"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
WMD Controls Improving, UN Panel Says
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Peter Crail

Countries have made steady progress in adopting national controls to stop the spread of nonconventional weapons, according to a UN panel report released last month.

Efforts to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1540, adopted in 2004, have “contributed to strengthened global nonproliferation and counterterrorism regimes and ha[ve] contributed to better preparing states to prevent proliferation” of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, the report says.

Resolution 1540 requires all states to adopt a wide variety of national instruments aimed at criminalizing the acquisition of nonconventional weapons by nonstate actors, accounting for and securing materials that could be used to build such weapons, and preventing them from being smuggled. A committee overseeing the implementation of the resolution completed the report Sept. 12, but it was not publicly released until Nov. 10.

The committee originally was supposed to issue the progress report in April, at the same time that the Security Council extended the panel’s mandate for 10 years with the adoption of Resolution 1977, but the report faced repeated delays. (See ACT, May 2011.)

During a Nov. 14 briefing to the Security Council, 1540 Committee Chairman Baso Sangqu of South Africa said that since the committee’s last report in 2008, “more states have taken more measures to implement almost every obligation or recommendation” in Resolution 1540. The committee recognized in its report, however, that “much work remains to be done,” characterizing full implementation as “a long[-]term effort.”

Thomas Wuchte, the U.S. special coordinator for Resolution 1540, told Arms Control Today in April that implementation is “moving forward in stages that are appropriate for each region.” Echoing the recent report’s recognition of the long-term task for states to establish comprehensive controls on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), he said he sees the prospect for “steady progress, not stagnation.”

Since 2005, the committee has used a spreadsheet containing 382 fields, called the matrix, to evaluate the adoption of national WMD controls. The 382 fields comprise national laws or enforcement authorities that states are required to establish to control the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons; related materials; and their means of delivery.

The committee report notes that, of the measures detailed in the matrix, states now have taken steps to implement an average of 128, compared with 93 in 2008.

To better evaluate progress in implementing the resolution, the committee said it would consider replacing or upgrading its assessment matrix no later than the end of next year. Such upgrades could, for example, take into account assistance and cooperation or lessons learned, the report said.

The committee primarily relies on national reports submitted by states to evaluate what steps countries have taken to establish WMD controls. States were required to submit reports in October 2004 and have been encouraged to provide additional information on their progress since that time.

Still, 24 countries, 19 of which are in Africa, have not submitted a report to the committee on steps they have taken to implement WMD controls.

The committee recently has sought to supplement the state-submitted reports with in-country visits in order to get a better sense of a country’s WMD controls. The United States hosted the first such visit in September, a step intended to spur additional countries to take similar actions. (See ACT, October 2011.) Sangqu told the council Nov. 14 that Albania, Croatia, and Madagascar have requested such visits.

In addition to assessing global progress in establishing WMD controls under Resolution 1540, the committee is tasked with facilitating technical assistance to countries in need of it. Resolution 1540 recognized that some countries may lack “the legal and regulatory infrastructure, implementation experience and/or resources” to implement many of the controls required in the resolution and called on countries capable of doing so to provide assistance in those areas.

Wuchte said that Resolution 1977 “brings us to a point where the committee is only just now approaching a stage where it can effectively match those requesting assistance with those offering it.”

He added that he saw Africa as a “particularly important focus” for the 1540 Committee’s efforts to facilitate assistance, saying that it is a region where “many countries need help with capacity building and where the pressing requirements of development have traditionally left” WMD nonproliferation as a “distant priority.”