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Publications:  IALANA News March 2005 - Online Edition

The U.S. Report on UNSC 1540: Dubious Progress
Elizabeth Shafer, J.D., Board Member, LCNP

In September 2004 the U.S. issued its report on progress in its efforts to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540. The resolution, proposed by the U.S. and adopted in April 2004, requires States to prohibit and criminalize the possession, transfer, and use, by non-state actors, of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons, and to adopt measures to prevent or control the transit and transfer of such weapons, delivery systems and related materials.

There was initial resistance by some Security Council members to support the draft resolution on the grounds that NBC proliferation, including to non-State actors, could not be adequately prevented without progress on comprehensive prohibition and disarmament. As a result, text was added to the resolution “encouraging all Member States to implement fully the disarmament treaties and agreements to which they are party” and calling on States to “adopt national rules and regulations, where it has not yet been done, to ensure compliance with their commitments under the key multilateral nonproliferation treaties;” (which includes the disarmament obligation in the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty).

The U.S. 1540 Report, however, reflects the current administration focus against terrorism and horizontal proliferation (the spread of NBC weapons and related materials to countries not in possession of them) and lack of steps to reverse vertical proliferation (in particular the continued possession and development of nuclear weapons and related materials by the nuclear weapon states). The US report ignores the disarmament provisions in the resolution and can only be viewed as limited, incremental and of minimal effectiveness. On the other hand, the US has developed sophisticated mechanisms for control of materials which, although designed for nonproliferation, could have potential use in the development and promotion of disarmament steps.

For example, the US reported on radiation detection equipment and nonintrusive inspection imaging technology which it has developed for screening containers. Such equipment could complement International Atomic Energy Agency methods for verifying a fissile material cut-off treaty. The US also reports on its accounting of nuclear warheads, information which would be useful for an international inventory of nuclear weapons – a key precursor to comprehensive nuclear disarmament agreements.

The US report to the 1540 Committee is of much greater detail and interest than the US reports to the NPT Review Conferences, as are most other country reports. As such, perhaps the NPT Review Conferences could make further progress on the consideration of verification and control measures for disarmament if they use the information from the 1540 reports.

The US Report goes into considerable detail about the mechanisms the US has developed and implemented to control fissile materials, bio-toxins and chemical precursors. These include , for example, cooperative agreements between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, to enhance capabilities for early detection, reporting, and response to infectious disease threats related to bio-terrorism (U.S. Report, p. 18). Another example is the container Security Initiative, involving cooperation with the governments of twenty foreign ports to implement detailed screening procedures in order to address the threat of containerized shipping concealing NBC weapons (Ibid., p. 16). In general it would seem that such U.S. efforts are cooperative, transnational ones involving international public health and safety. Other States may be able to adopt or join some of these. Collectively such measures will have some positive effect in preventing proliferation of NBC weapons and related materials.

However, so long as the NWS retain stockpiles of nuclear weapons and related materials, there is the potential for non- State actors and additional States to acquire nuclear materials and develop nuclear weapons. In the case of non-State actors there is even the possibility of stealing warheads or infiltrating nuclear control systems in order to acquire control over nuclear weapons. In the case of proliferation to States, the continued possession of nuclear weapons by some States provides a stimulus to others to acquire them in response.

Thus, as Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg, the UN ambassador for Brazil said, “limiting the resolution to the question of nonproliferation as the overriding threat was inadequate. At the same time, disarmament must be pursued in good faith. Without such a comprehensive approach, all efforts to make the world safer were bound to fall short.” (UN Security Council Press Release SC/8076, Security Council decides all States shall act to prevent proliferation of mass destruction weapons. 28 April 2004, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/ 2004/sc8076.doc.htm)

The basic problem in the U.S. approach, therefore, is its total disregard of its disarmament obligations, (notwithstanding the lip-service paid to disarmament in its report). Regarding the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) the U.S statement that it “actively and strongly promotes universal adoption, full implementation, and strengthening of the NPT” is at best disingenuous. Its statement that “(t)he United States abides by all of its NPT obligations and participates fully in the NPT review process” is patently false. The reality is that for the past thirty-seven years, since signing the NPT in 1968, the U.S. has evaded its obligation under Article VI of the NPT, to undertake “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The mandatory nature of these legal obligations was underscored by the International Court of Justice, in its 1996 Advisory Opinion, that “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

There are similar, if less glaring, inconsistencies between the glowing statements in the U.S. report of continued progress in its support and promotion of multinational treaties such as the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (BWC); and its history of delays and obstructions regarding them.

In introducing the resolution, one of the key aims of the US was to increase participation of other States in cooperative counter-proliferation efforts led by the US. While this may occur to some degree, it will be limited by a growing dissatisfaction by States with US antipathy towards multilateral mechanisms to deal with these issues. The US, for example, has walked away from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, blocked negotiations for a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, blocked negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, stalled negotiations of the Draft Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and refused to join the International Criminal Court.

In addition, the lack of credibility in the U.S. rationale for invading Iraq (illusory Weapons of Mass Destruction) and U.S. denials of links between official policies and the torture of prisoners by American soldiers in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib-- as documented by Seymour Hersh in Chain of Command (HarperCollins, 2004), has further eroded the international reputation of the U.S., whether this concerns issues of security or human rights.

Thus, vis-a-vis the U.S. and UNSC 1540, it would seem that any positive future role for the U.S. in the field of nonproliferation would begin with its turning toward an approach of genuine cooperation and respect for multilateral treaties. Such action could eventually lead toward an international resumption of credibility in the integrity of the U.S., and progress on U.S. policy could be measured in its change from incremental steps on nonproliferation to a multilateral, comprehensive approach to nuclear disarmament.

Documents and contacts:

US Report to the UN Security Council 1540 Committee

NGO Information on Security Council Resolution 1540

UN Security Council Resolution 1540
http://disarmament2.un.org/Committee 1540/Res1540(E).pdf

UN Security Council 1540 Committee
http://disarmament2.un.org/Committee 1540/index.html


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