Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (48)

John Bruton

Question:

33 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action he proposes to take, in the context of the Irish EU Presidency, to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and his views on the proliferation risk associated with each category of weapon of mass destruction. [4375/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

As EU President, Ireland will carry forward and oversee the implementation of the EU strategy against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, WMD, adopted at the European Council in December 2003. The strategy constitutes an elaboration of the non-proliferation element of the European security strategy and outlines how the EU, using all instruments and policies at its disposal, will seek to prevent, deter, halt and, where possible, eliminate proliferation programmes of concern worldwide. The Union's commitment to multilateralism permeates the strategy. Support for disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and fostering the role of the Security Council with regard to WMD will be central elements in addressing the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery.

The strategy recognises that the proliferation of WMD is a growing threat and that meeting this challenge must be a central element in the EU's external action. Proliferation is driven by a small number of countries and non-state actors but presents a real threat through the spread of technologies and information. Increasingly widespread proliferation of WMD increases the risk of their use by states and of their acquisition by terrorist groups seeking to cause large scale death and destruction.

With regard to nuclear weapons, the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, which came into effect in 1970, has helped to slow and in some cases reverse the spread of military nuclear capability, but it has not been able to prevent it completely. The possession of nuclear weapons by states outside the treaty and non-compliance with the treaty's provisions by states party to it, risk undermining non-proliferation and disarmament efforts. The EU is, therefore, committed to promoting the universalisation of the NPT and to promoting adherence to the additional protocols which strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, safeguards agreements. Proposals to strengthen the treaty will be made to the 2005 NPT review conference and Ireland will have an important role, as EU President, at the preparatory meeting for this conference to be held in New York in April.

Several countries still possess large chemical weapons stockpiles that should be destroyed, as provided for in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1997. In addition, the possible existence of chemical weapons in states not party to the convention is a matter of concern and the EU has recently carried out a series of demarches to promote its universalisation. A particular difficulty with verification and export control regimes in this area is that the materials, equipment, and know-how are dual use.

As well as chemical weapons, biological weapons pose a special threat as they may have particular attractions for terrorists. Although effective deployment of biological weapons requires specialised scientific knowledge, including the acquisition of agents for effective dissemination, the potential for the misuse of the dual-use technology and knowledge is increasing as a result of rapid scientific developments. The use of both biological and chemical weapons is banned under the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating Poisonous or other Gases, and of Biological Methods of Warfare of 1925. The stockpiling, production and development of biological weapons is prohibited by, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, BTWC, which came into force in 1975.

Ireland will continue to play an active role in multilateral fora in an effort to ensure compliance with all of the obligations contained in the relevant legal instruments. We are also committed to strong national and internationally co-ordinated export control regimes, which are a necessary complement to this multilateral treaty framework.