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– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
U.S. Diappointed With Worldwide Response to WMD Resolution
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Wade Boese

Roughly one-third of UN members have complied with a unanimous Security Council resolution request to detail their efforts to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring or developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), disappointing the United States, the resolution’s main architect.

Passed April 28, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 ordered all governments to put in place “appropriate, effective laws” to deny terrorists access to biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons; their delivery systems; and related materials. (See ACT, May 2004.) The resolution further asked all capitals to report within six months on their completed or planned steps toward fulfilling this mandate. Although the requirement for instituting the proper laws to thwart terrorists is legally binding, the follow-up reporting is voluntary.

Some 70 countries, including China, France, India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have provided the requested reports; 54 of them met the Oct. 28 deadline. Iran, Israel, and North Korea are among the approximately 120 states that have not submitted reports.

The United States sees the reports as essential for helping identify and remedy weaknesses in other countries’ laws, export controls, and practices aimed at thwarting terrorists from obtaining weapons and related materials. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation Andrew Semmel warned in an Oct. 12 speech in London that “[n]one of us is stronger than the weakest link.”

The substance of the submissions varies greatly, according to a U.S. government official interviewed Nov. 10 by Arms Control Today. Some total a few pages, while the U.S. report exceeds 60 pages, cataloguing all U.S. laws, programs, and policies pertaining to WMD control.

The U.S. official said Washington is concerned that the dearth of reports volunteered sends a “potentially bad message” about how countries perceive the resolution and their obligations under it. Noting that reports are still trickling in, the official said the United States is not “leaning on anybody yet” but that Washington “can’t be patient forever.”

The 15-nation Security Council approved Resolution 1540 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which opens the door to punitive actions, such as sanctions, to enforce the resolution. Although Semmel said the United States did not “envision enforcement” as being necessary, he added, “We, of course, will revisit this view if it becomes evident that countries are not taking their [Resolution] 1540 obligations seriously or are ignoring their responsibility to put in place the legal and regulatory infrastructure required under the resolution.”

If governments have concerns about their abilities to live up to the resolution, they are encouraged to seek outside assistance. No capitals have yet asked for U.S. advice or aid.

Some countries have reportedly claimed that the resolution is irrelevant to them because they lack weapons of mass destruction or related materials and technology that could be used to make such arms.

Washington considers this view shortsighted because of the growing spread of advanced technologies; the interconnectedness of the world economy; and proliferators’ skills at using front companies, false end-use destinations, and shipment routes through countries with weak trade regulations. “Proliferators, like those involved in the Khan network, have shown their cunning in using not the quickest or most cost-effective routes to ply their dangerous trade, but in seeking the path of least resistance,” Semmel declared. Led by Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Khan black market network is suspected of having incorporated entities stretching from western Europe to Southeast Asia to hawk nuclear contraband to Libya, Iran, North Korea, and possibly others. (See ACT, March 2004.)

A special committee, chaired by Romania and including representatives from all other current Security Council members, is responsible for assessing implementation of the resolution. The committee is currently working to hire six experts to help evaluate the national reports.

Although the U.S. official said Washington hoped the experts would be selected by the end of November, a Romanian government official implied in a Nov. 10 interview with Arms Control Today that the process might not be completed until December. The Romanian official also gave a more upbeat assessment about the number of reports submitted, describing it as a “good response.”

A month-long delay in choosing the experts would likely not sit well with the United States, which is already concerned that the time to hold governments accountable under the resolution is rapidly dwindling. The committee’s lifespan, which can be extended, is set to expire in April 2006.

The U.S. worry is, in part, a problem of its own making. Washington lobbied for a specific time limit for the committee because of its opposition to creating any additional permanent UN bureaucracy.