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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Context

External Affairs Minister introduced the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022, which amends the 2005 Act.

Relevance

GS Paper 2: Laws, Institutions & Bodies Constituted For The Vulnerable Sections

Mains Question

Examine the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022, critically. (250 words)


What exactly is the WMD Bill?

  • The Bill amends the WMD and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005, which prohibits the unlawful manufacture, transport, or transfer of WMD (chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons) and their delivery systems.
  • It is colloquially known as the WMD Act.
  • In July 2005, the WMD and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act was enacted.

Definition

The 2005 WMD Act in India defines biological weapons as “microbial or other biological agents, or toxins of types and 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 certified purposes.

What was the original WMD Act’s purpose?

  • Its primary goal was to provide integrated and overarching legislation prohibiting unlawful activities in relation to all three types of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials, equipment, and technologies.
  • It instituted penalties for violations of these provisions, including imprisonment for a term not less than five years (extendable for life) and fines.
  • The Act was enacted to fulfil an international obligation imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1540 of 2004.

What exactly is UNSCR 1540?

  • In April 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1540 to address the growing threat of non-state actors obtaining WMD material, equipment, or technology in order to commit terrorist acts.
  • To address this threat to international peace and security, UNSCR 1540 imposed binding obligations on all UN member states in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
  • Nations were tasked with taking and enforcing effective measures to prevent the spread of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials to non-state actors.
  • It became necessary to punish the illegal and unauthorised manufacture, acquisition, possession, development, and transportation of WMD.
  • UNSCR 1540 imposed three primary obligations on nation states: 1. not providing any form of support to non-state actors seeking to acquire WMD, related materials, or their means of delivery; 2. adopting and enforcing laws criminalising the possession and acquisition of such items by non-state actors; and 3. adopting and enforcing domestic controls over relevant materials to prevent their proliferation.
  • What does the Amendment add to the current Act?
  • The Amendment broadens the prohibition on financing any activity related to WMD and their delivery systems.
  • The Central Government shall have the authority to freeze, seize, or attach funds, financial assets, or economic resources of suspected individuals in order to prevent such financing (whether owned, held, or controlled directly or indirectly).
  • It also prohibits people from making money or providing related services to others who are engaging in such behaviour.

Why was this Amendment required?

  • India applauds these developments for necessitating the Amendment.
  • Two distinct gaps are being addressed:
    • As relevant international organisations, such as the Financial Action Task Force, have broadened the scope of targeted financial sanctions, India’s domestic legislation has been harmonised to align with international benchmarks.
    • As technology advances, new types of threats emerge that are not adequately addressed by existing legislation.
  • Examples include advancements in the field of drones and unauthorised work in biomedical labs that could be used maliciously for terrorist activity.
  • As a result, the Amendment keeps up with evolving threats.

What else can India do?

  • India’s responsible behaviour and non-proliferation actions are widely acknowledged.
  • It has a strong statutory national export control system in place and is committed to preventing the proliferation of WMD, which includes transit and trans-shipment controls, retransfer controls, technology transfer controls, brokering controls, and end-use controls.
  • Every time India takes additional steps to meet new obligations, it must demonstrate to the international community its legislative, regulatory, and enforcement frameworks.
  • It is also critical that India maintains international attention on WMD security.

Creating a precedent

  • Even countries without WMD technology must be made aware of their role in the control framework in order to avoid weak links in the global control system.
  • Through the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) or on a bilateral basis, India can assist other countries in developing national legislation, institutions, and regulatory frameworks.
  • Could the Amendment cause problems for people due to mistaken identity?
  • During the Bill’s debate in Parliament, some members expressed concern that the new legislation could expose existing business entities or people in the specific sector to a case of mistaken identity.
  • However, the External Affairs Minister assured the House that such chances were slim because identification of concerned individuals/entities would be based on a long list of specifics.
  • What are the international implications of these laws?
  • Preventing terrorist acts involving WMD or their delivery systems necessitates the development of a network of national and international measures in which all nation states are equally invested.
  • Such actions are required to strengthen global enforcement of standards governing the export of sensitive items, as well as to prohibit the financing of such activities.

The way forward

  • Sharing best practises on legislation and implementation can help to harmonise global WMD controls.
  • India initially expressed reservations about enacting laws mandated by the UNSCR, believing that this is not the appropriate body to make such a demand.
  • However, given the threat of WMD terrorism that India faces as a result of its difficult neighbourhood, the country supported the Resolution and met its requirements.
  • Conclusion
  • It is in India’s best interests to facilitate strictest controls at the international level and to implement them at home.
  • Now that its own legislation has been updated, India can demand the same of others, particularly those in its neighbourhood with a history of proliferation and support for terrorist organisations.

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