A U.S. effort at the United Nations aimed at preventing nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons has advanced. After months of talks, Washington March 24 formally submitted the anti-proliferation resolution to the UN Security Council for approval after winning agreement from other major capitals on acceptable wording.
President George W. Bush first proposed the resolution in a Sept. 23, 2003, address to the UN General Assembly. (See ACT, October 2003.) The final language calls on states to “refrain from providing any form of support to non-state actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery.”
If the resolution is passed, governments would be duty bound to strengthen and enforce their domestic laws, export controls, and border controls against the sale, transfer, and theft of weapons of mass destruction and missiles from their territories by nonstate actors. The resolution orders that these measures be “appropriate” and “effective” without spelling out exactly what such terms entail.
A spokesman at the U.S. Mission to the UN told Arms Control Today March 25 that standards had not yet been developed to guide judgments on whether a particular government was living up to the terms of the resolution. Appropriate punishments for any violations also remain to be decided, although the official confirmed that a government not complying with the resolution might be threatened with sanctions or military force.
The resolution encourages states capable of doing so to help others that may lack the “legal and regulatory infrastructure, implementation experience and/or resources” to take action under it.
A Security Council committee would be established for “no more than six months” to monitor implementation of the resolution. Governments would be required to file reports on their activities under the resolution within 90 days of its adoption by the Security Council.
Nine of the 15 Security Council members, including all five permanent members, will need to approve the resolution for it to become binding. The United States had been negotiating with the council’s four other permanent members—China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom—since December to secure their support for the resolution.
Washington reportedly worked the hardest to win over Beijing, although one U.S. official remarked March 25 that, “at one point or another, everybody had objected to something.”
China’s resistance to early drafts of the resolution stemmed from its opposition to the explicit use of “interdiction.” Beijing is concerned about the legality of intercepting ships suspected of carrying deadly arms or related materials.
The United States, which is spearheading a 14-state effort—the Proliferation Security Initiative—to interdict threatening arms shipments around the globe, removed the controversial word. However, the resolution does urge states to “take cooperative action to prevent illicit trafficking.” Ambassador John Negroponte, the U.S. representative to the UN, stated March 24 “There’s nothing in this resolution that precludes the continuation of the Proliferation Security Initiative.”
Negroponte told reporters that the resolution is “not meant to supercede, undercut, or undermine existing disarmament and nonproliferation regimes.” The intent, he explained, is to complement current arms control treaties by extending prohibitions against weapons beyond states.
The 15 Security Council members convened expert groups to begin consideration of the resolution March 25. There is no certainty as to when they will come to a final conclusion, but Negroponte said, “We hope to move this forward as expeditiously as possible.”