Global effort needed to tackle evolving threat of weapons of mass destruction: Zaqy

SINGAPORE – Technological advancements such as cryptocurrency and 3D printing pose new challenges to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), said Senior Minister of State for Defence Zaqy Mohamad.

Finance campaigns can now be mounted in cyberspace with cryptocurrency, and sophisticated cyber attacks conducted to steal money for proliferation efforts, he said on Thursday (Oct 28).

The use of 3D printing can also reduce the component costs and increase accessibility of such weapons, Mr Zaqy said at the opening of a multilateral exercise on countering WMDs hosted by Singapore.

For countries, this means the focus has shifted from preventing these threats at sea to tackling new issues such as proliferation financing and export controls, he said.

The changing landscape means that no one country can tackle such diverse challenges alone, he added. “It must be emphasised that proliferation is a global issue.

“It is important for all countries to work together to uphold the safety and security of our region and our countries through robust counter-proliferation discussions and practices.”

WMDs that are illicitly proliferated include chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive weapons, as well as nuclear materials.

In his speech, Mr Zaqy cited a draft United Nations report which stated that North Korean hackers stole more than US$300 (S$404 million) million to fund its WMD programmes.

Terror groups linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were also reported to have conducted their first transactions in cryptocurrencies last year, which were later used to finance other networks operating in the Philippines, he said.

The global Covid-19 pandemic and terrorism have exacerbated the proliferation of WMDs, he said. The uncertain security environment is compounded by the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Terror groups had launched chemical attacks in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2017, he said. As a result, many returning foreign fighters have the required know-how to carry them out.

A recent study highlighted that South-east Asia could become a potential target for chemical weapon attacks by 2024, he noted. “The gap between the extremists’ intent to use chemical weapons and their ability to acquire such weapons has narrowed in recent years.”

Mr Zaqy was speaking at the opening ceremony of Exercise Deep Sabre at the Changi Command and Control Centre at Changi Naval Base, being held on Thursday and Friday.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Mr Zaqy Mohamad delivering a speech at the opening ceremony of Exercise Deep Sabre 2021. PHOTO: MINDEF

The exercise, conducted in person and virtually, involves 130 participants from 23 countries, including Australia, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Peru and the United States.

It is held under the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a multilateral effort initiated by the US in 2003 to encourage international cooperation in countering the proliferation of WMDs, their delivery systems, and related materials.

The exercise includes a virtual symposium on the best practices and operational challenges faced in the counter-proliferation of WMD materials, led by the Singapore Armed Forces’ Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives Defence Group.

Participants will also engage in a planning exercise to develop multinational and inter-agency responses to prevent the movement of controlled substances and explosive WMD-related materials.

Mr Zaqy said that as a major maritime hub and an island-state located on key trade routes, Singapore takes its obligations to counter the proliferation of WMD seriously.

“As a responsible trading nation, putting in place a robust exports control regime is therefore critical to safeguard against the illicit movement of items through our ports.”

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