Recently, the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022 has been unanimously passed in Lok Sabha.
About Weapons of Mass Destruction Amendment Bill 2022
- The Bill seeks to amend The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005, to provide against the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems in line with India’s international obligations.
- The 2005 Act prohibited the manufacturing, transport, and transfer of weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery.
According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, the need to amend the Act has arisen from the fact that “in recent times, regulations relating to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems by international organisations have expanded”, and “the United Nations Security Council’s targeted financial sanctions and the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force have mandated against financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems”.
Why was this Amendment necessary?
- UNSCR 1540 undergoes periodic reviews to determine the success of its implementation and to identify gaps in enforcement. In one such review undertaken in 2016, it was concluded that the risk of proliferation to non-state actors is increasing due to rapid advances in science, technology, and international commerce.
- The statement of objects and reasons of the Bill presented in India echoes these developments for having made the Amendment necessary.
- Two specific gaps are being addressed
- first, as the relevant organisations at the international level, such as the Financial Action Task Force have expanded the scope of targeted financial sanctions and demand tighter controls on the financing of WMD activities, India’s own legislation has been harmonised to align with international benchmarks.
- Secondly, with advancements in technologies, new kinds of threats have emerged that were not sufficiently catered for in the existing legislation. These notably include developments in the field of drones or unauthorised work in biomedical labs that could maliciously be used for terrorist activity.
- Therefore, the Amendment keeps pace with evolving threats.
- In fact, domestic legislations and international measures that address issues of WMD security cannot afford to become fossilised.
- They must be agile and amenable to modifications in keeping with the changing tactics of non-state actors.
What more should India do?
- India’s responsible behaviour and actions on non-proliferation are well recognised. It has a strong statutory national export control system and is committed to preventing proliferation of WMD.
- This includes transit and trans-shipment controls, retransfer control, technology transfer controls, brokering controls and end-use based controls.
- Every time India takes additional steps to fulfil new obligations, it must showcase its legislative, regulatory and enforcement frameworks to the international community.
- At the domestic level, this Amendment will have to be enforced through proper outreach measures to industry and other stakeholders to make them realise their obligations under the new provisions. India’s outreach efforts with respect to the WMD Act have straddled both region-specific and sector-specific issues. Similar efforts will be necessary to explain the new aspects of the law.
- It is also necessary that India keeps WMD security in international focus.
- There is no room for complacency. Even countries which do not have WMD technology have to be sensitised to their role in the control framework to prevent weak links in the global control system. India can offer help to other countries on developing national legislation, institutions and regulatory framework through the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) or on bilateral basis.
What is the international significance of these legislation? What is in it for India?
- Preventing acts of terrorism that involve WMD or their delivery systems requires building a network of national and international measures in which all nation states are equally invested.
- Such actions are necessary to strengthen global enforcement of standards relating to the export of sensitive items and to prohibit even the financing of such activities to ensure that non-state actors, including terrorist and black-market networks, do not gain access to such materials.
- Sharing of best practices on legislations and their implementation can enable harmonisation of global WMD controls.
- India initially had reservations on enacting laws mandated by the UNSCR. This is not seen by India as an appropriate body for making such a demand.
- However, given the danger of WMD terrorism that India faces in view of the difficult neighbourhood that it inhabits, the country supported the Resolution and has fulfilled its requirements.
- It is in India’s interest to facilitate highest controls at the international level and adopt them at the domestic level. Having now updated its own legislation, India can demand the same of others, especially from those in its neighbourhood that have a history of proliferation and of supporting terrorist organisations.
Back to Basics
What was the purpose of the original WMD Act?
- The WMD and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act came into being in July 2005.
- Its primary objective was to provide an integrated and overarching legislation on prohibiting unlawful activities in relation to all three types of WMD, their delivery systems and related materials, equipment and technologies.
- It instituted penalties for contravention of these provisions such as imprisonment for a term not less than five years (extendable for life) as well as fines.
- The Act was passed to meet an international obligation enforced by the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 of 2004.
What is the UNSCR 1540?
- In April 2004 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1540 to address the growing threat of non-state actors gaining access to WMD material, equipment or technology to undertake acts of terrorism.
- In order to address this challenge to international peace and security, UNSCR 1540 established binding obligations on all UN member states under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
- Nations were mandated to take and enforce effective measures against proliferation of WMD, their means of delivery and related materials to non-state actors.
- UNSCR 1540 enforced three primary obligations upon nation states — to not provide any form of support to non-state actors seeking to acquire WMD, related materials, or their means of delivery; to adopt and enforce laws criminalising the possession and acquisition of such items by non-state actors; to adopt and enforce domestic controls over relevant materials, in order to prevent their proliferation.
- It was to meet these obligations that enactment and enforcement of legislations to punish the unlawful and unauthorised manufacture, acquisition, possession, development and transport of WMD became necessary.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
- The expression “weapon of mass destruction” (WMD) is usually considered to have been used first by the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1937 to refer to the aerial bombing of civilians in the Basque town of Guernica by German and Italian fascists in support of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War.
- The expression WMD entered the vocabularies of people and countries around the world in the early 2000s after the US under President George W Bush and the UK under Prime Minister Tony Blair justified the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that the government of Saddam Hussain was hiding these weapons in the country. No WMDs were ever found.
- While there is no single, authoritative definition of a WMD in international law, the expression is usually understood to cover nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons. According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, “A weapon of mass destruction is a nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological, or other device that is intended to harm a large number of people.”
- India’s 2005 WMD Act defines:
- * “Biological weapons” as “microbial or other biological agents, or toxins…of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes; and weapons, equipment or delivery systems specially designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict”; and
- * “Chemical weapons” as “toxic chemicals and their precursors” except where used for peaceful, protective, and certain specified military and law enforcement purposes; “munitions and devices specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals”; and any equipment specifically designed for use in connection with the employment of these munitions and devices.
Control over use of WMDs
- The use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons is regulated by a number of international treaties and agreements.
- Among them are the Geneva Protocol, 1925, that banned the use of chemical and biological weapons; and the Biological Weapons Convention, 1972, and Chemical Weapons Convention, 1992, which put comprehensive bans on the biological and chemical weapons respectively.
- India has signed and ratified both the 1972 and 1992 treaties. There are very few non-signatory countries to these treaties, even though several countries have been accused of non-compliance.
- The use and proliferation of nuclear weapons is regulated by treaties such as Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
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