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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Keeping WMD From Terrorists: An Interview With 1540 Committee Chairman Ambassador Peter Burian
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Interviewed by Miles A. Pomper and Peter Crail

Since January 2006, Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian has chaired a UN committee charged with examining the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1540. Unanimously adopted in April 2004, Resolution 1540 requires all states to implement a variety of domestic measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery, and related materials.

In April 2006, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1673, calling for intensified efforts by states to implement Resolution 1540 and extending the committee’s mandate until April 2008.[1] On September 21, Arms Control Today met with Ambassador Burian in New York to discuss the role and activities of the committee in regard to the resolution. His remarks represent the position of the Slovakian government and do not represent those of the committee as a whole.

ACT: What are the responsibilities of the 1540 Committee, and what do you see as the committee’s primary tasks?

Burian: The Security Council Resolution 1540 defines the role of the committee in quite general terms, which is to examine the implementation of Resolution 1540. This task was specified in Resolution 1673 and also in the work program of the committee. Resolution 1673 tasks the committee with intensifying its efforts to promote the full implementation of Resolution 1540 by all states. The work program includes outreach activities, assistance, and promotion and development of international cooperation in support of the implementation of Resolution 1540, so these are the major areas of work of the committee. The committee is also tasked to report to the Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 1540 by member states and also major challenges in this area.

ACT: One of the points you mentioned was outreach. What have been the results of your effort in this area?

Burian: In order to assist the full implementation of the resolution, the committee sought to have a dialogue with states and regions encouraging the sharing of national experiences and facilitating technical assistance and cooperation with international, regional, and subregional organizations. Through its various outreach activities, the committee managed to increase awareness of the importance of implementation of all aspects of Resolution 1540. This was the aim of our outreach activities in 2006, but since we are now concentrating on promoting and supporting full implementation of all aspects of Resolutions 1540 and 1673, there is a slight shift in the focus. Through these outreach activities, we are able to reach out to countries to discuss with them the challenges and problems in the implementation of Resolution 1540 and to identify problems countries are facing in the implementation process, including lack of administrative and technical capacities and capabilities to deal with all aspects of Resolution 1540. The outreach activities also helped us to define ways to help them to cope with the requirements and to create better channels for communication with the member countries, international organizations, and the committee in this area.

ACT: One of the issues that seems to be a problem is that some governments simply do not have the financial resources or technical expertise to implement the resolution. How do you work in making sure that the countries get the kind of help that they need from the international community?

Burian: This is one of the conclusions that resulted from our better understanding of the problems which the member states are facing in implementation. On one side, it’s the lack of capacities, both administrative and technical, to cope with the requirements of Resolution 1540. But on the other hand, it’s the lack of understanding of the resolution’s importance for national and regional security and stability of a country. Some countries are saying, “We are not producing nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, why should we pay attention or why should we be devoting our efforts to this particular problem when we have some other problems, like small and light weapons trafficking or HIV/AIDS and some other problems?” This is the case especially in developing countries. But we talk to the representatives of those countries and explain to them what is at stake. Their territories might be misused for purposes of trafficking or planning attacks against some other countries or hitting targets in those countries. Tasks connected with the implementation of 1540 might help them to address some other issues more efficiently through improved border controls and export controls, such as the issue of small arms and light weapons trafficking and drug trafficking.

ACT: Some people say the committee should be a little more active in matching donors with recipients.

Burian: Ah, yes, yes, yes. So, this is also a very important priority in our work because we understand that, without major assistance and effort, some countries will not be able to cope with the requirements of 1540. That is why we organized in the beginning of this year quite a comprehensive debate in the committee on assistance strategy, which was followed by a discussion with donor countries on how we can better use the committee as a clearinghouse for assistance and match the requests and offers of assistance. We also discussed how to focus the attention of donors and countries providing assistance on real priorities in the area of implementation of 1540.

ACT: What are the results of that? Is there anything concrete that has come out of that at this point?

Burian: First of all, the committee now better understands the needs. This is one thing. We also took several decisions on how to better manage the role of a clearinghouse through facilitating the understanding of how to better formulate the requests for assistance. From the donor side, it’s very important that they do not only concentrate on some areas, but that they spread their activities into a larger territory or, more precisely, they cover all the countries which need assistance. These meetings with donors helped to increase the awareness and understanding of what the donor countries are doing and in which countries. This also is the result of our discussion. We would like to better use our Web page[2] to inform the countries regarding what individual member states or international organizations are doing in order to help the countries to cope with Resolution 1540 requirements and also identify the programs which exist in those international organizations in various areas to help countries.

ACT: Is there any kind of compiled data that says, for example, “This much money is being spent on 1540 programs by these states”?

Burian: This is quite an interesting question. Some countries do not want to share with us all the details of their national assistance programs and projects. But in this area, the approaches and attitudes are changing. Countries understand that through better transparency and through the provision of information to those who are seeking the information, countries can better use their resources. But we do not have a clear idea of how much is spent on those programs because they are dispersed in various agencies and institutions. Even countries like the United States might not know, actually, how much they spend on various programs helping or supporting implementation of 1540 because they are spread through various agencies. This is the aim, nationally, to bring all of the actors together to coordinate their efforts and to divide internally their focus and labor to cover those areas which are the priority and to remove all kinds of unnecessary duplication.

ACT: One of the legal questions is that the Security Council did not define what “appropriate” and “effective” are in terms of export controls, physical security measures, and so on, that countries were supposed to adopt. How much of a problem was that in assessing the implementation of the resolutions, and would it be helpful to have a specific standard in that regard?

Burian: This is quite a sensitive issue, and the committee doesn’t have a unified approach to so-called best practices because many countries are stressing that there is no unified or uniform model of implementation of 1540 and every country has a specific situation. At the same time, the members of the committee understand the importance of sharing the information on national practices which might serve as a source of inspiration for neighbors or for countries of subregions and regions to speed up the process of implementation by avoiding the mistakes which their neighbors might have made.

Regional organizations have paid quite a lot of attention recently to the implementation of 1540. These include the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States, or the Caribbean Community and so on. We are trying to facilitate the discussion in those organizations on the so-called regional practices on functioning models of implementation or on the legislation.

We already have very good results in this area. The OSCE, first of all, politically supported the implementation of 1540, and they moved to a concrete area by defining the best practices in the region in several areas of implementation of 1540. I think this is an example which might be followed by others. I see quite a bit of progress in this direction in the Organization of American States, and this is something which the committee wants to encourage and support. But we are not going to define the best practices for the member states to follow. We can point to some gaps, to some problems, and then it is the national responsibility of a country to define the best ways how to address the problem.

ACT: You mentioned gaps and weaknesses. Does the committee go and identify particular weaknesses in a particular country’s coverage of these various areas that are supposed to be under 1540, and for instance, does the committee visit states to measure their implementation of the resolution as I understand the counterterrorism committee pursuant to Resolution 1373 does.[3] Is there any equivalent to that?

Burian: Our approach to that is a little bit more general. Based on the information which we are receiving through national reports and based on the available information in public sources, such as Web pages of governments and so on, the committee has designed a matrix which is more or less reflecting the structure of the resolution, of various paragraphs of the resolution, and is covering information about national implementation. This matrix also identifies some existing gaps in the implementation, such as the absence of laws or practical arrangements in dealing with particular problems. So this is the approach we use in the committee. We are trying to avoid using the expression of weaknesses because this might be perceived by the member states as putting some blame on them and we would like to avoid blaming and shaming as a method of work.

ACT: Are there particular areas or gaps that require more attention than others from governments? The resolution is broad. It covers nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and delivery systems. Are there particular areas that have received less attention or are sort of generally more of a weakness in laws than others, such as in the biological realm?

Burian: It differs from country to country and region to region. The specific situation matters, such as whether the country is producing or storing some materials which are related to weapons of mass destruction. That’s why it’s very difficult to generalize. The conclusions of the report which were presented to the Security Council in April 2006 say that no country is perfect. Some countries might have problems with accounting, with physical protection. Some countries might have problems with unreliable export control systems. Some countries might have problems with laws and mechanisms covering the financing of services connected with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or related activities. Accounting, physical protection, shipment and transshipment, and financing of activities and services connected with the proliferation in general terms is something to which we should pay more attention.

You also mentioned enforcement. This is important because even if you have a perfect law, if you are not able to enforce it properly, if you do not have institutions which are trained to detect and deal with these kinds of substances, then, of course, all the laws are not very much helpful in dealing with the concrete problem and situation.

Finally, I agree that we should also pay more attention to the biological area. There is no specialized organization to deal with issues of implementation and verification of measures envisaged by the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. At the same time the potential of nonstate actors to misuse this kind of substances for terrorist purposes is growing.

ACT: Understanding that a Security Council resolution is focused on government responsibilities, does the committee foresee engaging in dialogue with industry and its role in carrying out the purpose of the resolution?

Burian: This was actually one of the ideas raised during our outreach activities and meetings with nongovernmental organizations and donor countries. If we want to be efficient, we need to not only reach out to the governments, but also to work with private entities and the civic sector. This area should be a matter or area of responsibility of governments. We can encourage governments to pay attention to cooperation and contact with the private sector and businesses. This is also happening through the involvement of some private entities and through dialogue within the national coordination mechanisms, which is one of the ways to engage and involve the private community.

Another issue which is very important is to spread the awareness that implementation of 1540 is not creating obstacles for trade but, on the contrary, creating a better environment for trade. I will see how this might be worked into future workshops. Businesses also might be interested in this and might encourage their national parliaments to address and pay more attention to it. So really, this is one of the areas for the future that the committee might want to promote.

ACT: The committee has encouraged member states to develop action plans for the implementation of the resolution, but it seems that so far that only the United States has submitted such a plan. What does the committee see as the purpose for the development of these plans, and are there any efforts to encourage their submission?

Burian: Actually, we do not have a very concrete idea which countries do or do not have a national action plan or national implementation plan. We already received feedback from various countries, including some in Africa and other regions, that they have developed national implementation plans. Ghana says that they have a plan. Some countries are in the process of developing national implementation or action plans. This is something, again, that the committee doesn’t impose but encourages as a very important planning tool. It enables a country to identify priorities. Donors might also look how they might help in implementing those tasks that are identified in the national implementation plan.

ACT: The committee is now focused on a report it is going to submit next year. Under Resolution 1673, it says that the committee is going to submit a report on compliance with the implementation of the resolution. How is the committee measuring that compliance?

Burian: Now we are in a process of defining the structure of the report, what will be included, and so on. First of all, it will be a product of the group of experts, and then it will be discussed and amended through the contributions and amendments of the member states, so it is a very difficult process. It’s quite difficult to say how we’ll be approaching this issue. One of the problems here is that not all the members would like to come up with some specific conclusions about particular problems. The feeling in the committee is that we should keep it general, to identify the problems in general terms. The committee will not probably go from country to country to say, “You have these kinds of problems, these kinds of gaps.” This might be reflected in the matrices which the committee is elaborating, but these matrices will not be something which will be used for blaming or shaming this or that country for not fulfilling all its obligations and requirements under 1540 but, on the contrary, to identify the problems where the country needs some additional assistance.

ACT: As you know, the resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Do you foresee the possibility of the committee ever recommending to the Security Council that it penalize or sanction a government for not fulfilling the resolution or willfully ignoring it?

Burian: Of course, if a country violates some international obligations adopted under Chapter VII, then the Security Council should deal with the problem. But it’s not the job or the role of the committee as it’s understood among the committee members. The committee now prefers a more cooperative approach in helping countries to overcome some difficulties in fulfilling the requirements of the resolution.

ACT: Some charge, as in a recent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace assessment,[4] that implementation of the resolutions has not exactly matched the urgency of the threat they are trying to address. Would you say that you share this assessment?

Burian: As the chairman of the committee, I cannot share this assessment. But, as a national representative of Slovakia, we feel that we need to intensify the efforts to address this very urgent and dangerous threat because in case we do not pay enough attention to it, we might wake up one day and realize that it was too late. Then it really will be too late to lament that we could have done more. That’s why our national priority and national ambition is to contribute what we can to implement Resolution 1540. We also encourage regional cooperation within the OSCE and on the global level to find efficient mechanisms which might enable addressing this threat in a more comprehensive and more vigorous manner.

ACT: Last question. You were talking earlier about how you do not want to wake up and have a surprise. Given that it is about three years after Resolution 1540 was adopted, is the world safer now against dealing with the possibility of terrorists using unconventional weapons?

Burian: It’s a good question. One thing which we do not know is how far the terrorists have gone in acquiring access to weapons of mass destruction and related technologies and how much we have come to a situation that we are able to cope with this threat through the implementation of 1540. So this is something which is very difficult to evaluate. I would say that, without Resolution 1540, I am almost sure that based on the experience and based on concrete observations and revelations, like the Abdul Qadeer Khan illicit nuclear black market, that terrorists would already possess weapons of mass destruction at least in those areas which are quite easy to access and build, such as a dirty bomb or chemical weapons which were left in some countries unprotected, or biological substances. This is something of which we are reminded almost every day. As it was the case of involvement of a group of doctors in the United Kingdom in plotting terrorist attacks. It is a worrying phenomenon, since it is very easy to imagine that this group of doctors might use their knowledge for acquiring and misusing the substances which might cause diseases for launching biological attacks on civilians. So really, I would say, without any exaggeration, that the threat of terrorists achieving the capability of producing and using weapons of mass destruction is real and the international community should be very serious in addressing this threat and doing it on a timely basis.

Click here for a complete transcript of the interview.


ENDNOTES

1. Security Council Resolution 1540 originally established a two-year mandate for the committee, which expired in April 28, 2006.

2. See the Web site of the 1540 Committee, found at http://disarmament2.un.org/Committee1540.

3. Security Council Resolution 1373 was adopted September 28, 2001, in response to the September 11 attacks. Just as Resolution 1540 does, it requires a series of domestic legal mechanisms to be adopted to deny funding and safe haven to terrorists and establishes a committee to examine implementation.

4. See Monika Heupel, “Implementing Security Council Resolution 1540: A Division of Labor Strategy,” Carnegie Papers, No. 87 (June 2007).