Closing Supply Chain Loopholes to Prevent the Spread of WMD

Stimson Spotlight

Closing Supply Chain Loopholes to Prevent the Spread of WMD

By Lovely Umayam

Editor’s note: This analysis is part of Impact — an ongoing Stimson Center series examining the innovative approaches being used to help solve the world’s major global challenges. Contributions to this series are from leading experts at the nonpartisan Stimson Center. Click here to read the full series.  

THE CHALLENGE: Stepping into a port is a surreal, contemplative experience: thousands of cargo stacked in neat rows, towering over dockworkers as they shuffle between the aisles to check paperwork. The shadow of giant cranes overlapping with shimmering blue water. The smell of sea salt mixing with the rust and paint on ships. And most important of all, the astonishing range of raw materials that pass through and eventually end up as finished products in our homes: reams of metal for our cars. Long-fiber tree pulp that inevitably contribute to our tissue paper. The disparate chemicals that constitute our laundry detergent.

Ports are visible, tangible manifestations of international trade, but it is only one node along a complex supply chain for any given product. From the point of origin all the way to the shelves in the market, we often take for granted the intricate processes that bring us the things we use every day out of necessity and convenience. Supply chain logistics clusters also generate thousands of jobs for local economies, serving as a hallmark of growth for countries that invest in the infrastructure.

Supply chain processes not only have to be extremely efficient and highly coordinated to process large volumes at short time frames, but must also apply proper security measures to prevent legitimate trade from funneling illicit activity. This is especially important for supply chains involving “dual-use” items – materials that have ordinary industrial functions, as well as dangerous applications if left unchecked. For example, certain precursor chemicals found in cleaning solvents could be diverted to produce narcotic drugs, and can even be used to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) like chemical weapons. The supply chain processes we rely upon for our basic goods have a dark flip side that can be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and countries of concern.

One of the biggest challenges in maintaining the integrity of a supply chain — unbeknownst to many people who depend on the smooth flow of goods — is the delicate balance between security and efficiency. Is it possible to implement sufficient security measures to reduce the risk of illicit trafficking without impinging on the operations required to facilitate uninterrupted trade? And is it possible to address the wide array of security challenges, from local criminal activity to the most nefarious of threats such as the trafficking of dual-use items?

STIMSON’S APPROACH: It is not possible to develop a practical solution to the security-efficiency gap by observing the problem from afar. The supply chain cannot be studied in abstraction; rather, it must be understood as a web of human interaction that spans around the globe. Each link in the chain is supported by people with values and working relationships unique to their local contexts, even though their labor has global reach.

Led by Brian Finlay and Lovely Umayam, Stimson’s Security and Trade Efficiency Platform (STEP) works with partner countries to evaluate the security and efficiency of supply chains involving dual-use materials and their susceptibility to illicit trafficking. STEP’s goal is two-fold: to identify and eliminate security vulnerabilities that negatively impact effective operations, and to elevate local awareness on how dual-use items could be smuggled, and ultimately undermine global security. At its core, STEP is about government-to-industry engagement that reframes WMD nonproliferation recommendations in a way that translates to local economic growth, and that compliments existing port security efforts.  

Stimson recently partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based trade analytics firm NTELX, as well as the Caribbean Maritime Institute and the CARICOM UN1540 Implementation Program to bring STEP to Jamaica. The project took the team away from the resorts and into the heart of Kingston, where trade is a major economic vein sustaining the rest of the island. In keeping with supply chain work, there is always more than what meets the eye: Jamaica, while heavily depended on tourism, also has a burgeoning supply chain logistics cluster of freight forwarders, customs brokers, stevedores, and other players that keep trade flowing in and out of the country. While Jamaica remains a big transshipment point, various government entities and trade industry stakeholders are eagerly planning an initiative that would transform Jamaica into a Global Logistics Hub joining Dubai, Singapore, and Rotterdam.

Through four on-site visits and more than fifty in-depth interviews with government and industry stakeholders, the STEP team developed 18 supply chain maps that tell a story of how dual-use precursor chemical items are imported and exported. STEP worked with local experts to identify security vulnerabilities, that if addressed, can expedite the import and/or export process and increase trade capacity.

STIMSON’S IMPACT: In Jamaica’s case, the STEP team found that establishing specific regulations and in turn improving import/export operational guidance to obtain the proper permits for dual-use precursor chemicals in a timely manner, not only would enhance the movement of these goods and save importers/exports time, but would also contribute to the security of these materials and help meet Jamaica’s WMD nonproliferation commitments. Stimson and NTELX also worked with the Caribbean Maritime Institute to develop a graduate-level course to train students on how to conduct supply chain analysis to identify trafficking and proliferation vulnerabilities without interfering with operational efficiency.

Overall, the value of STEP does not solely hinge upon its supply chain analytical methodology, or the cross-cutting approach between WMD nonproliferation and trade capacity. The true impact of the project stems from recognizing the local-global dynamics of security, and the relationship-building with local governments and tradesmen to develop a bespoke STEP approach that works for them.
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Lovely Umayam is a Research Analyst & Project Manager with Stimson’s Managing Across Boundaries initiative. 

Photo credit: Leonidas Konstantinidis via Flickr