeda is a truly independent creation, and does not face the same political constraints that other non-state actors have with state sponsors. Finally, al-Qaeda’s transnational cause and international reach makes it a singularly unique phenomenon within the universe of non-state actors. For these reasons, Stratfor believes that al-Qaeda is the one non-state actor that could potentially develop and deploy WMDs.
Al-Qaeda has already crossed certain geopolitical markers towards the development of WMD capability. First of all it is present in countries (Pakistan, Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and to a to lesser degree the United Kingdom and France, etc) with access to technology and the political, regulatory, and security circumstances are lax enough to where jihadists can potentially gain access to material, technology, and space to where they can make significant strides towards developing WMD capabilities, especially chemical weapons.
Furthermore, radical and militant Islamism has spread in certain areas to where there is a pre-existing environment in which they can make in roads through like-minded individuals with the know-how and who are working in technologically sensitive institutions. The jihadists also have access to significant amount of finances which further enables them to move ahead towards the development of WMD capability. Another antecedent that is an immensely important enabler, which al-Qaeda has had success in obtaining is linkages to security and intelligence apparatuses in a number of countries. The fact that the jihadists are even able to maintain sanctuary and operate within states like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc underscores a significant degree of penetration of the country’s intelligence and security agencies on the part of Islamist militants. They also have a much broader social support network, which enables their ability to operate.
National, regional, and global political environments informed by anti-Americanism, poor socio-economic conditions, dissatisfaction with current governments and/or political systems, perceptions of a U.S.-led western war against Islam and Muslims have reached critical mass, and can hence facilitate the jihadists’ quest to develop WMD capabilities.
Essentially, jihadists have access to most of the moving parts required to embark upon the development of WMD technologies. They are, however, constrained by the logic of opportunity cost and scarcity of resources, which together prevents them from undertaking a serious drive towards WMD development.
The global dragnet in the form of the U.S. and international efforts to hunt down al-Qaeda and the need of the jihadists to sustain their operational capability limits the amount of resources that they can direct be made towards developing WMD capability. Furthermore, the need for a high degree of operational security constrains the extent to which al-Qaeda can indulge in such a quest. This is true both in terms of extending its operational tentacles as well the need for secure areas to engage in developing such weapons.
There is also the question of necessity where the jihadists conclude that the acquisition of CBRN capability is critical in achieving their objectives – without them they can not realize their strategic objectives. In other words, the situation arises where CBRN capability no longer remains a luxury for al-Qaeda which if it can attain would make them better. Rather circumstances come to a point where the jihadists feel they need to have CBRN capability in order to further their aims.
Given the high costs associated with the move to acquire the technology, al-Qaeda would have to deem the endeavor as worth the risk. The jihadists will need to have reached a state where they feel that they have a lot at stake, which needs to be protected – a nascent state. Moreover, they feel that by acquiring CBRN capability not only will they be able to protect their gains but also have an ability to enhance their power and consolidate themselves, they will invest in such technologies. But this also assumes that they will have the opportunities to engage in such an undertaking.
If the jihadists feel that they are making reasonable progress towards their objectives within their current conventional weapons capability then they will not divert their resources away from their current projects and risk a decline in operations. The cost of doing so has to outweigh the benefits in that there has to be a sufficiently high level of expectation in terms of success for the jihadists to risk a drop in operations. Thus, under the current circumstances, the best that they can do is allocate small amount of resources in terms of money, personnel, and time towards the acquisition of WMD, which they can spare, with no immediate expectation of success.
The first major behavioral shift within the jihadist movement occurred when they moved away from fighting individual Arab/Muslim states to attacking their support base, the United States and the West. This also caused them to move away from being religious nationalists operating in specific countries to becoming a transnational force seeking the creation of supranational polity.
This happened with the birth of al-Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mohammed Atef sometime in the early to mid 1990s in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The result of this was attacking the United States by striking at its interests – U.S. military facilities/personnel in Saudi Arabia, diplomatic facilities in East Africa, and its naval presence in the Middle East.
In 1998, the jihadists engaged in a second shift by adopting suicide bombings as a modus operandi. This took place in the twin bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Until then, the jihadists were using standard time-detonated IEDs or remote-controlled detonations. This allowed them to more successfully and effectively engage in bombings.
Realizing that hitting U.S. interests within the Muslim world was not going to be sufficient, al-Qaeda decided to strike in the continental United States, which constituted a third shift in operational behavior of the jihadists. The botched Millennium Plot and Sept 11 attacks as well as several other failed attempts were all part of this strategy.
The fourth shift occurred when al-Qaeda lost Afghanistan as a sanctuary and training base, which resulted in the devolution of the organization into a broader movement. The apex leadership given that physical security for the organization was the priority had to concede a high degree of operational control to regional and local leaders. While this allowed the network to expand its operational reach and perhaps even increase the quantity of attacks, it led to decline in quality of operations.
Al-Qaeda underwent a fifth behavioral shift after the U.S. invasion of Iraq when an independent jihadist operator Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was able to put together the most active jihadist group Jamaat al-Tawheed wa al-Jihad, which surpassed the operational capabilities of al-Qaeda forcing the aQ prime to join forces with al-Zarqawi’s group and further risk control over what had by then become a movement. The benefit to al-Qaeda was that they now had a steady flow of activity against the United States and its allies. Iraq to a great degree has replaced its lost sanctuary in Afghanistan. It has also brought al-Qaeda back into the Arab Middle East, given that the movement for the longest time had been based in southwest Asia (Afghanistan/Pakistan).
At present, the confidence of the jihadists has gotten a major boost given that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone very badly for the United States. The jihadists feel that their current course of action is bearing fruit and hence do not see the need to drastically alter their current operational behavior, especially their ability to effect a shift in operational principle is constrained.
Quintessentially, al-Qaeda has shown a propensity to adhere to tactics that it has mastered and what it can manage, which has allowed the network to be a more inventive non-state actor. Training operatives to fly airliners, for example, is more manageable for al Qaeda than working toward CBRN production.
Certain patterns can be discerned from the shifts in the operational history of al-Qaeda, which reveal the conditions under which the jihadists have altered their behavior. One such condition has emerged when the jihadists were unable to make headway towards their objectives with an existing approach. This led them to alter their strategy.
A glaring example of this is when they moved from expending their resources solely at fighting the regimes in the states in which they were operating. The realized that they would not be able to topple the incumbent regimes without undercutting the support they get from the United States. This is why they began to direct their attacks against Washington’s interests. Before al-Qaeda came on the scene with its global jihadist campaign, jihadists were fighting in different countries such Egypt from the mid 1970s to 1997 and Algeria during the early 1990s.
A second condition in which the jihadists have altered their tactic is if they found a way to enhance their fire power at very little cost. This happened when al-Qaeda employed suicide bombers as a means of delivering IEDs. The East Africa embassy bombings and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole was made possible by the involvement of operatives willing to sacrifice for the cause. Hijacking commercial aircraft and ploughing them into buildings in the Sept 11 attacks was another example of this shift. Hitting at transportation systems also allowed them to enhance their fire power as was the case in the 2004 train attacks in Madrid and the July 2005 London attacks.
The need to fight the United States and/or its European allies directly as opposed to hitting at western interests, e.g., embassies, military facilities and assets, etc. is another condition which led to the jihadists altering their operational principal. The consequence of which led to the Sept 11 attacks, the Madrid train bombings, and the London bombings
U.S. military action in the Muslim world - Afghanistan, Iraq, and the operations in other places like Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, etc - are also a potential antecedent that contributes to al-Qaeda altering its operational principles. If U.S. forces enter a country where al-Qaeda has a pre-existing presence, this forces al-Qaeda to engage in evasive maneuvering and improvisation in the way it operates as we saw when the network lost its global headquarters in Afghanistan. In this case the jihadists go into defensive mode. But when the U.S. military action takes place in a country where al-Qaeda is not present such as Iraq, the invasion allows the jihadists to take advantage of the ensuring anarchy to setup shop in country. This gives them an opportunity to expand their operations and compensate for losses incurred elsewhere.
It is important to note that even in the latter case, the U.S. inability to stabilize a country where it had intervened to destroy jihadist infrastructure ultimately does not eliminate the jihadist ability to operate in the country. Moreover, jihadists have demonstrated a capability to exploit crisis like situations to effect risings (albeit to varying degrees of success). In fact, al-Qaeda was born in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf War with the merger of radical Wahhabis from the Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Osama bin Laden with Takfeeri Egyptian Islamists led Ayman al_Zawahiri. This was made possible because of the serious opposition in the Arabian Peninsula to the stationing of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia before and after Operation Desert Storm.
A drop in operations by al-Qaeda (and here we mean those planned by aQ prime – the network’s central leadership – Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, et al) over a long period of time – going beyond the normal operational cycle – could be an indication of a shift in behavior, possibly indicating that the group is in the middle of planning a major attack perhaps using non-conventional weapons. This of course assumes that the leadership infrastructure led by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri remains intact.
In the past, while al-Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks it had the facilities in Afghanistan and the pre-9/11 global atmosphere at its disposal, which allowed it to stage smaller operations – U.S. military facilities in KSA (1995/96), East Africa Embassy bombings (1998), U.S.S. Cole (2000), and other botched operations, while it pressed ahead with the preparations for the Sept 11 attacks. Al-Qaeda no longer has the same bandwidth and is constrained due to the global war on terror. Therefore a prolonged period of inactivity on the part of the aQ prime in terms of an attack in the west could be an indication that the movement has shifted gears and is preparing for a new type of strike, and possibly involving a weapon of mass destruction.
From the point of view of intent, al-Qaeda is much more likely to use a WMD and/or CBRN device given that it is an independent non-state actor. Unlike other major Islamist non-state actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas, al-Qaeda is not controlled or influenced by any state actors. Although, al-Qaeda has ties to elements of the states in which it operates (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq) it is not an instrument of states pursuing their foreign policy goals. This allows al-Qaeda significant freedom of intent and capability in that it does not have to rely upon the intentions of its state sponsor.
But this does not mean that there are no constraints on aQ with regards to intent. The jihadists realize that if they resort to the use of WMD against the United States or its interests around the world, it will elicit a massive response from Washington. This is because the United States will not tolerate such an attack from a state actor let alone a non-state one and hence will go to great lengths to respond to such an attack from a non-state actor.
Not only will a U.S. response be destructive for the jihadists it will also have a devastating impact on the Arabs/Muslims in the area targeted by the United States in the retaliatory strike. Given that such a strike would be in response to a WMD attack by the jihadists, the move will hurt aQ’s position in the Muslim world for bringing death and destruction upon the Muslim world. This was part of the calculus when Osama bin Laden rejected the suggestion to target a nuclear facility in the United States in the Sept 11 operation. The argument made was that such a strike could not be contained in terms of its impact and the consequences.
What this means is that the most likely scenario in which aQ would engage in an attack involving CBRN systems would be if they could successfully justify the move as being in response to a large attack on Arab/Muslims by U.S. forces.
Of course this assumes that aQ has acquired WMD and/or CBRN capability, which is the major impediment to a WMD CBRN type strike by jihadists. This is why the likely scenario may not be a WMD but still could involve the use of chemical or radiological technology in an improvised conventional explosive device.
Iraq, given the state of anarchy and the ease of availability of materials required to fashion such a device, is the most likely area in which jihadists could acquire such a capability. Elsewhere there are too many constraints and risks attached to acquiring the technology. Furthermore, the need to conduct research, testing, storage, and training further limits the probability that a non-state actor such as the jihadists who are the focus of a global war effort could find the time and space to engage in the pursuit of chemical and radiological devices.
More importantly is the pressure to shift current tactics using conventional explosives delivered by suicide bombers to CBRN type weapons. Given the current geopolitical situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global perception that the U.S. is loosing the war with the jihadists al-Qaeda is not in any pressure to up the ante. Moreover, it is well known that the jihadist objectives are based on very long-term strategies and are willing to exercise a considerable degree of patience with their modus operandi before they engage in a shift.
Therefore, given the lack of pressure to effect a shift in tactics because of the confidence that current strategies are bearing fruit, it is unlikely that al-Qaeda will incur a opsec risk by investing in the acquisition of CBRN specific systems.
How al-Qaeda will conduct itself over the course of the coming decade depends upon a number of factors. First, the outcome of the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan will greatly determine the overall operational capability of the jihadist movement. If negotiated settlements can be made in both countries, which will facilitate the destruction of transnational jihadist forces then, al-Qaeda would be sufficiently weakened, and not be in a position to seek CBRN capability. The same is true if their top leadership – central and regional is removed from the scene.
If, however, the situation spirals out of hand leading to a U.S./western disengagement or decline in initiative on the part of the U.S. and/or NATO forces, then this will allow the jihadists to consolidate themselves. In the event that they begin moving from being non-state actors to state ones, they will want to secure their gains and consolidate themselves.
Cognizant of how important it is for them to retain control over areas in which they operate, they will need to develop a defense mechanism, which could potentially offer them protection from U.S. attacks. They are also aware that this is not possible using conventional means. In such a scenario, it will be come crucial for the jihadists to obtain CBRN technology in the hope that this will complicate attempts to militarily deal with them.
Pakistan is a state that could potentially become a source from which al-Qaeda could obtain the materials to develop a WMD, especially a nuclear one. This is because of three reasons – 1) Pakistan is the only Muslim nuclear state; 2) Top Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan ran an extensive global proliferation network, dismantled in 2004; and 3) Al-Qaeda’s global headquarters are based in northwestern Pakistan.
Considering that Pakistan is under fire for being al-Qaeda’s main sanctuary and the controversy surrounding the A.Q. Khan network, Islamabad has been under intense pressure to demonstrate that its nuclear assets and facilities are secure and will not be the source of future proliferation, especially to non-state actors such as the jihadists.
The threat that it could loose its nuclear weapons arsenal and/or program forced the Pakistanis to undertake significant measures, in order to demonstrate that the country was a responsible nuclear state and those who had been engaged in “unauthorized” proliferation had been dealt with. Moreover, it had to show that it had greatly enhanced security to prevent future such incidents where sensitive technology was being siphoned off to both state and non-state entities.
Additionally, Islamabad also faces a threat from al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies and is currently engaged seeking to roll back the radical/extremist tide. Furthermore, considering the limited degree of influence that Islamist political forces enjoy in the country and the fact that the military – an ideologically liberal institution - is the de facto state it is unlikely that the government will be the source of proliferation.
Weak control mechanisms and the presence of conservative religious elements who may sympathize with the jihadists within the country’s scientific and security communities, however, can lead to a certain level of leakage from the system. But this level of leakage will not be sufficient to result in a WMD falling into the hands of al-Qaeda. This is because of the need for elaborate facilities in which a nuclear device can be fashioned, which are very few in the country to begin with.
Beyond the apex leadership, local and regional level al-Qaeda operatives can have access to facilities and materials in their respective countries. These include both in the Arab/Muslim world such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco as well as in the West, e.g., United Kingdom, France, Spain, etc.
Because of the need for highly specialized knowledge, sophisticated facilities, and rare materials, it would be exceedingly difficult for al-Qaeda to get their hands on a nuclear or biological weapon. On the other hand a chemical weapon or a chemical-laden improvised explosive device is much more attainable for al-Qaeda. Theft of an existing weapon is a possibility but even then issues related to circumventing security protocols, transporting the device or storing it significantly reduce it as a viable means of acquiring a WMD.
Hence, considering that al-Qaeda doesn’t have the space, time and resources to develop CBRN capability from the ground up, they are more likely to acquire devices than develop them from scratch.
Pursuit of WMD
Kazakhstan, due to a Soviet-era legacy, has an extremely high capability for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. As the USSR did not keep very good track of its assets, Kazakhstan could very well have nuclear warheads on its territory that have not been accounted for. Dangerous bacteria and chemicals, as well as toxic waste products, continue to be stored in the country, but adequate security can not be currently guaranteed for these facilities. Kazakhstan is also a large country with a relatively small population, as well as a substantial Russian minority. As such, it is vital to Russia for the defense of its periphery, and gives Moscow the opportunity to dominate Astana. Kazakhstan manages its precarious situation by remaining politically loyal to Russia while engaging in economic cooperation with Russia, China, and Western and Asian companies, particularly in its lucrative energy sector. However, the likelihood of increasing Russian influence is the top reason Kazakhstan could resort to re-activating its CBRN capabilities, particularly nuclear weapons, either at the service of Moscow or against it.
Kazakhstan has previously possessed CBRN and may still have either high-level precursors or nearly-completed CBRN devices, as well as skilled personnel and appropriate facilities, all legacy of the USSR. While the redevelopment of CBRN is hindered by Kazakhstan’s geopolitical situation (mainly, the presence of Russia and China, who would not allow such action), its existing technology and supplies would allow a quick path to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Kazakhstan could once again launch on the path of development of CBRN -- most of the scenarios that would prompt such a course involve Russia. For example, Russia’s unilateral aggression toward Kazakhstan, if such were to take place, could prompt CBRN weapons development. The state of Russia’s relationship with China is also going to affect Kazakhstan’s geopolitical situation. Increasing confrontation between Russia and China would place Kazakhstan into one of several possible scenarios:
a. Kazakhstan siding with Russia and possibly having CBRN, especially nuclear WMD stationed on its territory to be used at Moscow’s behest. Kazakhstan is already politically aligned with Russia, but still wants to maintain its sovereignty. However, this would be the safest way to ensure any kind of survival for the Kazakh regime, as Russia will want to retaliate against anything it perceives as betrayal by a vital part of its periphery.
b. Siding with China and acquiring CBRN with or without Chinese help to deter Russia. This would have to be done secretively so as to prevent Russia attacking Kazakhstan in order to pre-empt any CBRN development. As an alternative, China could share its technology with Kazakhstan, but only if it is prepared to provide security guarantees.
c. Attempting to stay out of it and acquiring CBRN in order to assure neutrality. This scenario would also apply if Russia and China were to ally and try to gang up on Kazakhstan. CBRN development would have to take place in utter secret, so as to prevent a Russian pre-emptive strike.
As Kazakhstan is an important part of the Russian periphery, Moscow may attempt other techniques in bringing Astana closer into the fold. As a subsequent step in that process, Russia may eventually station CBRN on Kazakh territory in order to extend its influence, whether or not Moscow is engaged in a conflict that would necessitate such a step.
An alternative scenario would ensue if Kazakhstan were to split into a northern, ethnic-Russian populated portion, and the Turkic south. The large country is sparsely populated and has a relatively clear ethnic divide, bringing the possibility of a split if a weaker, less centralized leadership emerges. In this case, Russia would subsume the northern portion and rule it as part of its territory, possibly stationing CBRN there. If the southern part comes under the control of China and tense relations continue between the two giant neighbors, either side could station CBRN in the now-former Kazakhstan as deterrent.
Increasing nationalism, either in its secular or religious varieties, could cause Kazakhstan to attempt to thwart foreign, especially Russian influence and acquire CBRN as a deterrent to the likely challenge from Russia. Revenues from the energy sector and other sources could fuel a notion of self-reliance in Kazakhstan, and the centralized nature of the leadership could turn that into a nationalist slogan.
Kazakhstan’s historic rivalry for regional leadership with neighboring Uzbekistan could turn into an arms race, if either country chooses to develop CBRN. Russia and China are the most influential factors on whether the two Central Asian neighbors do engage in an arms race; it is possible that Russia and Kazakhstan will together side against Uzbekistan and China. However, the larger powers are the driving factors in such a conflict.
Kazakhstan is currently shifting away from CBRN development, as in its current geopolitical position, it benefits from disassembling its CBRN capabilities and production facilities. In that context, Astana has a positive relationship the Western powers, and appears less threatening to Russia and China while on its current course of disarmament. Additionally, security guarantees from multiple partners and economic ties with them help assure the leadership to continue on its current course.
In its 15 years of independence, Kazakhstan has never entered into interstate conflict, nor used CBRN. Kazakhstan’s modus operandi is to balance its interests and seek to accommodate as many significant regional players as possible. Astana remains politically loyal to Moscow and the two have an extensive economic, trade and business relationship. At the same time, Kazakhstan has significant relations with China, Europe, the United States, Middle Eastern and other Asian countries, particularly in the energy sector. Astana has used energy to ensure not only the financing of its regime, but also the indispensability of Kazakhstan to its partners. Although Kazakhstan can be considered the regional leader in many regards, particularly banking, the state has not been belligerent in imposing its primacy in Central Asia.
Much of Kazakhstan’s movement toward or away from development of CBRN will be influenced by the activities of its larger neighbors, Russia and China. If Kazakhstan succumbs to Russian influence, Moscow may take the step in stationing CBRN, particularly nuclear weapons, on its territory. As Russia moves to gain influence in Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan may succumb to Russian pressure. Breaking ties with Asian or Western partners could be indicative of increasing Russian influence.
There are also several internal indicators of Kazakhstan moving toward CBRN reactivation. Kazakhstan stopping cooperation with disarmament organizations or restricting their access to CBRN production and storage facilities is an ominous sign. Change of regime is also something to be watched: A belligerent stance toward China, Russia or the West may indicate future CBRN redevelopment. Any change in how the regime balances its relations with its partners is indicative of a more fundamental shift of the geopolitical position, since the balance is very delicate.
Kazakhstan leaning toward a more nationalistic course may be indicated by spurning international partnerships, nationalizing energy or other economic assets, assertiveness toward Russia in Central Asian affairs or imposing more direct control over the large sparsely-populated country. A more nationalist Kazakhstan may choose CBRN redevelopment in order to secure its sovereignty in light of Russia’s regional ambitions.
Expansion if the civilian nuclear program could indicate a possible resumption of a nuclear weapons program. Likewise, increased activity at chemical or biological research facilities, such as an uptick in import of precursors, would also be cause for concern.
Pursuit of WMD
Uzbekistan has rather extensive CBRN facilities left over from the Soviet era, as well as some skilled individuals and relatively advanced facilities. While it is not as likely to have remaining nuclear missiles as neighboring Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan did have advanced chemical and biological facilities installed by the USSR, and it retains a significant amount of highly-enriched uranium as well as a nuclear research reactor. The country is under the authoritarian regime of President Islam Karimov, suffers to some degree from an Islamist insurgency, and security can not be adequately guaranteed for any storage or production facilities. Given the paranoid nature of Karimov, the transition from him to the next regime may be nasty, as he is prone to eliminate any possible successor who would challenge his power in the meantime. Uzbekistan also harbors ambitions to be Central Asia’s regional leader, as it is the most populous country and the only one that borders the other four. However, its financial or political situation does not currently allow for progress in this regard.
Uzbekistan has already possessed CBRN under the Soviet Union, mostly chemical and biological weapons, but also highly-enriched uranium and nuclear facilities. Skilled personnel and adequate facilities remain in the country as it slowly proceeds with dismantlement. Although the redevelopment of CBRN hindered by Uzbekistan’s geopolitical situation (mainly, the presence of Russia and China, who would not allow such action), its existing technology and supplies would allow a quick path to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
If Uzbekistan were to set off down a path to CBRN redevelopment, it would likely be prompted to do so either by external factors, such as the large regional players, or by changes in the existing regime.
Russia’s increased presence in the region and challenge to Uzbekistan’s regime could prompt redevelopment of CBRN as deterrent designed to protect the country’s sovereignty. Alternatively, Uzbekistan could succumb to Russia and the victor could station CBRN, nuclear weapons in particular, on Uzbek territory. These scenarios become more likely if Russia subsumes other Central Asian states.
Uzbekistan could also deepen its relationship with (and thereby dependence on) Russia if the internal stability of the country deteriorates. Whether because of economic downturn or militant activity, Uzbekistan may very well become weak enough to require Russian involvement, and Moscow would happily step in, possibly leading to Russian CBRN being stationed on Uzbek territory.
Uzbekistan would also feel insecure if neighboring Kazakhstan expands its ties with China, particularly if Sino-Russian relations come to tense. If Uzbekistan comes to Russia for help and protection, acquiring CBRN under Russian tutelage or being supplied the systems by the Russians may be the next step in such a situation.
Uzbekistan’s increased ambitions for regional leadership could lead to challenging Kazakhstan, possibly with the development of CBRN. If Kazakhstan were to develop CBRN, Uzbekistan could engage it in an arms race.
Uzbekistan also has tense relations with neighboring Tajikistan. If Dushanbe develops a closer relationship with Tehran, up to and including acquiring Iran as a patron and getting in on its nuclear program, Uzbekistan may either acquire CBRN (possibly with Russia’s support) in order to stave off its neighbor. Alternatively, Russia may do the same with Tajikistan, likewise heightening Uzbek concerns over its southern border.
Given Uzbekistan’s history of changing partners whenever it suits its purposes, a change in alliances is also possible. A scenario where Tashkent attempts to spurn Russian influence may be accompanied by the redevelopment of CBRN as a deterrent to Russian retaliation. However, the survival of the CBRN program and possibly the entire regime would have to be guaranteed by Uzbekistan’s new patron.
As Uzbekistan’s current regime is unlikely to give up power voluntarily, a coup, a palace coup or a complete deterioration of control followed by a militant takeover are all possible. The installation of an Islamist or militant regime may bring the intent to reacquire CBRN, but Russia is not likely to allow such a development on its periphery -- quick and decisive action will be taken against the upstarts.
Uzbekistan’s current policy is to cooperate with Western agencies on disarmament. Continuation of that strategy is in itself a shift away from proliferation. Security guarantees may also lead to continued disarmament, but those guarantees would have to be significant, given Uzbekistan’s propensity to change partners.
Uzbekistan has not entered into international armed conflict since independence in 1991. Vacillation between partners and shopping for the best deal are all methods of the current Uzbek regime. Whereas siding with the United States during its Afghan campaign was advantageous, abandoning its Western partner for Russia was preferable after the crackdown in Andijan. Uzbekistan’s regime is also notorious for its repression of domestic dissent and persecution of non-state-sanctioned practice of Islam, labeling many religious people as terrorists in order to prosecute them.
Given President Karimov’s policy to remove competitors, the regime is inherently unstable. Should something happen to Karimov, there is a chance that chaos in competition for power will ensue. However, the country’s security apparatus is in itself a powerful entity and may come to take over.
Uzbekistan’s movement toward or away from development of CBRN would be influenced mostly by the actions of regional players, such as Russia, China and Kazakhstan, but also somewhat by the behavior of its regime.
While increasing conflict between Russia and China would first affect Kazakhstan, it would soon come to affect the dynamics of the entire region. Uzbekistan would be in a position to take sides and possibly to develop CBRN or have weapons systems stationed on its territory. Alternatively, Uzbekistan may want to develop CBRN to protect its sovereignty from Russia or China. Uzbekistan would be especially likely to do this if Kazakhstan falls to either adversary.
Russia’s increasing presence in Uzbekistan’s neighbors Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan is also something that would cause Tashkent to be concerned for its sovereignty. If Moscow tries to rule Central Asia with a heavy hand, Uzbekistan may turn to CBRN as a deterrent. However, one caveat to this development is that if Uzbekistan does not manage complete secrecy in this project, Russia will strike preemptively to destroy any such weapons.
If Uzbekistan acquires a non-Russian ally that could give it security guarantees (maybe China or the United States, if it deems involvement strategically salient), Tashkent could turn away from Moscow. Subsequently, if the security guarantees may prove unreliable, Uzbekistan could return to CBRN as deterrent against attack by the angered Russia.
If Uzbekistan’s regime becomes increasingly unable to control an escalating Islamist insurgency, the regime and the country may become destabilized. That could lead to a decision to restore CBRN in order to show strength. Alternatively, a sudden change in regime, as in a coup or Karimov’s death, may mean a sudden change in policy, possibly seeking to challenge regional leaders such as Russia and China.
History of sharing technology:
Russia has been officially documented as exporting or planning to export nuclear reactors and fuel, equipment used in production and testing of ballistic missiles, as well as dual-use technology and materials to Iran, China, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Egypt, and India. It is also possible that Russia has or is still cooperating with North Korea, Iraq, Cuba, Libya, and Syria in nuclear technology. Russia also has inadequate security mechanisms and protocols, enabling theft and smuggling of nuclear technology and supplies.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has made an effort to return all of its nuclear technology from its republics. However, the USSR was very secretive and did not keep coherent records of what was stored where -- undocumented caches of nuclear missiles and other materiel have since been discovered. Moreover, skilled individuals are also “unsecured” -- after the fall of the USSR, Soviet nuclear scientists frequently found themselves without a salary or a job, and very much desired for employment by other countries.
Russia may increase sharing of its weapons technology if it either wanted to instigate or perpetuate a proxy conflict (as with its Cold War ideology) or to support a regime that opposes its adversary, in this case the United States and NATO. This is likely the case with Russia’s support to Iran’s nuclear program. If it suits Russia’s interest, it would support the programs of other U.S. opponents, such as Syria, even if there is a chance that those countries could later turn against Russia.
Currently, Russia continues to share and sell nuclear technology, ostensibly for civilian or defensive purposes. It serves both financial and geopolitical purposes, the latter designed to infringe on its adversary’s interests. The research, knowledge base and reactor construction components for a civilian or a weapons program appear much the same in the early stage of the process, and allow Russia a legitimate-looking front for its activities.
Russia could choose to re-station CBRN, most likely nuclear weapons, in the former Soviet republics, as it seeks to gain increasing control over lost Soviet Union territory. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan and other republics could all regain their arsenals as Russia gains increasing influence in those countries.
Russia may also clandestinely transfer weapons and technology to its own adversary, in order to precipitate a Russian attack on them. For example, Russian secret services could, perhaps through an intermediary, provide a low-yield nuclear device to the Chechen insurgents, in order to justify another campaign to destroy the rebels.
Russia feels threatened by NATO encroachment, especially on its Western flank. Russia’s moves to increase its presence in Ukraine and Belarus would be indicative of a behavioral shift. For example, Russia has recently returned to upgrading Russian missile detection system radars stationed in Sevastopol and Mukacheve, Ukraine -- any significant upgrades to clearly offensive systems would be indicative of such a shift.
Increasing tensions between Russia and China could signal an escalation that could lead to CBRN proliferation in the regional states as well as a heightened state of alert for the two adversaries.
Central Asian states, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are highly capable of developing their own CBRN programs. If proliferation in that region is imminent or present, Russia would seek to escalate its own state of readiness, as well as watch more carefully what China is doing and gauge its response on that. Russia is highly likely to destroy any unsanctioned CBRN program, including by use of its own nuclear WMD.
If China seeks to expand its influence in Central Asia, Russia would also likely take steps to show strength and prevent Chinese expansion. Russia may share CBRN technology with Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan, or possibly Kyrgyzstan or Turkmenistan (depending on their political situation at that time) in order to offset China.
Russia and Japan are still technically at war, having never signed a peace treaty. As Japan may move toward acquiring nuclear capability, Russia may restore and increase its own abilities in the Pacific region. Currently, there are significant radar deficiencies in the Russian Far East, and if Japan was to demonstrate progress toward arming, Russia would be posturing as well, likely by emphasizing upgrading those systems.
Iranian actions could cause a change in Russia’s behavior. There are several possibilities: Competition over influence in Central Asia, once Iran settles its Iraq border and wishes to divert resources north; disagreement over Russian actions relating to Bushehr nuclear reactor -- if Russia is seen as sabotaging progress; competition over Caspian energy resources and possible conflict over territorial issues.
There is a possibility that a conflict would emerge in the Caucasus, where Turkey supports Azerbaijan and Russia supports Armenia. As the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan may escalate, the two patrons may take sides, even if indirectly. However, Turkey is a member of NATO, and its actions would be constrained by the organization, and the United States would likely have to become involved as well.
Changes in Russia’s political landscape may also be indicative of a change in CBRN policy. If the national-security oriented siloviki gain control over the Kremlin, defense strategy, offense posture and weapon sharing policy would change, increasing the possibility of proliferation.
The Russian military is in a state of upgrading its weapons and equipment, and emphasis is already on the strategic systems. Any decrease in funding or redirection of funding to other systems could indicate Russia shifting focus away from nuclear systems. However, it is strategically salient for Russia to upgrade the systems, and the Kremlin is unlikely to shift priority away from those programs.
Pursuit of WMD
Cuba’s history of chemical weapon development indicates that Cuba could be driven to further pursue the development and/or proliferation of chemical weaponry. Cuba is a strongly militaristic society that exists in relative isolation and secrecy. Highly defensive, scientifically capable, and strategically located, Cuba has the potential of producing, proliferating, and stockpiling chemical weapons. Cuba’s long running ties to Russia and China have afforded the island opportunities to cooperate with these global players in the development of various chemical weapons. In addition to alliances with Russia and China, Cuba’s growing relationship with Iran could indicate future cooperation on many fronts – including the proliferation of chemical or biological weapons. Its experience, isolation, and scientific capacity make Cuba an ideal location for the development of chemical or biological weapons.
Cuba has produced chemical and biological weapons in the past, both independently and through alleged collaboration with Russia, China, and Vietnam. Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is outfitted with high-grade equipment and highly trained scientists. Cuba is capable of producing pathogens and culture media and has sold culture media to various countries. Past production and scientific capacity indicates that Cuba is more than likely capable of proliferation in a rather short time.
Cuba maintains close scientific ties with China and has supplied Iran, China, India, Algeria, Brazil and Venezuela with biotechnology products. Iran has collaborated with Cuba to establish a biotechnology center in Tehran and there are unconfirmed reports that Cuban scientists presently work at the Iranian establishment. Should any one of Cuba’s biotechnology partners, such as Venezuela, Iran or China, feel the need to apply some pressure on the United States, Cuba could be prompted to expand its biotechnology and chemical capabilities.
Cuba’s capabilities, combined with its highly defensive nature, could prompt the island toward proliferation. Cuba maintains an adversarial relationship with the United States. Aggression or perceived aggression from the United States could prompt Cuba to proliferate chemical or biological weapons as a defensive maneuver in preparation for an invasion. In the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s illness and surgery, Cuba held large military demonstrations and released statements saying Cuba was ready to face invasions – intimating that the United States was planning to pounce on Cuba while Castro recovered. If Cuba were to perceive an immediate threat from the United States, it could be pushed toward proliferation.
Though Cuba has not recently engaged in any armed conflict, the island does possess a well-equipped, highly organized military. In terms of conventional weapons, Cuba’s capabilities are significant, as Fidel Castro has prioritized militarization and has well-funded the army. Cuba relies on strategic alliances to maintain its borders. No longer funding other regional revolutions, Cuba now serves as in ideological model for leftist movements throughout the region. Cuba has excelled in guerrilla warfare tactics.
Though leader Fidel Castro denies the existence of any WMD programs in Cuba, Cuba’s history of chemical and biological weapon development is well known. The island’s geographic position makes it relatively vulnerable to attack. Because of the difficulties of defending an island, Cuba has relied on guerrilla warfare and, according to some indications, the development of chemical and biological weapons.
There are unconfirmed reports of Cuba allegedly deploying a chemical weapon, though these accusations appear to be unfounded. Cuba is believed to have numerous chemical weapons, including tabun, sarin, soman, yellow rain, novichok, phosgene oxime, arsine trihydride, and hydrogen cyanide. It is not known whether any of these chemical weapons are stockpiled on the island but it is likely that Cuba is presently capable of producing them. Cuba has many chemical plants, with most are located in and around Havana.
Though Cuba’s relations with the United States are contentious, development of chemical or biological weapons for usage against US interests is unlikely. Warming US-Cuban relations – needed by Cuba to redeem its failing economic situation – would be severely impacted; as long as the threat from the United States remains low, Cuba will likely avoid proliferation with the US or its interests as a target.
What is far more plausible is that any development of chemical or biological weapons in Cuba will be driven by outside powers. China, Russia, Iran, Algeria and Venezuela already have close ties and biotechnological partnerships with Cuba and could prompt proliferation via cooperative projects.
Various behavior shifts could indicate a step toward proliferation in Cuba. Any increased hostility between Cuba and the United States could indicate a change in Cuba’s chemical or biological weapons programs. At present, both sides seem to be warming to each other; acting leader Raul Castro has engaged the United States to a degree and seems more willing than his brother, ailing President Fidel Castro, to mend US-Cuban ties. A significant deterioration or any marked hostility between the US and Cuba could lead to proliferation in Cuba.
Changes in Cuba’s international relationships are also indicators of Cuba’s chemical and biological weapons status. Particularly in the case of Iran and Venezuela, any significant increases in commerce, bilateral accords, or technology transfer are indicators that Cuba could be proliferating or developing its chemical and/or biological programs.
In addition to US relations, domestic shifts in Cuba could indicate a shift toward proliferation. The Cuban people are strongly nationalistic and the island is highly militarized; any uptick in nationalism and/or militarization in Cuba, particularly after the death of Fidel Castro, could signify a move toward proliferation. Such proliferation could be used to boost nationalism and motivate the army.
In sum, Cuba may seek to increase its chemical or biological weapon capabilities to bolster domestic support, as a defense against increased hostilities in Cuban-US relations or perceived threats from the US, or in collaboration with other nations, particularly those at odds with the United States.
Venezuela seeks regime security; regardless of President Hugo Chavez’s bold behavior, the regime is highly insecure. Emboldened by his December 2006 reelection, Chavez seeks to preserve his leadership at all costs. He has announced intentions of pushing a constitutional change that will abolish term limits – effectively paving the way for him to be president for life.
Venezuela, of late, has turned its eyes toward improving military and defense capabilities. At present, the nation has made significant purchases from Russia, including light arms, military planes and supplies. Venezuela has also attempted to purchase military planes from Spain; however, that purchase was blocked by the United States.
While Venezuela’s focus is currently directed at conventional weapons, regime insecurity and impending tensions with neighbors could push Venezuela toward the pursuit of chemical weapons as its next line of defense.
At present, Venezuela has no capabilities for the production or proliferation of WMD. There have been allegations that Venezuela has purchased chemical weapons from Spain. While these reports have been proven to be partly erroneous – Spain did sell defense materials to Venezuela, but the only chemical involved was chlorobenzylidene malonitrile which is used to produce tear gas – it is not implausible that Venezuela would seek to acquire chemical weapons via its relations with other nations with chemical weapon capabilities.
An alliance with Cuba and the Castro brothers – Chavez’s ideological role models – could provide a venue for Venezuela’s foray into the world of chemical weapons. Cuba’s experience with chemical weapons could lead to cooperation between the island and Venezuela.
Venezuela’s increasingly tense relations with Colombia could also push Chavez to acquire or proliferate chemical weapons. US-backed Colombia has long running tensions with Venezuela, which has refused to recognize the leftist guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as a terrorist group and has even overtly aided FARC, much to Colombia’s discontent. Colombia is also engaged in a diplomatic row with Ecuador, an ally of Venezuela, which could lead Chavez to a show of strength against Colombia.
Chavez’s attempt to assert leadership is the most likely motivator for chemical weapon proliferation. Diplomacy, world tours, and an attempt to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council have all failed to establish Venezuela as a world, much less regional, leader. In turn, Chavez could resort to the chemical weapons as a display of force and national security.
Venezuela has little experience in launching attacks of any kind and has not recently engaged in any armed conflicts. Its military is well equipped, though not as powerful or well-armed as other regional armies. Regardless of the military’s power, Venezuela remains ultimately a defense based system with a strongly conventional background. Recent acquisitions from Russia have better equipped the armed forces; however there is no indication that Venezuela possesses any capabilities past conventional arms.
Chavez uses civilian militias to preserve domestic calm. These militias, well funded by the government, largely provide domestic protection. Venezuela’s primary state interest is oil and Chavez protects Venezuela’s lifeblood through nationalizations, project sharing agreements with foreign firms, and sky-high taxes and fees applied to international companies involved in oil projects. Chavez also uses oil to buy allegiance, as his July 2006 world tour illustrates.
Venezuela has been accused of acquiring chemical weapons from Spain. While the purchase was only for a tear gas chemical component, it does indicate that Venezuela has the potential of purchasing chemical weapons. Venezuela’s relationship with Cuba could be a source for chemical weapon acquisition. It should be noted that Venezuela currently lacks the facilities to store chemical weapons or the labs to develop them internally.
Though Venezuela’s relations with the United States are contentious, Chavez’s anti-US rhetoric is just that; it lacks any real significance as Venezuela relies heavily on the United States for oil export. Any acquisition or proliferation of chemical weapons by Venezuela would be met with a strong response from the United States. Regardless of Venezuela’s potential acquisitions, it should be noted that any weapons would be for defense, not first strike, purposes. Venezuela lacks first strike experience and would be ill-equipped to deal with the resulting response from the US if it were to develop or deploy chemical weapons.
Much of Venezuela’s behavior toward chemical weapon acquisition will be strongly tied to its regime stability. If the regime maintains a more stable status, it is unlikely that Chavez would turn to the unpopular and heavily loaded choice of chemical weapon proliferation. If the regime weakens significantly, however, Chavez may feel forced to take action to assert his authority and strength. Chemical weapon acquisition would reinforce his position, but the costs of proliferation – namely a major US backlash – would make this choice rather farfetched.
Venezuela’s main vulnerability is its dependence on oil revenues for regime sustainability. Once the price of crude oil falls below $50 a barrel, Chavez will have to begin making cuts to his budget, which becomes particularly threatening if he can no longer afford to support his paramilitary units, the Chavistas, who could turn their back on him. An issue to pay particularly close attention to is Saudi Arabia’s plans to massivevly expand its production and refining capacity over the next five years.
The country that will suffer the most from the Saudi expansion will be Venezuela, a country alone among the major oil producers that has chosen to limit its ability to produce more crude. Under Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Venezuelan oil output has slid from about 3.7 million bpd to 2.4 million bpd, with future reductions in the cards, largely due to mismanagement, underinvestment and loss of technical capacity. Add in a Chavzien tendency to spend any income the moment it comes in the door and any price drop -- and the Saudi plan will undoubtedly lower prices -- could spell doom for the Chavez government.
The crisis that Chavez will end up facing in battling falling oil prices will likely do more good than harm in terms of Venezuela’s propensity to develop a chemical weapons program, however. The Chavez regime will likely be too preoccupied in stemming domestic opposition when the impact from the drop in revenues spreads throughout the country. Unlike a nuclear program, the development of a chemical weapons program will not be as effective in stirring up nationalist sentiment to preserve the regime.
While Venezuela’s conventional arms buildup seems to indicate that the country’s goal is to better its armed forces and defense capabilities through traditional means, it is not entirely implausible that Venezuela would seek chemical weapon capabilities. Cuba would be an ideal collaborator, as it already possesses chemical weaponry and could share said technology with Venezuela.
In sum, Chavez’s insecurity would be the primary factor that could push Venezuela toward proliferation. Its alliance with Cuba offers an opportunity to do so, but Chavez’s strength – or lack thereof – is the determining rationale.
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