UN Examines U.S. WMD Controls

Peter Crail

A UN nonproliferation body carried out its first formal in-country visit last month, examining the steps that the United States has taken to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Diplomats said that, in addition to giving the panel overseeing the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 a better understanding of U.S. efforts to implement the resolution, the visit could serve as an example for other countries to follow.

The council adopted Resolution 1540 in 2004 to address the potential proliferation of unconventional weapons, related materials, and delivery systems to terrorist groups and smugglers. The resolution requires all states to adopt and enforce a series of national laws criminalizing the possession of unconventional weapons; setting standards to secure materials, facilities, and technologies used to make them; and establishing export controls to prevent their spread. A committee made up of the council’s 15 members also was established to oversee implementation of the measure.

To assess implementation, the committee and its eight experts traditionally have relied on national implementation reports that states have been required to submit and on public records of national laws and arrangements with international nonproliferation agencies. A 2009 UN review of Resolution 1540’s implementation suggested that country visits by the committee could enhance such information gathering and “delve deeper into understanding the challenges” of adopting the wide array of national laws and procedures the resolution requires.

The council endorsed the prospect of country visits in April when it adopted Resolution 1977, which extended the committee’s mandate for 10 years.

During the Sept. 12-16 visit to Washington, committee experts and representatives held meetings with and toured facilities belonging to a variety of government agencies, including the departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security. During a Sept. 15 press briefing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Programs Simon Limage said that the visit was intended to “demonstrate the whole-of-government approach to the problem of proliferation.”

Limage noted four types of WMD-control efforts that the United States wished to highlight for the 1540 Committee: accountability, physical protection, border control enforcement, and export controls.

Committee representatives and U.S. officials stressed, however, that the visit was not an inspection akin to those carried out by international agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, although the panel is to prepare a report on the visit.

Ruvarna Naidoo, acting spokeswoman for the chair of the 1540 Committee, said in a Sept. 14 interview that one of the purposes of the visit is to spur additional governments to host similar visits, providing greater understanding of how the governments tackle the issue of WMD proliferation. She also said that given the committee’s role in matching states needing implementation assistance with countries and organizations that provide such assistance, additional dialogue in the form of country visits can help countries put in place more-effective WMD controls.