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Beyond Boundaries: WMD Nonproliferation in Africa
March 2012

Nearly eight years ago, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1540—its purpose being to oblige member states “to refrain from supporting by any means non-State actors from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing, transporting, transferring or using nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and their delivery systems.” The 1540 Committee of the United Nations monitors 1540 implementation through national reports sent by member states. While no states have submitted yearly reports, every state in both South America and Europe has submitted at least one report. Reporting in North America, Asia, and Oceania is at 91.3 percent, 93.8 percent, and 92.9 percent, respectively.

By and large, the African continent lags behind other regions in reporting, mostly due to limited resources, relatively weak infrastructure as compared with other continents, and differing national/regional security priorities. Only 30 of Africa’s 54 nations have submitted one or more reports since 2004. African countries are often plagued by corruption, weak border control, ethnic and civil strife, and struggling economies, which are far more imminent security concerns as compared to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) nonproliferation efforts.

Somalia is the most severe example of the common obstacles African countries face. On the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, Somalia ranks as the most corrupt country of the 178 included. Somalia has been without a fully functional government since 1991, when armed opposition groups ousted the government and plunged the country into a civil war that has yet to be resolved. Regarded as a collapsed state, Somalia has become an ideal breeding ground for violent conflict and terrorism. Al-Shabaab, which has links with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is the most prominent terrorist group. Widespread piracy was also borne of the civil war; and for some, like former fishermen, out of necessity and for others—warlords and militia groups—out of greed. Somalia has, not surprisingly, never submitted a report on its 1540 implementation.

Even those countries that have submitted reports require continued progress on 1540 implementation. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Niger is one of the most important locales in the realm of nuclear security in Africa. While there is a 1540 country report from Niger in 2008, the report was not compiled by the government itself. Instead, the report was drafted on behalf of Niger by “the 1540 committee's expert staff…drawing on publicly available information.” Niger is another country plagued by AQIM border infiltration, resulting in kidnappings in the past. However, Niger continues to increase its uranium production despite the dangers of theft and abduction by terrorist groups.

Finally, one of Africa’s potential hotspots of illicit WMD-related trade is Libya. Though Muammar Qaddafi halted the Libyan nuclear program in December 2003, the recent revolution and ouster of Qaddafi means that securing any remaining nuclear materials in the country will be a difficult task. Libya’s long border with Algeria (a central hub for AQIM) is extremely difficult to secure, allowing terrorist movement into the country and conventional weapons movement out of the country. The lack of cohesion among armed militias left over from the rebellion matched with the poor economy means that stockpiling all weapons—from small arms to remaining nuclear agents—has become increasingly attractive to many Libyans. It may still take Libya’s new government months or even a year to stabilize; in the meantime, porous borders and loose monitoring of remaining nuclear material makes terrorist seizure of said material increasingly liable.

In many African countries, corruption, economic woes, and insecure borders create a perfect storm for insecurity and illicit activity. For many African nations, 1540 implementation (let alone reporting) is a low priority, with the bulk of their attention and limited resources aimed instead at capacity-building and tackling famine and ethnic conflict. Increased 1540 implementation would surely help African countries take important steps that would improve WMD counterproliferation efforts not only in Africa, but beyond. Those steps might also help them address their other security concerns as well.

—Audrey Williams, Stanley Foundation Policy and Outreach Intern

 


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