Committee warns of 'rogue state' weaponry

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Terrorists could endanger millions of lives by obtaining chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons, a House of Commons committee warned last night.

Terrorists could endanger millions of lives by obtaining chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons, a House of Commons committee warned last night.

The Foreign Affairs Committee highlighted the "horrific potential" of such a disaster. Just 100kg of anthrax released from the top of a tall building in a city could kill up to 3 million people, it said.

In a report on weapons of mass destruction the committee called on the Government to make their elimination one of its highest priorities. It said "an unco-ordinated but terrifying army of 'rogue states'" were developing weapons despite a series of international treaties banning them.

"While the overwhelming majority of responsible countries have renounced possession of both chemical and biological weapons, a small minority of regimes have acquired these weapons or are believed to be in the process of acquiring them covertly," the committee said. "The possibility that a terrorist organisation might obtain possession of a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon is a matter of the utmost concern."

Among those named was Iran, which is developing ballistic missiles capable of hitting Jerusalem in contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Syria, which has refused to sign up to chemical and biological weapons treaties and which was a "serious cause of concern".

Russia's huge stockpile of 40,000 tonnes of chemical weapons posed a major threat, the committee said, because it lacked the financial means to dispose of them safely.

The report said Israel, the only nuclear weapon state in the Middle East, should be pressed to comply with a treaty banning testing of nuclear weapons. Its Jericho 2 Missiles can already reach Iran.

North Korea was actively developing missile technology and had caused anxiety when it test-launched one of its weapons over Japan in 1998.

Iraq was also continuing to develop missiles, the committee said, in the absence of UN weapons inspectors. However, they did not contravene relevant UN Security Council resolutions because they had a range of less than 150 kilometres.

America was criticised by some witnesses to the inquiry for violating the Chemical Weapons Treaty by not submitting required declarations.

American officials had said cities in the US could face a "lethal" threat from ballistic missiles launched by North Korea, Iran or Iraq. However, one senior European official told the committee the idea of a North Korean missile attack on America was "surrealistic".

There was also controversy over biological weapons, the committee said. The biotechnology industry in the US was reluctant to sign up to safeguards against the use of its innovations as weapons because it wanted to protect its intellectual property.

One committee member, the Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay, said that weapons talks in Geneva which had stalled must be reinvigorated.

"Whereas nuclear weapons are often identifiable by satellites or other intelligence sources, chemical and biological weapons cause enormous difficulties for civilised states," he said. "It is incumbent upon the US and other states to meet their obligations both in spirit and in letter."