India cautions over ‘heightened’ threat of misuse of biological agents as weapons

It said new and emerging technologies may increase the risk of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) access by terrorist groups and other non-state actors.

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The United Nations headquarters building is pictured with a UN logo in the Manhattan borough of New York City. (Photo source: Reuters)

India has cautioned over the “heightened” threat of misuse of biological agents and chemicals as weapons against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and called on the international community to address the rapid evolution of proliferation risks. It said new and emerging technologies may increase the risk of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) access by terrorist groups and other non-state actors.

“The access to these weapons of mass destruction by terrorists and other non-state actors adds a serious dimension to threats posed by these weapons to international peace and security,” A Amarnath, a counsellor at India’s UN Mission, said on Tuesday. Speaking at the open consultations of the UN Security Council 1540 Committee on the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, he said a key area that needs the focus of the international community is the rapid evolution of proliferation risks.

“New and emerging technologies may increase these risks of WMD access by terrorist groups and other non-state actors. The growing capabilities of terrorists and other non-state groups to access delivery systems like missiles and unmanned/uncrewed aerial systems have compounded the risks of terrorism using WMDs.“Similarly, in the COVID-era, the threat of misuse of biological agents and chemicals as weapons, combined with advances in chemistry and biology, has heightened. The open consultations would be a useful forum to deliberate on these issues and how the Committee can assist member states in this area,” he said.

An outbreak of novel coronavirus was first reported in central China’s Wuhan city in December, 2019 and spread rapidly to become a pandemic. Over 530,022,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported globally while the disease has claimed the lives of over 6,292,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.He stressed that India accords great importance to the implementation of resolution 1540.“With our longstanding commitment to global non-proliferation, we have established a strong law-based, national system to implement the provisions of resolution 1540,” Amarnath said.

He said that recognising the role of the industry, academia and other key stakeholders in facilitating the States’ implementation of resolution 1540, India has been organising outreach events involving these stakeholders at the national level, and in the region.“We also support the 1540 Committee’s enhanced cooperation and coordination with international organisations like the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency ), other relevant UN bodies like UNODA (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs) and this Council’s counter-terrorism Committees to prevent non-state actors from acquiring WMDs.” Amarnath said that UNSC Resolution 1540 identifies terrorists and terrorist groups as key non-state actors, who may acquire, develop, traffic in or use weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

“This threat of terrorists-acquiring-weapons-of-mass-destruction is not in the theoretical realm as further indicated in the recent reports” of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh.He said their findings reveal that a terrorist group with considerable territory under its control can develop and deploy these deadly weapons within a short period of time.

“This is deeply disturbing. Therefore, preventing terrorist groups from acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction must be an urgent priority and responsibility of the international community. In this regard, we encourage member states to focus on this critical threat during the open consultations.” He added that the full implementation of resolution 1540, though a long-term task, will require continuous and constant efforts from member states, especially for prohibiting access or activities by any non-State actor, in particular for terrorist purposes, related to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery.

“As a member of the 1540 Committee, India would welcome recommendations and suggestions from member states and assistance providers on how the Committee can fulfil its mandate and improve the effectiveness of its assistance, perhaps by enabling sharing of experiences in the regions by utilising national experiences there.”

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