December 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2016
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Non-Proliferation (1540 Committee)

Expected Council Action

In December, the Council is scheduled to hold a high-level debate and may adopt a resolution on the comprehensive review of the implementation of resolution 1540, which seeks to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to non-state actors. Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso María Dastis, is expected to chair the meeting. 

In addition, Ambassador Román Oyarzun Marchesi (Spain), the chair of the 1540 Committee, which monitors implementation of resolution 1540 and has conducted the review, will brief the Council in a joint meeting with the other outgoing chairs of subsidiary bodies (please refer to a separate brief). 

Background and Key Recent Developments

The upcoming debate and expected resolution will bring to conclusion a review process that has been taking place over more than a year and a half. It is the second comprehensive review of resolution 1540 since its adoption in 2004. The findings of the first review were endorsed in resolution 1977, adopted in 2011, in which the Council also extended until 25 April 2021 the mandate of the Committee and decided that it should conduct further reviews before December 2016 as well as prior to the renewal of its mandate. 

The current process was launched on 28 April 2015, when the Committee approved a paper outlining the modalities for the conduct of the review, including timelines and key issues within its four main areas of work, namely monitoring and national implementation; assistance; international cooperation; and outreach and transparency. According to the paper, the review should aim to improve implementation of resolution 1540 by recommending specific actions. It should also analyse the operation of the Committee and make recommendations for adjustments if necessary. On 16 June 2015, Council members issued a press statement to draw attention to the review process and encourage active engagement by member states, international organisations and civil society. 

Over the past year, the comprehensive review has been a key focus of the work of the Committee, its four working groups and its nine-member Group of Experts. The work has involved extensive analysis of the status of implementation as well as consultations and outreach events. Also, at the initiative of Spain, a Group of Friends of Resolution 1540, open to all UN member states, held its inaugural meeting on 27 April in New York. 

In the period since the chair last briefed the Council on 4 May, the Committee held a special meeting in Madrid on 12-13 May with participation from capitals to discuss the preliminary findings of the comprehensive review. This was followed by formal open consultations for all member states and representatives from relevant international organisations and civil society, including industry, held in New York from 20 to 22 June. The purpose of these consultations was for the Committee to share information and afford participants an opportunity to convey views on the comprehensive review for consideration by the Committee as it drafted its report to the Council.

In a related development, the Council on 23 August held an open debate at the initiative of Malaysia on the challenges in addressing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The purpose of the debate, according to the concept note, was to contribute to the 1540 review process by providing an opportunity to discuss relevant issues.

The Committee began discussing the first draft of its report on 27 September. At press time, the Committee seemed close to reaching agreement on the report and its recommendations, but there were still a few outstanding issues. The report will be published as an official UN document following its submission to the Council.   

Key Issues

The overarching issue for the Council is how to respond to the findings of the comprehensive review with a view to improving implementation of resolution 1540, amidst concerns about growing proliferation risks posed by the spread of terrorism and advances in the fields of science, technology and international commerce.

On the central issue of improving implementation, data analysis conducted in preparation of the review found progress in the rate of implementation over the last five years, with a global increase of seven percent in recorded measures taken by states. However, there were significant differences in terms of types of measures (such as legal action to prohibit activities of non-state actors versus export control measures), and there were also significant differences in the rate of implementation relating to the three types of weapons (nuclear, chemical and biological), as well as regional differences.   

Another key issue addressed during the review is the need to improve the Committee’s role in matching requests from states seeking implementation assistance with offers to help. Since the last comprehensive review, the Committee has received 14 requests for assistance and 45 offers. Despite the relatively high number of positive responses, however, there were very few examples of responses that directly addressed a request and had actually resulted in assistance being provided. In this context, there has been a growing focus on enhancing cooperation with international and regional organisations on technical assistance programmes.   

A further key issue has been the importance of intensifying outreach and engagement with member states. An analysis by the Group of Experts of implementation data showed a positive correlation between states’ participation in 1540 resolution-related events and their implementation of the resolution. The value of promoting cooperation with the private sector and civil society has also been part of the discussions. 

Another question that has emerged during the review is whether there is a need to adjust and strengthen the Committee’s administrative support structure to improve its ability to oversee implementation and make better use of existing resources. 


The main option for the Council is to adopt a resolution, as proposed by Spain, endorsing the comprehensive review and deciding on new measures aimed at improving implementation, such as: 

  • requesting the Group of Experts to develop new analytical tools on the basis of the so-called national matrices,  which up until now have functioned as the primary method to organise data on implementation provided by member states, with a view to better address gaps in implementation;
  • mandating the Group of Experts to be more proactive in conducting country visits and encouraging it to prioritise issues and regions of identified risk;
  • requesting the Secretary-General to develop a more efficient support structure for the Committee;
  • encouraging closer cooperation between the Committee and relevant international organisations as well private sector stakeholders; and
  • expressing the Council’s intention to extend the mandate of the 1540 Committee and its Group of Experts indefinitely after the current mandate expires.
Council Dynamics

Although Council members generally agree on the importance of resolution 1540 and the need to enhance its implementation, there are important differences in their priorities and ambitions for the review. Russia and China have consistently said that there is no need for any radical changes, whereas Spain and other Council members, such as the UK and the US, made it clear from the beginning that they wanted a strong outcome. It seems the Committee, therefore, has had a difficult time reaching agreement on the report and in particular on the recommendations. 

Contentious issues in the discussions on the report have included among other things the question of how to address new threats, with the use of chemical weapons in Syria as an important backdrop; how to address gaps in implementation, with some expressing concern about anything that could be perceived as a “naming and shaming” or placing undue burden on small, no-risk countries; whether to mandate the experts to approach countries on their own initiative to propose a visit instead of having to wait for an invitation to be extended; and whether to anticipate the indefinite extension of the mandate of the Committee. 

A further contentious issue was a Spanish proposal to create a new Committee support structure involving the merger of the functions performed by the Office of Disarmament Affairs and the Group of Experts into a new non-proliferation directorate. It seems there was general concern about the budgetary implications of such a proposal, despite assurances that a cost-neutral solution would be possible. In addition, permanent members appeared wary that such a structure would weaken their influence on the work of the Committee. 

At press time, it seemed that one of the final outstanding issues delaying agreement on the report was the question of whether to refer to the work of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism, the body mandated to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, with some P5 members seen as expressing very strong views. 

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution
20 April 2011 S/RES/1977 renewed the mandate of the 1540 committee for 10 years and decided that it should conduct two comprehensive reviews. 
Security Council Meeting Records
23 August 2016 S/PV.7758 was the meeting on proliferation challenges convened by Malaysia.
4 May 2016 S/PV.7686 was the Committee chair’s most recent briefing.
Security Council Press Statement
16 June 2015 SC/11929 was on the comprehensive review.