22 February 1991 - 24 February 1991

The Arms Trade, including the Proliferation of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons and Missile Technology, With Special Reference to the Middle East

Chair: The Rt Hon George Younger TD DL MP

Events in the Persian Gulf brought the subject of this conference to the forefront of public attention, but for the most part, participants conscientiously resisted the temptation to stray into the wider political problems of the Middle East.

Discussion started from the acknowledgement that the whole question of limiting arms sales was extremely difficult, not only because of the problems of trust, verification and enforcement inherent in any arms control agreement, but also because of the dangers of ranging the have-nots against the haves, the difficulties of judging the merits of individual cases, the commercial pressures on the suppliers, the problems of dual-use, and indeed the financial burden imposed by competitive arms build-ups. It was also recognised that provided a purchaser had money, no control of technology transfer could do more than delay his acquisition of up-to-date technology, either by direct purchase or through “seepage”, the migration of know-how.

For convenience, the conference considered nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (CBW) and conventional weapons separately in three groups, although the link between them, notably, of course, in terms of deterrence, was fully recognised.

In the nuclear field, it was claimed that the nuclear non-proliferation regime (the NPT) had been remarkably successful, partly perhaps because the ambitions of some of the threshold states had been tempered (vide Brazil and Argentina). The London Suppliers’ Guidelines were seen as an interesting development capable of application in other areas. North Korea was the most serious danger unless Japanese dissuasion proved effective. The ambiguity of Israel’s position was preferable to an open declaration, given that there was little immediate prospect of Israel abandoning whatever nuclear capability it possessed, which accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (which was virtually unamendable) would require. The Treaty came up for renewal in 1995. While some argued that the US and the UK had not been isolated in the 1990 review conference on the issue of a comprehensive test ban, most believed that the chances of renewal would be greatly improved if they (and other testing nations) made some move in that area. The carrot of “atoms for peace” offered in the NPT to non-nuclear states had not proved a success and was probably not a useful model for other agreements of this kind. The attractions of nuclear deterrence for weak, threatened, states were noted in passing but not explored.

CBW, which might be seen, especially in the Middle East, as a counter or deterrent to a nuclear capability, was already the subject of an international ban, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibiting their use in war (but paradoxically not as riot control agents against a state’s own citizens) and the 1972 Convention banning the production, stock-piling, and use of bacteriological and toxin weapons. Neither instrument contained any provisions for verification or enforcement, which presented peculiar difficulties, notably in the case of bacteriological weapons since disease was endemic in nature, research entirely legitimate and concealment easy. Negotiations in Geneva on a new CW treaty including verification and enforcement measures were proceeding but the last mile had often proved the most difficult in the past Seven points were identified:

  1. A comprehensive chemical weapons convention (CWC) with intrusive verification should be finalised;
  2. Protective equipment should not be supplied to non-signatories of the CWC, a powerful incentive to sign it;
  3. Rapid and automatic access should be granted to any site of alleged use of CW to determine whether use had occurred;
  4. If use was demonstrated or access denied, sanctions should be automatically imposed;
  5. Export controls of chemicals and equipment should be strengthened (though the tension stemming from the legitimate use to which such items can be put was recognised);
  6. Effective protective measures against chemical weapons must be maintained, thereby reducing the utility of CW to potential aggressors and reducing the range of potential chemicals that might be used as CW;
  7. Industry in supplier states should be encouraged to police its own exports, above and beyond governmental regulations. Schemes to this end existed in both the US and the UK.

It was noted that if the anti-Iraqi coalition forces proved able to fight through any Iraqi use of CW, a significant demonstration would have been given of the non-utility of such weapons.

The field of conventional arms had its own intractable problems: there were commercial and employment pressures on industry in supplier countries, both to recoup the costs of research and development and to utilise production capacity, pressures which would increase with cuts in defence expenditure following the ending of the Cold War; and buyers had legitimate needs to provide for national defence especially in areas where political tensions threatened stability. The Iraq-Iran war had fuelled the regional arms race and had led to Iraq’s attack on Kuwait. The Arab-Israeli problem gave both sides a strong motive to acquire modern weapons. At the root of the problem of arms sales therefore lay the need for the political resolution of tensions. Agreement between the principal suppliers, whose number was relatively small, could provide a start but could only be effective in the long term if linked by dialogue to agreement among the regional states to limit purchases, which in turn would only be possible if founded on political agreements, backed by confidence-building measures of the kind pioneered in the CSCE context - a Conference on Security and Confidence in the Mediterranean was suggested. Control measures in the supplier countries could be tightened and exercised multilaterally, perhaps through some mechanism like the successful COCOM machinery, though we were warned that that was labour intensive, costly, and probably not applicable to sales to the developing world. The Missile Technology Control Regime was another important example of multilateral control, but with second-level suppliers active, loopholes existed. Nevertheless, the MTCR might prove a useful starting point for dialogue between suppliers and buyers - the success of the Patriot anti-missile defence system suggested its supply to threatened states as a disincentive to the acquisition of offensive missiles. It was noted here that there were very few examples of weapons or equipment which could be classified as purely defensive.

A conventional arm transfer register, perhaps under UN auspices, was mooted. It would inevitably be voluntary and of limited use if indigenous production was not covered. It could nevertheless constitute a useful advance towards greater transparency and confidence, if it could be made effective, and acceptable to the major producers who might plead confidentiality. Illicit exports, it was noted, though small in absolute quantity, could have a disproportionate impact locally, e.g. in the drug-producing regions of Latin America.

Dual-use equipment and technology presented the problem in peculiarly acute form. Developing countries depended for their economic development on the transfer of such technologies and equipment and would deeply resent their denial. End-use and non-diversion certificates might be helpful but could be evaded. Nevertheless, it was suggested that reticence and secrecy in the face of the requirement for such certificates might be useful first indicators of planned military use. A sharing of intelligence among suppliers could also be helpful in preventing abuse.

To sum up, restrictions on the arms trade by suppliers only were unlikely to be effective for long unless backed by regional arms control agreements along the lines of the agreement on conventional forces in Europe (CFE). Such agreements depended in turn on the achievement of a level of confidence which could be bolstered by external guarantees or, preferably, by CSCE-type confidence-building measures, but which could only be engendered by removing or reducing the underlying tensions. The initiative might have to come from the suppliers and some useful mitigating measures were possible, but the buyers would ultimately have to be persuaded that political settlement, supported by appropriate confidence-building measures, and consequent restraint in arms purchases were in their long-term interest.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: The Rt Hon George Younger TD DL MP
Chairman, Royal Bank of Scotland; Member of Parliament (Conservative), Ayr


Mr David Fischer
Formerly Assistant Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency; member: International Programme for Promoting Nuclear Non-proliferation (PPNN), Royal Institute of International Affairs, International Institute for Strategic Studies, US Arms Control Association

Mr David A A Marshall
Commercial Director, Military Engine Group, Rolls-Royce pic

Professor Sir Ronald Mason KCB FRS
Chairman, Systems Integration Technologies Ltd

Mr Ian S McDonald
Head, Defence Export Services Secretariat, Ministry of Defence, and Chairman, UN Experts Study on Arms Transfers

Sir John Moberly KBE CMG
Chairman, Middle East Consultants Ltd

Mr Edward Mortimer
Currently on secondment as Research Associate, International Institute for Strategic Studies; Assistant Foreign Editor, Financial Times

Dr Graham S Pearson CB
Director, Chemical Defence Establishment, Ministry of Defence, Porton Down

Sir David Plastow
Chairman and Chief Executive, Vickers pic

Mr Julian P Perry Robinson
Senior Fellow, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex

Mr Peter Ricketts
Deputy Head, Security Policy Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Dr Paul Rogers
Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford (1979-90)

Dr Avi Shlaim
Alastair Buchan Reader in International Relations, and a Professorial Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford

Professor Trevor Taylor
Head, International Security Programme, The Royal Institute of International Affairs

Mr Peter J Gizewski
PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Graduate School of Arts and Science, Columbia University

Mr Miloslav Had
Director, Department of Analysis and Planning, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prague

Mr Jaromír Přibyl
Minister-Counsellor, Embassy of the Czech & Slovak Federal Republic, London

M Jacques Battistella
Corporate Vice-President, Aerospatiale, responsible for industrial strategy and business development

Dr Christophe Carle
Research Fellow, Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) (1988-), conducting two- year programme on arms races, regional stability and prospects for confidence-building and arms control in the Middle East and Southwest Asia; consultant to Ministry of Foreign Affairs; executive assistant to European Strategy Group

M Olivier Debouzy
Diplomatic Adviser to Director for Military Applications, French Atomic Energy Commission

Mme Thérèse Delpech
Deputy to Director of International Relations, Commissariat á l’Energie Atomique, Paris.

Herr Klaus H Ackermann

Head, Export Control Questions, Ausw
ärtigies Amt, Bonn

Mr Nicholas Protonotarios
Defence Economist, International Institute for Strategic Studies

Dr Martin Navias
Research Fellow and expert on Middle East weapons, Department of War Studies, King’s College, London University, responsible for a two-year project collating database in the UK on the spread of non-conventional weapons and missile systems

Professor Cesare Merlini        
President, Istituto Affari Internazionali, Rome; Chairman of the Executive Committee, The Council for the United States and Italy, Rome.

Signor Stefano Ronca
First Counsellor, Italian Embassy, London

Mr Martin McCusker
Director, Defence and Security Committee, North Atlantic Assembly, Brussels

The Hon Abram Chayes
Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; author

The Hon Antonia Handler Chayes
Senior Consultant at Endispute Inc; Under Secretary of the US Air Force, Carter Administration; member and Executive Committee member, Board of Directors, United Technologies Corporation; lecturer, Kennedy School of Government; Advisory Board member, Columbia School of International and Public Affairs; member, Council on Foreign Relations; author.

Ms Helena Gobban
Scholar-in-Residence, Foundation for Middle East Peace, Washington DC; regional correspondent, The Christian Science Monitor and The Sunday Times; author; member: International Institute for Strategic Studies, and advisory board, Middle East Journal

The Hon Dr Lewis A Dunn
Assistant Vice President, Negotiations and Planning Division, National Security Studies and Systems Group, Science Applications International Corporation

The Hon James E Goodby
Carnegie Mellon University: Distinguished Service Professor, (Program on International Peace and Security 1988-), Departments of Engineering and Public Policy and Social and Decision Sciences Department of Engineering and Public Policy

The Hon James F Leonard
Acting Executive Director, Washington Council on Non-Proliferation

Mr Herbert Levin
Foreign Service Officer; Executive Assistant to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State on Non-Proliferation Policy and Nuclear Energy Affairs

Dr Andrew J Pierre
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC

The Hon William J Schneider Jr
President, International Planning Services Inc and Adjunct Fellow, Hudson Institute

The Hon William H Taft IV (Friday p.m.)
US Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic Council, NATO

Mr Stanley A Weiss
Chairman, Business Executives for National Security Education Fund Inc., Washington DC