Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2009

Weapons of Mass Destruction

May 2009

International Peace Institute


The spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) remains a key challenge to international peace and security. Yet the member states of the United Nations are still deeply divided on how to meet this challenge:

• Three nuclear powers remain outside the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT); nine countries have not yet joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC); thirty-one are outside the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC); and—within the nuclear regime—the current crises with North Korea and Iran are still unresolved.

• The discriminatory structure of the NPT, inherited from the Cold War, is not as well accepted today; the lack of recent progress in disarmament has become a source of increasing frustration; and opinions continue to diverge on how to strengthen international verification mechanisms in the context of an expanding nuclear industry.

• Important gaps remain in national legislation and lawenforcement mechanisms to prohibit proliferation, and much needs to be done to prevent access to biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological weapons and related technologies by terrorist groups. There is an urgent need within the UN system to give higher priority to nonproliferation and disarmament, and to build a consensus on these issues.