OP#13: Trafficking Networks for Chemical Weapons Precursors: Lessons from the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s

November 5, 2008
Jonathan B. Tucker

Occasional Paper #13

Read the full Occasional Paper #13:
Trafficking Networks for Chemical Weapons Precursors: Lessons from the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s


States seeking to produce chemical weapons (CW) typically rely on the importation of intermediate chemicals called “precursors,” which have legitimate industrial applications but can also be converted into military-grade CW agents, such as mustard gas or sarin. The dual-use nature of precursor chemicals poses challenges for policy makers seeking to prevent CW proliferation. Under U.S. Department of Commerce regulations, manufacturers planning to export CW precursors to certain countries must obtain prior government authorization in the form of an export license. Yet despite significant improvements over the past decade in the export-control systems of the United States and other industrialized countries, trafficking in precursors and other dual-use items relevant to CW production has continued.

Until recently, little open-source information was available about illicit trafficking networks for CW pre-cursors. In 2005, however, the trial in the Netherlands of Frans van Anraat, a Dutch businessman who had served as a middleman for Iraq’s procurement of precursors for mustard gas and nerve agents during the Iran-Iraq War, led to the public release of court documents revealing new details about chemical trafficking operations. Additional insights were provided by the related case of Peter Walaschek, a German middle-man who arranged shipments of CW precursors to Iran. This study reconstructs the two cases by drawing on information from a variety of sources, including indictments, oral arguments, and exhibits from the United States and the Netherlands; interviews with the key individuals involved in the U.S. and Dutch in- vestigations; and contemporaneous media reports.

Although the Van Anraat and Walaschek cases are more than two decades old, the insights they provide are still relevant today because methods of illicit trafficking have not changed fundamentally in the intervening period. In addition to providing a detailed historical narrative of the cases, this paper describes the current U.S. system of dual-use export controls, indicates how it has changed since the 1980s, and identifies continuing gaps and weaknesses. The paper concludes with some recommendations to prevent the future trafficking of CW precursors.

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