The NATO Advanced Research Workshop, ‘The Role of Independent Scientists in WMD Threat Assessment’, met for 2¼ days in Zagreb, Croatia from 13–16 November 2008. An interdisciplinary group of eminent experts and policy makers gathered from 12 countries to discuss ways in which the technical advice available to governments could be strengthened so as to aid governments and international organizations in their policy formation in response to perceived threats.
Sessions addressed the following topics: Scientists and Policy Formation on CBRN Weapons: Current Structures; How Threat Assessment Affects Policy (with recent examples); Chemical Weapons; Biological Weapons; Nuclear Threats; Ballistic Missiles; The Relevance of WMD Threat Assessment for South-Eastern Europe and the Caucasus; The Way Forward: Breaking the Threat-Counter Threat Cycle. A final round table discussion brought together the main ideas presented and discussed, identified items of particular importance in the present international situation, and suggested possible next steps.
Participants appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of this workshop, as it brought together leading experts who were able to share experiences in their own issue areas, while teasing out the common aspects that may strengthen the norm for independent scientific advising across the broad range of fields relevant to threat assessment. The consensus was that further exploration of the topic should be made, with the goal of strengthening the advice governments receive on WMD threat assessment. This is urgent, since threat assessment has a profound impact on the policies of governments and international organizations.
A number of important questions arose from the workshop papers.
First, the question was raised as to what constitutes a threat assessment; what role do cultural dependencies play within assessments and what is the role of independent scientists in their production? Secondly, the question of what exactly constitutes an independent scientist was addressed. What institutional, funding, and other pressures threaten independence? In giving independent advice, should scientists operate through existing national or international structures, or through new institutions or collaborative structures? Thirdly, the question of how independent scientists produce threat assessments was discussed, including the limitations they may have to work under, and how these might be minimized. Issues raised here concerned access to data and information, and the related problems of classified or commercial proprietary information. Fourthly, the widely differing models used by different countries to facilitate independent science input into policy were discussed, as were the challenges posed by the pace and complexity of current scientific advances. This problem of increased complexity was particularly relevant to biological weapons, and drawing the line between chemical and biological weapons is becoming increasingly difficult. Not surprisingly in the current ‘pre-nuclear renaissance’ situation, a point that stimulated particularly interesting discussion in the nuclear field concerned the difficulty of distinguishing activities related to peaceful uses of atomic energy and possible diversions for weapons development. There is a clear need to develop procedures that would ‘thicken the line’ between peaceful and possible weapons uses. This is a problem that clearly requires expert scientific input, and much work needs to be done urgently. Finally, regional threats were discussed, as were the implications for the region and the world if these threats were not addressed effectively.
It was noted that the UN mandate is to maintain peace and security and that accurate threat assessments are very important to the fulfilment of this mandate, though it is the responsibility of governments to conduct such threat assessments. It was further noted that the difference between ‘threat’ and ‘risk’ should be more clearly delineated. The role of education was seen as crucial, especially the importance of multidisciplinary departments and fostering enhanced co-operation between universities in training the next generation of scientists equipped to give independent advice to policy makers. Education was also important in empowering societal verification of internationally agreed norms. It was suggested that enhanced co-operation between Israel and the Arab world would be of benefit in the production of more accurate regional threat assessments.
Finally, it was argued that NATO is a unique alliance and out of its three components of military, politics and science, the latter is an essential element, as it potentially has the capability to co-operatively address all current threats and dangers, such as climate change, energy security, food security, economic and social issues, in addition to traditional and new security threats from terrorism, WMDs and states challenging international norms. NATO has the potential to transform itself, through initiatives such as the Science for Peace and Security program, from a military and political alliance to a driver towards a broad and inclusive knowledge-based society.
This ARW would not have been possible without the help and commitment of many people and organizations. The co-directors wish to thank especially Sandy Butcher of British Pugwash and Andrea Ruk of the Institute of International Relations, Zagreb, who were instrumental in the organization and running of the workshop. We thank also the other members of the Organising Committee, namely Prof. Mladen Staničić, Dr Mustafa Kibaroglu and Prof. Dr Götz Neuneck, as well as Dr Jo Husbands, Prof. Julian P. Perry Robinson and Dr Mohamed Kadry Said for invaluable assistance in putting together the workshop programme. The very helpful assistance of Prof. Robert A. Hinde with the editing process is particularly appreciated. Finally, the ARW, and this volume, would have been impossible without the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme (Special Call – Assessing the Threat of WMD) which provided most of the funding, and the British Pugwash Trust. We are very grateful for this funding. The helpful assistance and advice of Dr Fausto Pedrazzini and Alison Trapp of the NATO Public Diplomacy Division is also particularly appreciated.