Innovate to Prevent the World’s Most Dangerous Weapons from Falling into the Wrong Hands

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Remarks as Prepared for Delivery: Brian Finlay, President and CEO, Stimson Center
High Level Open Debate of the UN Security Council on the topic of “Preventing Catastrophe: A global agenda for stopping proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by non-State actors”
United Nations, New York, NY
Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mr. President,

Mr. Secretary-General,

Ambassador Marchesi,


Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honor to address this special session of the U.N. Security Council.

Since 2004, my organization — the Stimson Center — has had the distinction of supporting the work of six successive Chairmen of this venerable Committee.

In those 12 years, hastened largely by the forces of globalization, it is astonishing to reflect upon the breadth of advancement witnessed around the globe.

For millions, these advances have made the world a far more hospitable place:

  • In the past 12 years, governments, international organizations, civil society, and industry groups around the globe have helped to cut in half the world’s extreme poverty rate.
  • Today, millions fewer people live in the grinding poverty associated with living on less than $1.25 per day;
  • More girls are in school;
  • Fewer children are dying as a result of preventable illness;
  • And the world continues to make advances against the scourge of global diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS;
  • Further, despite horrific and headline grabbing conflicts today, the inexorable trend of violent conflict is bending however gradually toward peace.

These accomplishments trace their lineage to our growing global interconnectedness, and successful efforts by this body — and others — to steer the forces of globalization toward universal benefit.

But, sadly, positive advances in science and technology, along with the democratization of modernity around the globe, have also hastened non-state actors with ill intent — at worst facilitating access to the world’s most dangerous weapons and technologies of mass destruction.

In this regard, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 has provided a near unprecedented rallying point for global efforts to prevent terrorist acquisition of these weapons.

In a global security environment experiencing a poverty of optimism, the Resolution and this Committee have demonstrated an enviable return on our joint political and financial investment. I believe that when the history of our time is written, your efforts on behalf of our future will be recognized as a glowing example of what is best about our human spirit — a willingness to recognize our common and interconnected interest in peace, security, and prosperity.

Mr. President, although globalization has extended the benefits of prosperity, so too has it fundamentally altered the drivers of proliferation:

  • Today, the value of global trade has doubled, driving illicit access to nefarious technologies to distant corners of the globe;
  • In the past 12 years, private capital flows have doubled, opening new opportunities for malicious actors to conceal illicit financial flows;
  • Today, 47% of the world’s inhabitants have access to the internet and prospectively, illicit intangible technology transfers — up from just 12% in 2004;
  • We have continued evidence that terrorist groups with regional or global ambitions continue to seek weapons of mass destruction;
  • And, we have witnessed a steady increase in nuclear, biological, and chemical incidents around the globe; including notably, by non-state actors.

From this it is clear that despite the progress this Committee has engendered, our central challenge remains unmet.

But this is not a moment for despondency. Rather, it is a clarion call to celebrate our successes in the face of overwhelming challenges, and to redouble our efforts with the clear-eyed knowledge that a WMD incident anywhere in the world will have both sweeping security and economic ramifications for every State represented in this chamber.

Mr. President, your government has much for which to be proud. Under your Chairmanship, the Council has helped to break down the artificial stovepipes that have inhibited full and effective engagement with the Resolution. And it has widened interest in, and access to, this Resolution by constituencies beyond national governments that were once thought tangential to the objectives of the Resolution. Those achievements are significant.

Even as we celebrate these advances, there are two key priorities that remain unaddressed:

First, it is clear that the institution of the UN in the face of this impossible mandate is wildly overburdened: Despite its best efforts, the 1540 Group of Experts is simply overwhelmed. With a global mandate, nine experts cannot hope to keep pace with the evolving proliferation landscape, nor the activities and demands of 193 Member States. The Committee should consider widening its global network of supporters capable of carrying water on behalf of its mission.

In the course of this Review, the Government of Canada presented a proposal calling for targeted implementation support of the 1540 Committee. Assistance can come not only from official entities such as from law enforcement or customs and border control agencies, but also from legal specialists, industry leaders, and even fresh perspectives from individuals and student scholars. I believe that civil society could present a no-cost additive support mechanism that would work with national authorities to identify critical risks and capacity gaps, develop actionable requests for assistance, and work with the Committee to match those requests with donors, or even provide that assistance directly.

Second, it has become trite to note that the proliferation threat has grown. But we have yet to concede that no government, and not even a confederation of like-minded governments, can hope to address the inexorable march toward proliferation.

Only by inculcating civil society, industry, and the general public with shared strong values against proliferation can we hope to approach the full and effective implementation of UNSCR 1540. To inspire such values, we need to encourage state and industry leaders to recognize mutual benefit. Here too there is progress. The Government of Finland paved the way with an innovative ‘whole of society’ approach to implementing the Resolution — particularly in countries of the Global South. The dual-benefit approach allows for better pairing of the assistance offered in the name of 1540 with other higher priority security and development objectives of Member States. Finland’s approach should be scaled and replicated globally.

In closing Mr. President, the world can change in the blink of an eye. But with the strong and continued efforts from the distinguished attendees here today, we can — and will — continue to innovate to help prevent the world’s most dangerous weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Thank you for your attention.

Watch the full remarks here.

Photo credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias
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