Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
UN Extends Committee on Terrorists and Arms

Wade Boese

In a unanimous vote April 27, the UN Security Council extended for two years a committee charged with monitoring efforts by states to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring or developing biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. The vote on Resolution 1673 reflected general satisfaction with the committee’s activities to date but also an acknowledgement that much work remains to be done.

The committee’s origins can be traced to a September 2003 speech by President George W. Bush calling for a UN resolution criminalizing proliferation. (See "Bush Calls on UN to Curb Proliferation," October 2003.) After several months of debate and the exposure of the nuclear black market network run by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1540 in April 2004 requiring all countries to “adopt and enforce appropriate effective laws” prohibiting nonstate actors from obtaining unconventional arms. (See "Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution Denying Terrorists WMD," May 2004.) Neither “appropriate” nor “effective” were defined.

The so-called 1540 committee was originally established for a two-year period ending April 28, 2006, to review mandated country reports detailing individual UN members’ implementation of the resolution. By April 20, the committee, which comprises the 15 current Security Council members, had received and assessed at least the initial reports of 129 countries; 62 countries failed to file a report. Eight experts hired by the committee helped evaluate the reports.

In an April 25 report of its findings, the committee revealed that many countries lack laws, border controls, and export controls to prevent the spread of unconventional weapons to nonstate actors. For example, the committee reported that only 77 countries have a “national legal framework to control the flow of goods across their borders” and just 80 governments “have some export control legislation” pertaining to unconventional weapons items.

The report further noted the committee’s concern “about the number of states that still have no legislation in place that prohibits and penalizes the possible use by non-State actors of their territory as a safe haven” for unconventional weapons activities. Although many governments contend they do not have such weapons or the materials that can be used to make them, the committee asserted that all states must adopt laws regarding such arms because “their territories may still be used as part of the proliferation pathway.”

An official associated with the committee told Arms Control Today May 12 that the recent report reveals the “poor job” countries have done in implementing the resolution. “It leads one to believe that we have been pretty lucky [in avoiding a terrorist attack employing unconventional arms],” the official remarked.

Speaking May 18 in Tokyo, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared, “More must be done to ensure compliance with Security Council Resolution 1540.”

A Department of State official interviewed May 18 by Arms Control Today described implementation of the resolution as being at an “early stage” and admitted “there remains a great deal of capacity-building and education to be done.” Nevertheless, the official described the 1540 committee as an “important tool” that can be used to “prod states” into taking action.

Many countries, particularly those that did not file reports, claim they do not have the infrastructure or resources to implement the resolution. Nearly all of the governments that did not file reports are relatively poorer countries from Africa, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific. North Korea is the only state with known nuclear weapons capabilities that has not reported.

Resolution 1540 urged governments “in a position to do so” to assist those that might have trouble fulfilling their obligations. The April 25 report noted that 46 countries have volunteered to provide assistance, while 32 countries requested such help.

However, little, if any, specific assistance has been rendered, according to several U.S. and foreign government officials interviewed by Arms Control Today. A senior State Department official said May 15 that one of the key challenges for the committee over the next two years will be “marrying up donors with recipients.”

A precise work program for the committee remains to be settled. However, a general sense exists that the committee will intensify its efforts to obtain reports from countries that have failed to provide them and to bring donors and recipients together. One diplomatic source at the United Nations told Arms Control Today May 18 that both areas are of particular interest to Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, who was appointed chairman of the committee Jan. 4.

What remains uncertain is whether the committee will take a bigger role in prioritizing and recommending remedial actions for countries to strengthen their laws and export and border controls. The official associated with the committee said that many countries “won’t find it acceptable” if it is telling them what to do. The senior State Department official also stressed that it is important for donors to provide assistance without being “too heavy-handed or intrusive.”

Still, one area where Washington will urge action is pushing countries to specify penalties that will be imposed if entities help finance proliferation. The United States instituted Executive Order 13382 with this objective last June (see "United States Eyes Proliferator's Assets," September 2005) and has sanctioned 20 foreign entities to date using the measure.

Like its predecessor, Resolution 1673 was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the Security Council to take punitive actions if it chooses. Although top U.S. officials have repeatedly pointed out this option in past speeches, the senior State Department official said that possibility is not likely to be invoked anytime soon. However, the official said the question of how to respond to countries that ignore the committee’s outreach activities is something the Security Council might eventually have to address.