Commentary

Non-State Actors and Nonproliferation: The NGO Role in Implementing UNSCR 1540

in Program

By Elizabeth Turpen – In the wake of the AQ Khan incident in 2004, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1540, which requires all states to enact wide-ranging anti-proliferation measures in order to prevent non-state actor acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction. This was the second time since September 11 that the Security Council exercised its Chapter VII authority to adopt a sweeping, unfunded mandate in response to the rising threat of non-state actors in today’s global security environment. Recently, the 1540 Committee responsible for monitoring implementation of the Resolution convened a meeting with representatives from six non-government organizations (NGOs), including the Stimson Center, to learn about their efforts and expertise related to 1540 implementation. Last month’s 1540 Committee meeting with NGOs formally acknowledged the positive contributions of a different set of non-state actors – the NGOs helping to address today’s proliferation challenges.

UN Security Council Resolution 1540 set forth a global baseline of anti-proliferation measures and mandates all states to promptly enact and enforce these measures. 1540 requires all UN members to criminalize proliferation, enact export controls, and secure all WMD-related materials within their borders. The resolution includes requirements for States to: “adopt and enforce ‘appropriate effective’ laws which prohibit any non-State actor to manufacture, acquire, possess, develop, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their means of delivery”; develop and maintain “effective physical protection measures,” “border controls and law enforcement efforts” to address illicit trafficking, and “national export and trans-shipment controls.” The Resolution assumes at once good governance and rule of law as a starting point for the highly technical overlay of measures necessary to address proliferation risks.

Several aspects of the resolution and the results to date must be underscored. States were required to report within six months of the resolution’s adoption to the 1540 Committee on the steps taken toward implementation. As 1540 imposes a substantial burden on all states, any state, “lacking the legal and regulatory infrastructure, implementation experience and/or resources,” may request assistance from those states in a position to provide it. Of the 136 states (plus the EU) that have submitted reports to the Committee, 35 have specifically requested assistance. It can be assumed that the remaining 56 states that did not report also are in need of assistance.

The G8 states, including a strong commitment from the US, have indicated that they are prepared to assist. The effectiveness of the resolution will depend in large part on whether the 1540 Committee and supporting states will be able to secure global implementation, which will require substantial assistance on a broad range of activities. But such assistance can only be rendered upon request of states needing it. To date, the preponderance of requests for assistance has been financial in nature, while the majority of offers of support have been technical, revealing a critical and potentially debilitating mismatch. Moreover, with few exceptions, the requests have been lacking in the specificity necessary for potential donor states to act.

The 1540 Committee, Chaired by Ambassador Peter Burian of the Slovak Republic, consists of the fifteen states currently serving on the UN Security Council and eight outside experts. The Committee is doing yeoman’s work in trying to advance awareness of the Resolution, cajole Members to meet their reporting requirements, and facilitate the needs assessment processes requisite to match outstanding needs with available assistance. But the ability of the Committee remains limited not only by its own internal capacity, both financial and human, and also the dictates of the Resolution itself and the particular constraints of UN politics.

International organizations such as the IAEA and OPCW, regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations in particular can play a critical role in overcoming the Committee’s limitations. NGOs can fill the gaps among the UN, Member States, and international organizations due to their flexibility and responsiveness, which are derived in part from a lack of political constraints. By filling these gaps, NGOs can perform vital functions in fulfillment of the Resolution’s objectives. In addition, NGOs often have accrued insights or expertise that can be instrumental in supplementing the work of the 1540 Committee as well as states supporting implementation.

In November 2006, the Cooperative Nonproliferation Program at Stimson launched the “Next 100 Project” focused on sustainable implementation of UNSCR 1540. The Next 100 Project’s approach to 1540 implementation borrows heavily from the lessons learned in the US and G8’s nonproliferation assistance to the states of the former Soviet Union. As these states are also likely contributors of requested assistance under 1540, a detailed assessment of their efforts seems appropriate to ensure the potential efficacy of efforts on a global basis. Four key lessons emerge from The Stimson Center’s extensive research on these nonproliferation activities that are particularly applicable to Resolution 1540. These include:

  • The cooperative nonproliferation programs of the US Government and Global Partnership are a vastly underappreciated and underutilized toolkit for implementation of 1540.
  • Without mutual agreement regarding the underlying threat or risk, the assistance rendered is not sufficiently valued by the recipient state to sustain the measures put in place.
  • Most importantly and inextricably linked to mutual agreement, the third overarching lesson is that sustainability of nonproliferation assistance requires folding traditional development objectives of long-term institution and capacity-building into our nonproliferation approach.
  • Lastly, “whole of government” responses are not available or even readily attainable to address complex, multifaceted issues such as the 1540 mandate.

Applying these lessons learned to 1540 entails a specific methodology that targets developing states’ own priorities to foster ownership of the assistance rendered. Successful implementation of 1540 requires a baseline of good governance that simply does not exist in many developing states. If 1540 assistance can be linked to the recipient state’s development priorities that enhance governance, the assistance rendered will not only have a greater likelihood of long-term impact, but will also address mutually desirable objectives. Once these linkages are identified, the 1540 Committee, donor states, and other stakeholders can work together to package the desired assistance in a “whole of government” response that simultaneously engenders ownership by the recipient state.

Many NGOs have and continue to make valuable contributions to progress on Resolution 1540. The Center for Global Counterterrorism has been working on a parallel development-security approach with respect to Resolution 1373, the first far-reaching Security Council mandate focused on global counterterrorism efforts. The Monterrey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies convened a conference in Central Asia to raise awareness of the technical requirements for fulfillment of the Resolution’s mandate. This conference is widely hailed as the “gold standard” for the technical assessment requisite for implementation and has catalyzed needs assessments by states in the region. The University of Georgia’s Center for International Trade and Security is compiling best practices for the full suite of 1540 measures on a global basis. SIPRI in Stockholm has been working closely with the European Union toward coherent implementation and enforcement of export controls in Southeastern Europe. VERTIC, based in London, has been compiling best practices and legislative templates for biosecurity and biosafety. And other NGOs, such as the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), have used their longstanding ties to different regions and convening power to raise awareness and spur progress toward implementation.

While eventual fulfillment of the obligations set forth in the Resolution resides with states and legitimacy of the exercise remains with the Committee, NGOs are performing an increasingly valuable role. As put forth in the 2002 National Security Strategy, the greatest threat to US security lies at the “crossroads of technology and terrorism.” 1540 is the only instrument that addresses this challenge on a global basis. While non-state “terrorist” actors represent a growing security challenge, non-state “NGO” actors are well-positioned to facilitate solutions.

For more information, please visit the Cooperative Nonproliferation Program’s Next One Hundred Project.

Photo Credit: Eric Draper/White House Photos


Elizabeth (Libby) Turpen, Ph.D. co-directs the Cooperative Nonproliferation Program, a multifaceted project designed to accelerate existing efforts and design innovative, new initiatives aimed at more rapidly and sustainably securing nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, materials, and expertise.

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