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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution on Denying Terrorists WMD
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Wade Boese


The UN Security Council April 28 unanimously adopted a resolution calling on states to take steps to deny and punish terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. Despite its seemingly unobjectionable purpose, however, the U.S.-initiated resolution required several months of debate and revisions before winning approval.

In its final form, the legally binding resolution demands that all states adopt and enforce “appropriate, effective” laws and measures, such as export and border controls, to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, as well as missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles designed to deliver such arms. What constitutes “appropriate” and “effective” is not specified, however, and is left up to each state to determine “in accordance with their national procedures.”

Each state is also ordered to impose controls and safeguards on related materials that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The resolution further encourages states to work together to block any terrorist attempts to build, buy, steal, or trade dangerous weapons. Although China succeeded in removing the word “interdiction” from the resolution, the concept remains in a more ambiguous phrase calling on states to “take cooperative action to prevent illicit trafficking.” Beijing’s concerns stemmed from its wariness toward the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, which is a loose coalition of 14 countries committed to intercepting threatening arms shipments at sea, in the air, and on land.

The measure also urges states to provide assistance to those without sufficient expertise or resources to implement the resolution.

James Cunningham, deputy U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, said April 28 that the resolution aims to check terrorists “seeking to exploit weak export control laws and security measures in a variety of countries.”

A U.S. official interviewed April 29 by Arms Control Today further explained that the purpose behind the resolution is to provide governments with the authority and leverage to do “everything within their jurisdiction to stop proliferators.”

Within six months, governments are supposed to submit a report on their intentions or completed actions under the resolution to a special committee charged with reporting on its implementation. Answering to the Security Council, the committee will operate for two years.

President George W. Bush first called for a resolution criminalizing proliferation in a Sept. 23, 2003, address to the UN General Assembly. (See ACT, October 2003.) It took the U.S. government nearly three months to draft its original proposal, another three months to convince the other four permanent members of the Security Council—China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom—to back it, and one last month to win the support of the rest of the 15-member Security Council.

“The negotiation process was not easy,” Germany’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said after the Security Council’s action. Germany held the council’s presidency in April, and U.S. officials wanted to get the resolution passed before the top position rotated in May to Pakistan, the member that expressed the greatest unease with the resolution.

Along with many other states, Germany voiced one of the central criticisms of the initial resolution: its lack of any reference to disarmament. Berlin and other capitals argued that nonproliferation and disarmament go hand in hand and that the surest way of preventing terrorists from getting weapons of mass destruction was for all states to eliminate such arms from their own arsenals.

The resolution now mentions disarmament in its preamble, partially satisfying Germany and other like-minded states. “We would have preferred, however, to see it highlighted in the operative section as well,” Pleuger stated.

Another primary concern of many states was the perception that the U.S. draft resolution initially authorized the use of sanctions and force.

The United Kingdom, the measure’s other leading champion, argued otherwise. “The resolution is not about coercion or enforcement,” assured Adam Thomson, who is the United Kingdom’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, in an April 22 debate on the resolution.

Pleuger attempted to clarify any lingering doubts following the Security Council’s approval. “The resolution does not foresee any unilateral enforcement measures,” he said, adding that any attempt to punish states for not living up to the resolution would require another Security Council decision.

The U.S. official interviewed April 29, however, dismissed the notion that the resolution lacked teeth. Noting that the council adopted the resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which recognizes punitive actions to preserve peace and security, the official stated, “[I]t’s the toughest mandate that the [United Nations] can give.”

Some states expressed concern that the resolution might be used to supplant existing arms control treaties and infringe on their treaty rights, such as the right to possess nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The resolution states, however, that “none of the obligations set forth in this resolution shall be interpreted so as to conflict with or alter the rights and obligations” of states-parties to the NPT or other arms control accords.

Pakistan feared the resolution might be used to pressure it to give up its nuclear arsenal. An early draft of the resolution mentioned the “importance” of all states to “adopt and fully implement” existing arms control agreements. Pakistan is not a member of the NPT, which does not recognize the possession of nuclear weapons by Pakistan, India, or Israel. To mollify Pakistan, the resolution’s exhortation was modified to apply only to current treaty states-parties.

Another amendment made to the resolution to satisfy Pakistan was a clarification that the resolution applies only to the future. Islamabad was clearly motivated by the desire to insulate itself against any attempt by other governments to punish or pressure it to take additional actions related to the exposure earlier this year of a massive international nuclear smuggling ring headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb program. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Pakistani Ambassador to the UN Munir Akram indicated April 28 that Pakistan considered the matter closed and that the resolution would not obligate Pakistan to cooperate with any government that felt differently or compel Pakistan to provide greater transparency of its weapons programs. “Pakistan will not accept any demand for access, much less inspections, of our nuclear and strategic assets, materials and facilities,” Akram said.