PONI Debates the Issues Blog

Last week (June 20-23), the UN Security Council held open consultations on the comprehensive review of Resolution 1540, which mandates that all 193 UN members must adopt and enforce effective laws to keep WMDs out of the hands of terrorists. UN member states, along with representatives from international, regional and sub-regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations, engaged in an open dialogue to reflect on the resolution’s achievements and to develop new ideas for improving domestic implementation of 1540 obligations.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urgently asked the international community to step up its efforts on disarmament and nonproliferation of all kinds of WMDs. Mr. Ban Ki-moon urged that the UN should “redouble our efforts to create a safer and more secure world.” The first draft of the comprehensive review outlining next steps for 1540’s implementation is due by August 31. Furthermore, one of the Action Plans of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) supports the United Nations and its role in implementing Resolution 1540. NSS participant states promised to increase efforts to implement in full Resolution 1540 nuclear security obligations by 2021. Both the comprehensive review and NSS action create a new start for Resolution 1540 and for more effective implementation of global strategic trade controls.

For the past 12 years, more than 90 percent of UN member states have submitted national implementation reports to the 1540 Committee. Considering countries’ early apprehensions, the high reporting percentage is a big political achievement. However, this number does not guarantee that the sensitive materials are secure worldwide, nor does it suggest that the reporting countries have the capacity to deal with WMD terrorism. Often times these reports reference outdated and non-WMD related regulations or even contain false information (e.g., the Syrian report to the 1540 Committee noted that Syria does not possess chemical weapons). The institutional design of the committee does not enable the 1540 experts to conduct critical analysis of national reports or carry threat assessment and country profiling. Country reports on domestic implementation are a false metric of the resolution’s success. The 1540 Committee is also facing challenges in operationalizing its capacity-building assistance mechanism.

As the 1540 Committee prepares its comprehensive review document, one must acknowledge that countering proliferation of WMDs and related items is an ambitious task. There is a limit to the United Nations’ ability to translate the resolution into legal change in 193 countries. Therefore, the role of other players, most importantly regional organizations and civil society, is vital. Through their contribution, regional organizations and civil society can help share the burden of maintaining international peace and security. Although the Council has already demonstrated a progressive recognition of the utility of regional organizations and civil society in 1540’s implementation process, it is time to do more and to be more strategic about this.

The successful implementation of the resolution depends on the committee’s ability to create an environment where member states can develop a sense of local ownership for the resolution. Regional organizations can facilitate this process and help create a host country’s buy in (such processes have already happened in the Caribbean region and in Africa). As for civil society, the 1540 Committee and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs should devise practical programs to work closely with universities and research centers. These institutions can help conduct independent analysis of country reporting. This, in turn, will help the Committee identify gaps and opportunities for addressing the vulnerabilities of the proliferation chain. 

Sarah Shirazyan is an international lawyer and she currently pursues her Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD) degree at Stanford Law School, specializing in nuclear and national security law. Sarah’s work empirically examines the role of international norms and institutions in combatting non-state actor proliferation and CBRNE terrorism. Stanford University has named Sarah as one of the recipients of Gerald J. Lieberman Award in recognition of her outstanding research and teaching. Sarah worked at the Nuclear Weapons Branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, European Court of Human Rights, and the Drugs and Organized Crime Directorate of INTERPOL. She now consults European Union on data protection laws.

The views expressed above are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Project on Nuclear Issues, the U.S. government or any of its agencies.

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The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center for Strategic and International Studies or the Project on Nuclear Issues. The content of this web site does not constitute an endorsement by or opinion of the Department of Defense or any sponsor of the Project on Nuclear Issues.