Chemical biological, radiological and nuclear terrorism

"The prospect of non-State actors, including terrorist groups and their supporters, gaining access to and using weapons and materials of mass destruction is a serious threat to international peace and security."

-- Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov in the foreword of UNOCT’s publication Ensuring Effective Interagency Interoperability and Coordinated Communication in Case of Chemical and/or Biological Attacks.

Access to weapons of mass destruction

The prospect of non-state actors, including terrorist groups and their supporters, gaining access to and using Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)/ Chemical Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) materials is a serious threat to international peace and security. Over the years, terrorists groups have tested new ways and means to acquire and use more dangerous weapons to maximize damage and incite terror, including weapons incorporating CBRN materials. With advancements being made in technology and the expansion of legal and illegal commercial channels, including on the dark web, some of these weapons have become increasingly accessible. 

Mandate of the Programme 

The Security Council has specifically addressed the threat of WMD/ CBRN terrorism on a number of occasions. In resolution 1373 (2001), the Council recognized the connection between international terrorism and, inter alia, the illegal movement of CBRN materials. Its seminal pronouncement on the issue came in the form of resolution 1540 (2004), through which the Security Council affirmed that the proliferation of CBRN weapons and their means of delivery constitutes a threat to international peace and security. More recently, the Security Council again called on Member States in resolution 2325 (2016) to strengthen their national anti-proliferation regimes in the implementation of resolution 1540 (2004).   

The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy calls upon the Member States, International Organizations and the UN System to:  

  • Combat smuggling of CBRN materials 
  • Ensure that advances in biotechnology are not used for terrorist purposes 
  • Improve border and customs controls to prevent and detect illicit trafficking of CBRN weapons and materials 
  • Improve coordination in planning a response to a terrorist attack using CBRN weapons or materials 

In the Sixth Review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the General Assembly called upon all Member States to “prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery… and [encouraged] cooperation among and between Member States and relevant regional and International Organizations for strengthening national capacities in this regard.” 

Programme's activities 

UNCCT’s WMD/ CBRN Programme seeks to advance Member States’ and International Organizations understanding of the level of the threat of WMD/ CBRN terrorism. It also supports their prevention, preparedness and response efforts at their request.  

Through its programme, the Centre seeks to strengthen partnerships to contribute to existing capacity-building efforts of the international community. UNCCT also provides capacity-building support, focusing on areas such as border and export control, strategic trade control, illicit trafficking, protection of CBRN materials and critical infrastructure, incident response and crisis management, CBRN forensics, among others.  

Four pilot projects have been developed under the Programme: 

  1. Enhancing national capabilities to prevent and respond to chemical and biological terrorist attacks in Iraq. The project jointly implemented with the United States Department of State focuses on biological and chemical security, investigation, intelligence-sharing, security culture in academia and CBRN response. 
  2. Enhancing capabilities to prepare for and respond to CBRN terrorist attack in Jordan. The project includes the identification of Jordan’s needs through self-assessment; the delivery of a training course; the organization of a field and virtual reality exercise and the issuance of recommendations. It is jointly implemented with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in close coordination with the Jordanian authorities. 
  3. Promoting universalization and effective implementation of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT). The project, jointly implemented with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and financially supported by the European Union, includes high-level awareness raising activities, trainings for law enforcement, prosecutors and border/customs officials, legislative assistance, and a study on the causes of lack of adherence to the Convention. 
  4. Enhancing knowledge about advances in science and technology to combat WMD terrorism. This project, implemented within the framework of the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact Working Group on Emerging Threats and Critical Infrastructure Protection in cooperation with the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), analyses how advances in science and technology could augment or enhance terrorist capabilities to acquire and/or deploy WMD. 

Programme's coordination role

UNCCT’s WMD/ CBRN Programme supports the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact Working Group on Emerging Threats and Critical Infrastructure Protection. Moreover, the Programme strengthens strategic partnerships with relevant WMD/ CBRN-related members of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact and Member States’ International Initiatives, enabling the development of joint, complementary and mutually reinforcing projects. In particular, the Programme has been working closely with the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and the Group of Seven Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (GP).  

Programme's impact 

Examples of UNCCT’s WMD/ CBRN Programme impact include: 

  • Member States implement enhanced policies, practices, procedures for the prevention, preparedness and response to WMD/ CBRN terrorism and operate with improved awareness, knowledge and understanding of the threat and risk. 
  • International Organizations and UN entities support Member States in the prevention, preparedness and response to WMD/ CBRN terrorism in a more informed and coordinated manner, reflecting the “All-of-UN” approach.