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June 2, 2022
UN Bolsters WMD Nonproliferation Body
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Peter Crail

The UN Security Council unanimously agreed April 20 to a 10-year extension for a committee that oversees an international effort to prevent terrorists and other nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The council established the committee in 2004 under Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all countries to adopt and enforce a series of national laws criminalizing the possession of unconventional weapons; securing materials, facilities, and technologies used to make them; and adopting export controls to prevent their spread. (See ACT, May 2004.)

The committee is a subbody of the council. It comprises the 15 council members and is assisted by a panel of eight experts.

The 10-year mandate contained in Resolution 1977 departs from the council’s more limited extensions of the body for two years in 2006 and three years in 2008. Diplomats familiar with the process said the extension was a compromise between council members seeking an indefinite extension of the body, including the United States, and those preferring an extension closer to another three years.

In his final formal briefing to the council as chair of the 1540 Committee Nov. 15, Mexican Permanent Representative to the United Nations Claude Heller suggested a 10-year extension in order to improve long-term planning.

The role of the committee in overseeing compliance was also a matter of debate within the council. Thomas Wuchte, the Department of State’s senior adviser and special coordinator for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, said in an April 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today that some countries “wanted to be sure the committee did not become a tool for enforcing compliance or naming and shaming states that still lack the capacity to fully implement [Resolution] 1540 domestically.”

He added that Washington views the committee “as a facilitator rather than enforcer.”

Noting the committee’s role in facilitating assistance, Indian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Manjeev Singh Puri said in remarks to the council following the April 20 vote that the extension was carried out “with a view to help plan assistance and cooperation programs for states requesting such assistance from the 1540 Committee on a long-term and predictable basis.”

An April 20 White House statement called the continuation of the committee’s work “an important element of the United States’ nonproliferation objectives” and highlighted a March 31 White House announcement that Washington intended to contribute $3 million to a UN-administered fund to support the committee’s efforts to assist states in implementing Resolution 1540’s requirements.

Wuchte said the contribution would be used to “help set up and properly resource the process for coordinating assistance, rather than directly fund assistance programs themselves.” The fund is administered jointly by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and the 1540 Committee, although the United States provides guidance for the use of its contributions.

Resolution 1977 encourages states to provide such contributions or to make available free training and expertise to facilitate the committee’s efforts to help states adopt and enforce nonproliferation laws.

Even with the show of support for the committee’s goals by the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1977, some countries were still cautious about its focus on proliferation in the absence of a similar consideration of WMD disarmament. After voting in favor of the resolution, Brazilian Permanent Representative to the UN Luiza Ribeiro Viotti told the council that “restricting our efforts only to fighting proliferation represents a limited perspective.” She called for states that possess unconventional weapons to take “concrete actions” toward disarmament.

Brazil issued a similar call to strike a balance between nonproliferation and disarmament in 2004 when it voted in favor of Resolution 1540, along with several other developing countries.

When Resolution 1540 was passed, many states also expressed strong reservations about the council’s ability to require that countries adopt specific types of national legislation, an authority first exercised three years earlier under Resolution 1373. Approved weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, that resolution requires all states to adopt national counterterrorism laws and was used as a model for Resolution 1540’s nonproliferation mandate.

However, such concerns about the council’s role have “subsided significantly” since 2004, as countries have grown more aware of the resolution’s aims and requirements, a Western diplomat said in an April 4 interview. Wuchte agreed with this assessment, saying, “[P]erhaps the most positive aspect of the negotiations on resolution 1977 was the absence of challenges to the legitimacy of [Resolution] 1540.”

“I think it is fair to say that the 1540 Committee has achieved general recognition as an important component of the global nonproliferation architecture,” he said.

In addition to extending the mandate of the 1540 Committee, Resolution 1977 provides extensive guidance for the committee’s work. The resolution focuses particularly on the committee’s efforts to facilitate the provision of resources, training, and other forms of assistance to countries that face difficulties in establishing laws and enforcement mechanisms to prevent WMD proliferation.

In light of this function, O’Neil Hamilton, who serves as the coordinator on Resolution 1540 for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said in an April 20 interview that the committee plays a particularly important role “as a support structure, especially for the global South,” referring to developing countries.

“Without the appropriate spotlight and needed structural support by the international system [in the form of the 1540 Committee], member states with capacity challenges will not be able to move beyond a minimal level of implementation despite their desire to undertake their obligations,” he added.

Resolution 1977 urged the committee to strengthen efforts to ensure that states seeking assistance in developing their national controls over WMD-related goods were matched with states willing to provide expertise and resources. It also requested that the committee compile a list of “effective practices” for such controls, which may be used as guidance for countries in adopting the required national laws.

The council stressed the need for greater cooperation between the committee and international and regional organizations on Resolution 1540’s implementation. Specifically, it called for such organizations to appoint a coordinator or point of contact.

CARICOM, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Central American Integration System have previously made such appointments, and other regional bodies have been considering doing the same.

The council tasked the committee with reviewing its operations in five years, as well as prior to the end of its mandate in April 2021.