The proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, commonly grouped as weapons of mass destruction (WMD), as well as their delivery systems (missiles), have the potential to undermine international peace and security. Canada is a potential source of expertise, materials, and technology for countries pursuing WMD or ballistic missile programs, and is a potential target for clandestine and illicit procurement activities.
Many countries already possess WMD, or have the capacity to produce them, and an increasing number are in the process of acquiring and developing capabilities to inflict mass casualties and destruction through WMD. While many terrorist groups lack the resources or expertise to employ WMD, there has been a growing interest among certain terrorist groups in acquiring such weapons. The serious issue of proliferation of these weapons has become an urgent matter that many governments are attempting to address.
Because chemical and biological weapons are easier and less expensive to produce than nuclear ones, and the technology and know-how are widely available, many more states are actively engaged in chemical and biological weapons programs than in nuclear weapons programs.
Chemical agents include blood agents, choking agents, blistering agents and nerve agents. Biological agents include bacterial, viral and rickettsial agents (bacteria causing typhus or other fever-related diseases). An individual with some technical training could apply the necessary expertise given supplies and a basic laboratory to make a crude biological weapon. Certainly, any state with a modestly sophisticated pharmaceutical industry is capable of producing biological agents.
Fortunately, the frightening potential of biological and chemical weapons is mitigated by several factors, the most important being that it is very difficult to build effective, reliable delivery means for large-scale lethal doses of such agents.
Most analysts believe that the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities, particularly to less stable or conflict-ridden regions of the world, presents a serious danger to international security. Technical complexities and expense reduce the likelihood that most terrorist groups could construct a nuclear explosive device. A more likely threat from a terrorist organization would be a radiological one involving the dispersal of radioactive substances to contaminate the air or water, or to render a particular area or facility unusable.
Three types of delivery systems are usually considered for WMD-ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and combat aircraft. Among these, the ballistic missile is the greatest proliferation concern because it is extremely difficult to defend against and the time between detection and impact is very limited. Thus, it is no coincidence that virtually all states known to possess or suspected of developing WMD also maintain ballistic missile programs.
Despite limited success in some instances, the Missile Technology Control Regime, has proven unable to completely stem the proliferation of ballistic missiles, and the number of states acquiring such missiles and their production capability is likely to continue to grow. This organization was established in 1987 by the governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States to prevent the proliferation of unmanned delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction, and to coordinate national export licensing efforts.