Amending the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act

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Amending the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act

  • Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022 was introduced in the Lok Sabha.
  • 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 means of delivery.
  • It is popularly referred to as the WMD Act.
  • The recent amendment extends the scope of banned activities to include the financing of already prohibited activities.

Purpose of the original WMD Act?

  • The WMD and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act came into being in July 2005.
  • Objective: to provide integrated and overarching legislation on prohibiting unlawful activities in relation to all three types of WMD, their delivery systems and related materials, equipment and technologies.
  • It instituted penalties for contravention of these provisions such as imprisonment for a term not less than five years (extendable for life) as well as fines.
  • It was passed to meet an international obligation enforced by the UNSC Resolution 1540 of 2004.

UNSCR 1540

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  • This resolution was adopted to address the growing threat of non-state actors gaining access to WMD material, equipment or technology to undertake acts of terrorism.
  • To address this challenge UNSCR 1540 established binding obligations on all UN member states under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
  • Nations were mandated to take and enforce effective measures against the proliferation of WMD, their means of delivery and related materials to non-state actors.
  • It enforced three primary obligations upon nation-states
    • To not provide any form of support to non-state actors seeking to acquire WMD, related materials, or their means of delivery.
    • To adopt and enforce laws criminalising the possession.
    • Acquisition of such items by non-state actors; to adopt and enforce domestic controls over relevant materials, in order to prevent their proliferation.

What has the Amendment added to the existing Act?

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  • The amendment expands the scope to include the prohibition of financing any activity related to WMD and their delivery systems.
  • The Central Government shall have the power to freeze, seize or attach funds, financial assets, or economic resources of suspected individuals (whether owned, held, or controlled directly or indirectly).
  • It also prohibits persons from making finances or related services available for other persons indulging in such activity.

The necessity of Amendment

  • UNSCR 1540 undergoes periodic reviews to determine the success of its implementation and to identify gaps in enforcement.
  • In one such review, it was concluded that the risk of proliferation to non-state actors is increasing due to rapid advances in science, technology, and international commerce.
  • The statement of objects and reasons of the Bill presented in India echoes these developments for having made the Amendment necessary.
  • Two specific gaps are being addressed
    • International organisation: Relevant organisations such as the FATF have expanded the scope of targeted financial sanctions and demanded tighter controls on the financing of WMD activities
    • Advancement of technologies: New kinds of threats have emerged that were not sufficiently catered for in the existing legislation.
  • Amendment keeps pace with evolving threats.

What more should India do?

  • India’s responsible behaviour and actions on non-proliferation are well recognised.
  • It has a strong statutory national export control system and is committed to preventing the proliferation of WMD. This includes transit and trans-shipment controls, retransfer control, technology transfer controls, brokering controls and end-use based controls.
  • At the domestic level, this Amendment will have to be enforced through proper outreach measures to industry and other stakeholders
  • India’s outreach efforts with respect to the WMD Act have straddled both region-specific and sector-specific issues.
  • India can offer help to other countries in developing national legislation, institutions and regulatory framework through the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) or on a bilateral basis.

The international significance of this legislation and What is in it for India?

  • Preventing acts of terrorism that involve WMD or their delivery systems requires building a network of national and international measures in which all nation-states are equally invested.
  • Such actions are necessary to strengthen global enforcement of standards relating to the export of sensitive items and to prohibit even the financing of such activities to ensure that non-state actors, including terrorist and black-market networks, do not gain access to such materials.
  • Sharing of best practices on legislation and their implementation can enable harmonisation of global WMD controls.
  • India initially had reservations about enacting laws mandated by the UNSCR.
  • India didn’t consider it an appropriate body for making such a demand.
  • However, due to the danger of WMD terrorism that India faces because of its difficult neighbourhood it supported the Resolution and has fulfilled its requirements.
  • It is in India’s interest to facilitate the highest controls at the international level and adopt them at the domestic level.
  • Having now updated its own legislation, India can demand the same of others, especially from those in its neighbourhood that have a history of proliferation and supporting terrorist organisations.

Exam track

Prelims take away

  • Weapons of mass destruction
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022
  • UNSCR 1540
  • UNSC