The independent resource on global security

11. Arms control and the non-proliferation process



I. Introduction

II. Developments in arms control and non-proliferation in 2004

III. The United Nations and multilateral arms control

IV. Conclusions


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The use of force to compel Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions intended to prevent illegal nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapon programmes as well as missile delivery systems for such weapons was deeply divisive. The military action and its aftermath underlined that a stable and peaceful international order requires effective controls on NBC weapons. A failure to establish effective controls through negotiation could lead to further conflict in the future. There is also a need to establish controls on other types of weapon and on dangerous and sensitive materials, and to regulate the behaviour of both state and non-state actors.


For almost a decade there has been little progress in multilateral arms control in general, and some processes have suffered severe setbacks. A number of cases have come to light in which states violated their obligations under arms control treaties, which undermined confidence in the value of global arms control agreements as instruments for security building. In these conditions states have tended not to consider global measures first when contemplating how to make progress in solving particular problems. Instead, efforts to achieve the objectives of arms control have been carried forward mainly through informal political cooperation among limited groups of states or through regional processes. However, after a period in which arms control has been perceived as an issue of low political salience, in 2004 some new international efforts were made to strengthen global processes as part of an emerging mosaic of arms control measures.


In April 2004 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1540, affirming its resolve to take appropriate and effective action against any threat to international peace and security caused by the proliferation of NBC weapons and their means of delivery. Adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the resolution instructed UN member states to adopt and enforce appropriate and effective laws prohibiting any non-state actor from manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, developing, transporting, transferring or using NBC weapons and their means of delivery, in particular for terrorist purposes, as well as attempts to engage in any of the foregoing activities, participate in them as an accomplice, assist or finance them. The resolution also instructed states to take and enforce effective measures to establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of NBC weapons and their means of delivery. Such measures were to include an inventory and accounting of proliferation-sensitive items, the physical protection of such items and effective measures to prevent illicit trafficking in them. Furthermore, states were instructed to put in place modern and effective national laws controlling export and trans-shipment of proliferation-sensitive items, and to establish and enforce appropriate criminal or civil penalties for violations of such laws.


In December 2004 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan released the report of the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which highlighted the urgent need to establish effective controls on nuclear weapons and nuclear materials that can be used to make them as well as the pressing need for effective measures to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. Responding to the panel findings, the Secretary-General put forward his view that the global nuclear non-proliferation regime was in a precarious state and argued for urgent action on the recommendations contained in the report.



Appendix 11A. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540

Appendix 11A contains UN Security Council Resolution 1540. [PDF]

Dr Ian Anthony