1540’s first ten years: Global efforts to combat WMD proliferation and terrorism

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In the ten years since UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1540 was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2004, the UNSCR 1540 Committee and its Group of Experts have made great strides toward addressing the linkages and gaps related to the broad areas underlying the resolution. The Committee has thus advanced an important goal of UN member states. The resolution, led by the daily efforts of the UNSCR 1540 Committee Chair, members, and Group of Experts, has increasingly become an engine for bringing together and integrating the many international and regional tools and efforts to promote the nonproliferation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and WMD delivery systems and to combat WMD terrorism. It is becoming an overarching initiative whereby those tools can be incorporated and, best of all, understood. The UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts is increasingly part of the deliberations of national, regional, and international organizations (IOs) and civil society. To further improve its successful engagement in the many international nonproliferation efforts and mechanisms, the UNSCR 1540 Committee must continue to build relationships and increase its interaction with those other bodies and initiatives that are engaged in preventing WMD proliferation and terrorism. This is particularly true with bodies that have an overall WMD lens, and have a focus on matching assistance with needs.

International efforts to promote WMD nonproliferation and combat WMD terrorism can be seen as a web of programs, legal instruments, and initiatives that often make it difficult to understand how they all relate and interact. These efforts include WMD-related treaties and conventions, export controls, the securing of nuclear materials, biosecurity, chemical security, and weapons destruction. The complexity of this global international effort strengthens the need for continuous coordination and collaboration. Most of all, it is benefited by initiatives that can provide an overarching, strategic momentum to pull the many pieces together to help them all move forward.

Coordination and collaboration have necessarily become an integral part of the work of the UNSCR 1540 Committee and its Group of Experts. This
coordination and collaboration has been occurring in three ways:

  1. Among the substantive areas (nuclear, biological, and chemical)
  2. Among the levels of government (national, regional, and international)
  3. Among the different sectors (government and nongovernmental stakeholders)

UNSCR 1540 and International Engagements

UNSCR 1540 is the only WMD nonproliferation instrument that focuses specifically on obligating states to control all forms of WMD and WMD-delivery proliferation, and to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring WMD and related materials. By adopting UNSCR 1540 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and stating in the resolution that proliferation of WMD and their delivery systems is a threat to international peace and security, UNSCR 1540 is legally binding on all states. The resolution requires states to develop and enforce appropriate legal and regulatory measures against WMD proliferation. States must therefore adopt and enforce laws in the areas of accounting and securing materials, physical protection, border and law enforcement, and export and trade-related controls. Through country visits and engagement with relevant organizations and initiatives, the UNSCR 1540 Committee and Group of Experts are working to not only promote a more strategic and coordinated process, but develop and strengthen a wider culture of WMD nonproliferation.

In recent years, UNSCR 1540’s Group of Experts has been actively involved in a number of international initiatives, meetings, and programs that provide a forum for the experts to instruct and discuss with one another how states can develop the necessary legal frameworks and enforcement structures to fulfill UNSCR 1540 obligations. These engagements have also provided the experts with opportunities to coordinate their work with relevant international, regional, and domestic bodies. Some of those engagements at the international level include the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), international organizations, and the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (Global Partnership).

UNSCR 1540 is highlighted in the NSS documents. For example, the 2010 NSS produced a work plan that details a number of efforts and activities states can take to ensure nuclear security. UNSCR 1540 is part of the overall global nuclear architecture. The NSS work plan calls on states to, in accordance with UNSCR 1540 provisions, “recognize the importance of evaluating and improving their physical protection systems to ensure that they are capable of achieving the objectives set out in relevant International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Nuclear Security Series documents and as contained in the document ‘Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities’ (INFCIRC/225).” The 2010 summit document reinforces requirements set forth in UNSCR 1540 regarding nuclear security. Finally, the work plan calls on states to “express their support for ensuring the effective and sustainable support for the activities of the 1540 Committee.”

Canada and the Republic of Korea sponsored a joint statement at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit titled “Promoting Full and Universal Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540.” A number of other summit participants joined in the statement. The joint statement underscores the importance of UNSCR 1540 in strengthening global nuclear security and reaffirms states’ commitment to fully implement UNSCR 1540. A number of actions are outlined in the statement, including providing additional and ongoing assistance to states that request it in implementing their UNSCR 1540 obligations, hosting and contributing to regional and subregional capacity-building events, and considering opportunities to provide support and resources for the work of the 1540 Committee and its programs. By being a part of the global nuclear security architecture, UNSCR 1540 has been integrated into the overall global nuclear security approach.

In 2011, when the G-8 leaders extended the Global Partnership beyond its original ten-year mandate, the leaders agreed to four areas of focus for the initiative: nuclear and radiological security, biosecurity, scientist engagement, and facilitating implementation of UNSCR 1540. As such, the UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts has attended all meetings of the Global Partnership since 2012, when such meetings were opened to the inclusion of international organizations. The 27-member Global Partnership, like UNSCR 1540, has a mandate to prevent WMD terrorism and promote nonproliferation.

As such, the Global Partnership’s work and engagements provide the UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts with an opportunity to consider how the work of the UNSCR 1540 Committee and the Global Partnership intersect and can be further coordinated. Several IOs1 attend the Global Partnership meetings, thereby providing even more opportunity for the UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts to engage and be integrated into broader WMD nonproliferation efforts.

An underlying goal of the Global Partnership is to match assistance with the needs of countries around the globe in the areas of WMD nonproliferation and combating WMD terrorism. In doing so, partners are directly addressing many of the existing UNSCR 1540 requests for assistance. In fact, all Global Partnership projects are UNSCR 1540 projects, since they are all focused on preventing proliferation and WMD terrorism. The Global Partnership produces an annex each year on all of its activities. In the annex, Global Partnership members can list specific projects and funding that support UNSCR 1540 obligations. The UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts, through the Global Partnership, has also found ways to leverage the relationship developed through the Global Partnership to continually improve coordination and sharing of information.

To fulfill its mandate, the UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts must also engage the many IOs and implementing bodies whose work are directly connected to UNSCR 1540 obligations. For example, the full and effective national implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) enables states to fulfil their relevant UNSCR 1540 obligations. International organizations, recognizing this connection, have worked with UNSCR 1540 to help members fulfill their UNSCR 1540 requirements. In the case of the CWC, for example, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) invites the UNSCR 1540 Committee and its Group of Experts to relevant OPCW meetings, and the OPCW assists CWC parties in the context of requests received by the UNSCR1540 Committee. In the case of the IAEA, for example, by helping member states prevent nuclear materials and related technologies from reaching nonstate actors, and by helping member states detect nuclear materials out of regulatory control, the IAEA assists states in fulfilling their obligations under UNSCR 1540. The IAEA Secretariat also provides assistance to member states upon request, thus helping them fulfill their obligations under UNSCR 1540. Similarly, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) focuses on assisting states that need help in developing legislation to implement conventions and treaties, such as the CWC and BWC, thereby promoting adherence to UNSCR 1540 requirements.

These international engagements have helped UNSCR 1540 implementation and have also helped to promote the global effort to combat WMD nonproliferation and terrorism, which is important to universal implementation of UNSCR 1540.

UNSCR 1540 and National and Regional Engagements

The UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts has conducted a number of regional meetings to engage countries on the resolution. These regional meetings are instrumental in promoting a more in-depth understanding of UNSCR 1540 and what is required from states. They allow for an approach that takes into account regional and cultural issues, which increases the sustainability of national UNSCR 1540 efforts.

These meetings are particularly useful in regions where states lack the capacity to implement the provisions of UNSCR 1540. During these regional meetings, the UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts may hold bilateral discussions with national participants to drill down on specific areas of concern regarding the country’s adherence to UNSCR 1540 requirements. This effort, similar to the National Implementation Action Plans (NAPs) noted below, provides another more direct national and regional approach.

Helping with this process of “socializing” UNSCR 1540 from the bottom up are National Implementation Action Plans. These NAPs provide states with the opportunity to map out their priorities and plans for implementing UNSCR 1540. The plans are geared to fit national circumstances and will promote interagency coordination, which is necessary for successful implementation of UNSCR 1540 within each state.

The reporting elements of UNSCR 1540 provide another mechanism by which the overall global structure of WMD nonproliferation and combating terrorism can be strengthened. In completing these reports, nations can become more familiar with how they are applying and fulfilling all of the WMD aspects of the resolution. Reports also provide a basis for dialogue with the UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts and provide a means to track whether that state has ratified a number of relevant treaties and conventions, such as the BWC and CWC.

Regional organizations have provided a very useful platform for UNSCR 1540 coordination. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), for example, has been instrumental in assisting states in developing NAPs. The success of the OSCE’s 1540 implementation efforts is the result of having established a 1540 Project Team to guide and manage implementation, which has been instrumental in raising awareness, and exploring and implementing concrete proposals for ways the OSCE can facilitate 1540 implementation. The OSCE could continue to support the 1540 Project Team in this manner, and strong regional 1540 efforts in other regional organizations should be implemented or strengthened. By developing partnerships with organizations such as the African Union, the Organization of American States, the League of Arab States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a more efficient process of building capacity, developing best practices, and sharing information can be realized. In addition, there is an important role for regional UNSCR 1540 coordinators. The OSCE benefited from having a person whose sole job was the promotion of UNSCR 1540 obligations within a particular region, and the Caribbean Community has also benefited from having such a regional coordinator.

Another regional effort to promote UNSCR 1540 goals of WMD nonproliferation and combating terrorism comes through regional centers of excellence or training centers. These centers train scientists, engineers, technicians and others in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) security, developing a culture of security that by its very nature promotes the goals of UNSCR 1540. These centers can be an excellent platform for the 1540 Group of Experts to engage and to better understand national and regional needs and requirements. To date, the UNSCR 1540 Committee, through the UNODA, has been an observer at the IAEA Nuclear Security Support Center network, established in 2012.

It should be noted that the European Union (EU) is developing National Action Plans as part of its CBRN Centers of Excellence effort. The EU National Action Plans can complement the UNSCR 1540 National Action Plans. The EU plans will identify prioritized measures to mitigate CBRN risks, identify gaps to address the most important CBRN risks, and elaborate concrete actions to address these gaps.

Promoting Success in UNSCR 1540 Implementation

There are other sectors that will increasingly need to be engaged as countries fulfill their UNSCR 1540 requirements. For example, as highlighted at the African Union UNSCR 1540 conference in December 2013, concerns related to health, education, and post-conflict reconstruction are connected and relevant. Noel Stott, senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies, noted in his presentation “Regional and Sub-regional Coordination: The Role of the Civil Society in the Implementation of Resolution 1540 (2004)” that “Implementation of the obligations of resolution 1540 (2004) must...be located within Africa’s development goals and other socio-economic objectives.”2 In particular, he noted that in addressing UNSCR 1540 issues there is a need and an opportunity to build national capacities in the areas of border management and security, medical laboratories, chemical industries, human and animal health, and agriculture. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. This once again highlights the complexity of UNSCR 1540 implementation in various regions, and therefore the need for regional outreach and coordination.

Engagement with NGOs

Additionally, in the past ten years, the 1540 Committee has recognized that international and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are important in the implementation of UNSCR 1540. Governments cannot do everything in combating WMD proliferation and combating terrorism, and thus it is important that nongovernmental stakeholders continue their engagement. Many NGOs are doing work that directly complements and supports the resolution. In this respect, UNSCR 1977 notes that the 1540 Committee, in doing aspects of its work, can draw on relevant expertise, including civil society and the private sector.

UNODA, in consultation with the UNSCR 1540 Committee and its Group of Experts, has hosted events with civil society to continue to highlight the role NGOs can play in promoting adherence to the resolution at the national, regional, and international levels. For example, in January 2013, civil-society representatives discussed their contributions to national and international efforts to fully implement the key requirements of UNSCR 1540.

A 2013 Stimson Center report titled “Meeting the Objectives of UN Security Council Resolution 1540: The Role of Civil Society” highlighted some of those areas, which include:3 raising awareness and conducting advocacy and outreach; providing legal, policy, technical, and scientific expertise; delivering or facilitating implementation assistance, from specific projects to helping with reporting requirements and development of UNSCR 1540 national action plans; and bringing emerging WMD issues to the attention of the international community and the 1540 Committee and identifying gaps.


The UNSCR 1540 Committee and Group of Experts have made great strides since the resolution was adopted in 2004 in promoting the global effort to combat WMD proliferation and terrorism. The resolution is increasingly serving as an overarching mechanism by which the many tools and mechanisms of WMD nonproliferation can be organized and implemented. This trend will grow as the UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts continues to engage and work with relevant domestic actors as well as regional and international actors, including NGOs. Engaging sectors outside the security sector is important, as what takes place in other sectors impacts the long-term ability of states to fulfill their UNSCR 1540 obligations. Regions benefit greatly from having UNSCR 1540 regional coordinators dedicated to the sole purpose of assisting states in complying with UNSCR 1540 obligations. The UNSCR 1540 Group of Experts should consider methods that will increase the ability of Global Partnership members to inform the UNSCR Committee of projects that are fulfilling specific requests that have been made to the UNSCR 1540 Committee. All of these efforts help move the international community toward universal reporting and full implementation of the resolution by all states.

NAPs, when being developed, involve (or should involve) all relevant stakeholders in an intra-governmental consultative process. Such NAPs should highlight gaps and provide steps for addressing those gaps. The NAP should also identify any assistance needs for that state. NAPs strengthen UNSCR 1540 implementation from the bottom up and can provide valuable information to the UNSCR Group of Experts as it interacts with the various WMD tools and mechanisms. As the European Union develops its National Action Plans, coordinating with the UNSCR 1540 Committee will help ensure the EU and 1540 action plans are complementary.

Awareness, coordination, collaboration, and continuous outreach at the national, regional, and international levels will be helpful to ensure all relevant tools and sectors are included to make UNSCR 1540 implementation universal, effective, and sustainable.


  1. These IOs include the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, INTERPOL, UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit (BWC-ISU), and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).
  2. Statement made at the UNSCR 1540 African Union Regional Meeting, Ethiopia, December 10 – 11, 2013.
  3. Vienna Host the UNSCR 1540 Civil Society Forum. 1540 Compass, Issue 3, University of Georgia, http://cits.uga.edu/publications/compass/issue_http://cits.uga.edu/publications/compass/issue_3.

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