Technology & Trade
Commentary

Modernizing the Nonproliferation Toolkit: The Case of Poland

in Program

Incidents of proliferation since the end of the Cold War, along with the case of Iran, point to a dramatically different nonproliferation challenge in this century compared to the last. Most notably, today’s challenge moves beyond the fear of state acquisition of a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon in contravention of international treaties. From the theft of nuclear or radioactive material by individuals, to the transfer of dual-use items illegitimately through the legitimate private sector supply chain, today’s proliferation threats are far more diffuse and thus, more difficult to identify and interdict.

Such an environment demands innovative new approaches to proliferation prevention that fundamentally challenge the traditional, and often inflexible, strategies employed by governments and multilateral organizations. Yet the search for innovation in the nonproliferation space-be it from governments or academia-is often unrewarding. Too seldom are nonproliferation measures managed across the artificial boundaries set up to address historical threats. Whether failing to engage the private sector actors who wittingly or unwittingly are facilitating proliferation, or leveraging the talents and capacities across multiple government stovepipes with the means to tackle a changing threat, public-sector responses are too often mired in bureaucratic inertia and inflexibility. Identifying and replicating innovation wherever it is found should thus be a central objective of the proliferation prevention community. The approach taken by the Government of Poland is an instructive positive example.

The Case of Poland

Few have shown a willingness to innovate to respond to the changing proliferation environment than has the Government of Poland. Warsaw’s efforts to organize, engage, and act provide a unique case study in the willingness to adapt effectively to the changing proliferation threat.

1.      Addressing an Interdisciplinary Threat

With few exceptions, the first few decades of the atomic era were dominated by state control over the means of production of nuclear weapons. During these years it was difficult to imagine a pathway to crossing the nuclear threshold that did not involve the complicity of a technologically advanced government. As North Korea, Iran and even non-state terrorist actors have shown, we now know that today’s potential WMD proliferators rely increasingly upon a network of dual-use producers and private actors who knowingly or not produce, ship, or underwrite proliferation activities.

Guarding against this potentiality therefore requires the engagement of a much broader subset of government, and private, know-how and capacity. In recognition of this new reality, the Government in Warsaw launched one of the more sweeping efforts within government to bring together all arms of government to address this threat. A committee bringing together the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of the Finance and the Economy, National Defense, the intelligence community, the National Atomic Energy Agency, Police and Border agencies, and the Office of the General Prosecutor to analyze trends, share information, and act in a coordinated manner against the burgeoning threat. Remarkably, each of these agencies views the proliferation challenge not as a sideline favor to the central policy apparatus at the Foreign Ministry or the President’s Office, but as a central component of their own mission. This has yielded a unique and lasting collaboration between the relevant agencies, and dramatically rising capacity to manage the proliferation threat at home and abroad. Indeed, other countries in Europe are lauding the Polish example.

2.      Pragmatic Efforts to Address the Challenge

Building a responsive modern nonproliferation infrastructure is ultimately a failed exercise without pragmatic action. In joining the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Proliferation Security Initiative, and welcoming the repatriation of highly enriched uranium from Poland back to Russia, the Polish Government has become both an active recipient of foreign assistance to backfill capacity shortfalls at home, as well as a new provider of nonproliferation assistance through joint training and direct financial assistance to, among other things, construct the Gorny chemical weapons destruction facility in Russia.

The model of nonproliferation engagement developed by the Government of Poland should be instructive: by recognizing national capacity shortfalls, the Government has requested the necessary assistance. Yet this recipient dynamic has not excused the Government from proffering its own capacity building assistance around the globe wherever their strengths dictate a useful application. In short, in an increasingly complex global environment, every government should view itself as a net assistance provider as well as a recipient of nonproliferation assistance. Poland has typified this approach.  

3.      Engaging the Private Sector as Partners in Prevention

As noted, the private sector has inevitably become a central player in both proliferation, and proliferation prevention. Yet governments around the world have systematically failed to come to terms with how best to engage industry. Here, the Government of Poland is also quietly working on innovative approaches to this challenge. This year, Warsaw announced the launch of the International Centre for Chemical Safety and Security (ICCSS). The goal of the ICCSS will be to share the principles safety and security; promote prevention and preparedness against the misuse of toxic chemicals; enhance security at chemical facilities and transportation of chemicals; and promote national capacity building for research development, storage, production and safe use of chemicals. The initiative will operate as a public-private partnership and attempt to build a bridge between the security objectives of the former, and the profit-making motive of the latter.

In seeking to shirk their own responsibilities in preventing the diffusion of weapons of mass destruction, some governments have asserted that their own decision to forgo the WMD option leaves them on the sidelines of global preventive efforts. Recent trafficking incidents suggest that globalization has made every country a potential link in an international WMD supply chain. The example of innovative policymaking set by the Government of Poland is worth understanding with an eye to replicating it in other regions of the world-including here in America.

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