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Chemical Weapons Are Also a Threat to Our Security

Chemical Weapons Are Also a Threat to Our Security

Introductory speech by the Minister for defence, Mr Björn von Sydow, at the seventh CBW protection symposium. Stockholm, June 15, 2001. Source: Swedish MoD.

Ladies and Gentlemen, participants in this symposium, the seventh CBW protection symposium. It is a great pleasure for me to hold this introductory speech for you today. The subjects that you will discuss are in a sphere that has grown in importance over the last few years. And I feel that it is important that views on the future, risks and need for protection can be discussed at seminars and symposia of this kind – bringing international experts together.

Man has mapped out it’s own genetic code. A technological achievement that has been compared to achievements such as travelling in space, the invention of the steam-engine, and even the wheel. The development in genetic engineering and biotechnology has during this century resulted in a tremendous improvement in man’s living conditions. Antibiotics and vaccines have given us new ways of treating diseases as well as eliminating some. This progress gives us a hint of the positive effects of biotechnology.

At the same time there is a risk that the new technology can be used in an illegitimate way. There is a dark side in the history of biotechnology that has turned out to be even darker than we imagined a couple of decades ago. The new medical progress therefore puts before us questions of ethical and legal character. We must address these questions with the attention that they deserve. History has too often shown what happens if we don’t.

The development within biotechnology must also be addressed in the perspective of defence politics. During many hundred years biological warfare has been a part of man’s ways to destroy each other. In modern time biological weapons have been developed into a new category of weapons for mass-destruction.

Chemical weapons are also a threat to our security. The convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction (CWC) includes that states within a limited time span shall destroy all chemical weapons within their territory. Russia has, due to the heritage from the time of the Soviet Union, to destroy approximately 40 000 tons of chemical weapons. Due to the economic situation of Russia this is a huge task. Sweden is therefore, with other nations, supporting the Russian process of destroying chemical weapons.

One development in spite of this is the international recognition during the last few years of the potential for producing new types of chemical weapons. We know that such weapons can be produced, and we know that they could be extremely dangerous. Sweden assumes that every country respects the international treaties that prohibit such weapons. Still we must have a readiness to use the legal instruments that exist and we must continue working for adjusting these instruments if necessary. For our own part we must also have the knowledge and the protective equipment to face potential threats from such weapons.

The NBC-protection capacity of the Swedish armed forces that are sent abroad to participate in international peace support operations is an area of priority in establishing the international capacity that the Swedish government has decided that the armed forces should have. The personnel have a basic education on NBC-protection and are equipped with suitable protection gear. Our ambition for future international operations is that we shall be on an equal footing with other troops that are participating in the operation. In reality that means that the Swedish NBC-protection must be interoperable with that of NATO and that NATO standards must apply to Swedish troop as well.

The armed forces have also started to develop a special military unit aimed at handling NBC-situations. The unit will be established in co-operation with the Swedish defence research agency. The unit shall have the ability to detect and identify NBC-weapons, to decontaminate, and defuse bombs with biological and chemical weapons and also to take care of people wounded by such weapons.

Sweden has recently established a maximum security laboratory, a so called BSL4-laboratory, for work with extremely dangerous pathogens. This capability is also of interest for international co-operation. Particularly, analysis and taking of specimens is an area in which international co-operation is essential. In Sweden we are improving our laboratory capacity and expertise.

Sweden has also established "a chemical support team", that can be used by the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons in Haag. Mainly if the organization feels that chemical weapons have been used and a state requests support. Sweden has one person working in the staff of the organization at the moment.

Biological and chemical weapons, especially biological ones, are increasingly in focus of the debate on global security. Threats can come from sub national actors as well as from states. The risk of proliferation of NBC-weapons is an increasing concern. At the same time there is an increasing risk of new organisms, agents, subjects or weapons being developed. Even if there is no immediate threat to Sweden, Swedish personnel are subject to the risk of exposure to NBC-weapons in international missions.

One reason for the international attention to biological and chemical weapons is the knowledge that we now have of the ambitions Iraq had within this area. This knowledge is a result of the work of the UN, through the UNSCOM. I think that you will hear more of this when ambassador Rolf Ekéus, who was in charge of this work, will deliver a key-note address later today. Another reason for the attention is the attack that the Japanese sect Aum Shinrikyo carried out in the subway of the city of Tokyo in March 1995. The sect used the nerve gas Sarin and killed twelve and wounded hundreds.

What is being done in some countries or by none-state actors, especially in the area of biological weapons, we unfortunately do not know for sure. Biological weapons are easy to produce and easy to hide. They constitute an asymmetric threat in that they are attractive to those who want to cause major disasters.

The Swedish defence commission concludes, in a report, that there is no immediate threat to Sweden, even though they are aware of what I just mentioned. The likelihood of an attack on Sweden is very limited today and the risk that such an attack should be accompanied by a threat of or the use of NBC-weapons is even smaller. But there still is the possibility of limited or covert use. This especially if the attacked part has difficulties in proving that such an attack has taken place. The world may have passed a threshold when it comes to using non-conventional weapons as a weapon for terrorists when the Japanese sect used nerve gas in the Tokyo subway. The threats that will govern the protection level for Sweden must primarily, according to the Swedish defence commission, be the threats that arise during international missions or threats aimed at some part of the Swedish society as a consequence of being a part of an international mission.

The Swedish government has in numerous government decisions and statements treated the issue of NBC-weapons and the threat against Sweden. In the latest bill, The New Defence, the government emphasized that the threat connected to NBC-weapons has increased in a relative sense, and that it has a somewhat different character as compared to the Cold War period. But the government concludes that there is no immediate threat to Sweden as of today.

But the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons throughout the world is very troublesome. There are processes going on that can remedy this to some degree. I am thinking of work done on bilateral basis as well as in international forum such as the European Union and the United Nations. I can hardly stress the fact enough that we really need to work together on these issues. The European Union are funding research and work aimed at helping Russia with its destruction of chemical weapons. The UN has its UNMOVIC mission in Iraq. NATO has since May 2000 a centre for weapons of mass destruction that shall coordinate its activities regarding NBC-weapons, and the US is funding the deconstruction of one of the world’s largest production sites for biological weapons in Kazakstan. When I met with the US secretary of defence, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, last Saturday he emphasized that B- and C-weapons ought to be covered by international treaties. But this may not be enough.

Sweden has mainly worked in three ways when it comes to limit and face the threats in the area of biological and chemical weapons, but also when it comes to nuclear weapons. Firstly we have chosen to work for international disarmament and armament control. One very important process in this area is under negotiations at this very moment. There are negotiations on a legally binding protocol to strengthen compliance with the biological and toxin weapons convention (BTWC). Sweden and the European union, together with many others, are working very hard right now to try to find a final solution for the negotiations that have been going on for quite some time. I sincerely hope that we will be able to reach a solution in time for the review conference that will be held in December this year. I know that this has been the target for those who are negotiating this and in my opinion we really must succeed with it. A failure here would be very unfortunate and really send the wrong signal.

Secondly Sweden believes that R & D in this area is a priority. To understand the necessary character of the threat is fundamental in developing the protective measures. The third way is based on protection for the civilian population, for military personnel and for structures together with a readiness to detect and limit the effects of a potential attack. The Swedish parliament decided in 1982 that there should be a protective mask for every Swede, which there is today.

One part of our ongoing work is a special NBC working group that was established within the cabinet office and the ministries during the summer of 2000. There are representatives from a large number of ministries and authorities within the working group. The group is supposed to make suggestions for improving our preparedness and knowledge within the field of NBC. The working group has sofar presented two reports. The first one suggests that Sweden should develop and implement a better structure and a better coordination of the available experts in this field, and the second report covers the threats and risks that Sweden faces in the NBC-area.

A well functioning intelligence and analysis capacity plays an important role in determining the potential risks. One link in this work is to get a better control over the possibility for unauthorized people to get their hands on infectious matters, chemicals or radioactive material from companies or institutions, this in order to diminish the risk of NBC terror.

As of today there is also a lack of control that the proposed legally binding protocol to strengthen compliance with the biological and toxin weapons convention (BTWC) could lessen. This verification protocol should be a priority for all states.

I think that it is very important that opportunities like this symposium are created. Opportunities for you experts in this field to sit down and discuss matters of great concern, to exchange experiences over a cup of coffee or just make new personal acquaintances which at a later state can be a ground for making the world a safer place to live in. I wish you the best of luck and do hope and think that this symposium will be successful and provide you with new knowledge and ideas.

Finally I would like to say that it has been an honour for me to hold this introductory speech, and thank you for your attention.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).