December 28, 2012, 6:45 p.m. ET
Nations Move to Stem Trade in Bomb Chemicals.
By MATTHEW DALTON
BRUSSELS—Governments around the world are ramping up a new strategy for tackling one of the toughest problems in the fight against terrorism: homemade bombs, made with widely available chemicals, that kill and wound tens of thousands of people each year. But the effort, which enlists customs agencies to track suspicious shipments of these chemicals, is facing some major obstacles. Among these are countries' lack of authority to halt shipments because the chemicals are generally legal; shortage of training for customs officials; and the difficulty of monitoring shipments passing across uncontrolled borders.
Perhaps the most serious barrier, said a U.S. official involved in the program, is the refusal by China, a major exporter of explosive precursor chemicals, to sign up to an international program that is the linchpin of the strategy.
"The fact that China is not participating is a big challenge to the success of the program," said the official involved in the program, Global Shield, which is managed by the World Customs Organization in Brussels. "We have approached them numerous times."
During a September trip to China by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. officials pressed the government to strengthen its controls of chemicals that can be used to make homemade bombs and illegal drugs, a senior State Department official said. "The Chinese government has been trying to impress on their exporters the importance of knowing their customers," the official said. "They are taking it much more seriously."