I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Progress on UN WMD Measure Mixed
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Wade Boese

Three years after the UN Security Council required states to enact measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring or using unconventional arms, progress toward that goal is disparate and muddled. The limitations are perhaps best summed up by the fact that the United States is calling 2007 “the year of implementation.”

In April 2004, the Security Council unanimously adopted UN Resolution 1540 mandating that governments institute and enforce “appropriate, effective” laws, border controls, export controls, and physical security measures to make it tougher for terrorists to arm themselves with biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons or the means to deliver such weapons. (See ACT, May 2004. ) The resolution did not define “appropriate” or “effective.”

The resolution grew out of a Sept. 23, 2003, call by President George W. Bush to criminalize proliferation and gained traction with the February 2004 exposure of the nuclear black market network ran by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. (See ACT, March 2004. )

The Security Council mandated that all states report within six months on their activities and plans to fulfill the mandates of the resolution and established a committee with a two-year lifespan to monitor and report on these efforts. In April 2006, the Security Council extended the committee’s lifespan another two years. (See ACT, June 2006. )

Only 54 countries met the original reporting deadline, but by last April, a total of 129 governments had supplied at least one report. Still, 62 countries, most of which are located in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa, had not complied with the resolution’s reporting requirement. All countries with nuclear weapons, except North Korea, have reported.

Some of the nonreporting governments contend they do not have the capacity, resources, or need to report. In an April 18 interview, a British government official said that it was “too early” to judge whether some countries are “not willfully complying.” The Security Council adopted the resolution under Chapter VII of the UN charter, providing the possibility that countries could be sanctioned or penalized for noncompliance, although the issue has not yet been raised.

Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, chairman of the committee, made obtaining reports his top priority last year, launching an outreach campaign to inform governments about their obligations under the resolution. Despite three outreach seminars in China, Ghana, and Peru as well as other workshops, the effort had yielded just seven more initial reports as of April 20.

One source close to the committee told Arms Control Today April 18 that Burian still considers “very important” the “universalization” of the resolution as measured by states’ recognition of their responsibilities through reporting to the committee. The source said Burian views the outreach phase of the committee’s work as unfinished.

Nonetheless, an official associated with the committee said it and its eight independent experts would increasingly turn to compiling best practices or lessons learned as voluntary guidelines for countries to follow in implementing the resolution.

In interviews with Arms Control Today, several officials familiar with the committee’s work said the body was unlikely to recommend priorities to states because of the perception that it would be interfering with or encroaching on a government’s sovereign right to legislate.

The United States, as well as the committee, is urging governments to develop national implementation plans. Washington adopted its own such plan last May, but details of the document have not been made public.

A U.S. official and the official associated with the committee said in separate interviews that the process of creating national implementation plans was valuable in and of itself for bringing together government bureaucrats who otherwise might not talk.

Both also asserted that involving the private sector would be essential to the resolution’s long-term success. They said businesses had to be made more aware of their economic stakes in preventing a terrorist attack by use of an unconventional weapon or the trade they might risk losing if their state is perceived as lacking proper controls, regulations, and security measures. 

The official associated with the committee told Arms Control Today April 20 that countries needed to “set their own priorities” because a “one-size-fits-all approach” was inappropriate. The official explained, for example, that a landlocked country requires different types of controls than a maritime state.

A common challenge that many countries face is funding the measures to fulfill the resolution. Describing the problem of preventing nonstate actors from obtaining unconventional weapon as “huge,” the official said addressing it is “very expensive.”

The resolution calls on states that can do so to lend expertise or financial, organizational, or technical assistance to those governments requesting such help. Forty states have announced their willingness to provide direct assistance, although the committee is not tabulating delivered assistance.

Neither are some major donors. Both the United States and United Kingdom could not provide Arms Control Today with totals, saying they have many programs, some preceding the resolution, that contribute to the resolution’s goals. U.S. officials have highlighted one initiative, the Export Control and Related Border Security program, as allocating almost $132 million since 2004 to other countries for training and equipment to implement the resolution.

The committee does not seek to match potential donors with recipients. It describes its role as a “clearinghouse,” which entails maintaining general lists of assistance requests and aid offers. During a Feb. 23 Security Council debate on the resolution, Brazil called on the committee to be more active in facilitating assistance.

Guarding against biological weapons proliferation is an area most in need of attention and assistance because it lags behind efforts on chemical and nuclear arms, according to the official associated with the committee. The official attributed this disparity partially to the fact that countries can turn to the International Atomic Energy Agency in the nuclear realm and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the chemical sector but do not have a comparable institution to turn to in the biological field. The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention did not establish any implementation body or secretariat.

The official said another area where countries need to step up their efforts is enforcement. Many countries have laws or controls in place, but they do not always apply them, the official said.

Still, all officials interviewed for this article agreed that the much more difficult work was yet to come. Many see the implementation phase as more complicated than the outreach phase, which they also cautioned must continue. The official associated with the committee said that all countries face a “long, hard slog.”