WMD, Small Arms and Landmine Issues at Core of Advisory Board Report

           In the introduction to the report of the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters quoted below, its Chairman, Harald Müller, discusses the Board’s recommendations to the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. The full report is contained in DDA Occasional Paper No. 8 entitled “Multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation regimes and the role of the United Nations: an evaluation.”

             “In response to a request by the Secretary-General, the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters devoted most of its sessions in 2004 to the formulation of recommendations to the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change on issues related to weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, small arms and light weapons, and landmines, as well as how to strengthen the role of the United Nations in those fields. After intensive deliberations, the Board produced a content-rich report. Besides contributing to the work of the High-Level Panel, the document stands on its own as a blueprint on how to tackle the double danger of the spread of dangerous weapons among nation-states and to non-state actors.

             This report demonstrates the capability of good-willed representatives of the international community to tackle difficult and controversial issues. It proves the immensely cooperative and positive spirit among the Board members in their work, and the energy they have devoted to producing useful advice for the Secretary-General. As chairman, I feel humble and much obliged to my fellow members for enabling me to submit this report which, we all hope, will assist the Secretary-General in tackling the demanding and difficult tasks ahead. It goes without saying that, given the sensitivity of the issues covered and their intimate relationship to the national security of states, not every member can subscribe to every conclusion and recommendation in this report. It has to be emphasized, however, that most of the content of the document rests on consensus, and other elements on near-consensus among Board members.

             It is impossible in a brief introduction to do justice to the wealth of ideas contained in the report. A few highlights must suffice to stimulate the reader's interest. In the case of a withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the report calls for an emergency meeting of States Parties to the Treaty, with a view to agreeing on a common response and to making recommendations to the Security Council to redress the situation. It recommends a five-year moratorium for the construction of new nuclear fuel cycle facilities. It envisages further reduction and eventual elimination of non-strategic nuclear weapons which present the highest risk in the light of non-state actors’ threats. It urges the prompt start of negotiations for a verifiable treaty to cut off the production of fissile material for weapons purposes. A convention to ban radiological weapons and warfare is also recommended, as are measures to prevent radiological material from falling into the hands of terrorists.            

            The Board emphasizes the necessity to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention and sees the need for enhancing cooperation between all relevant international organizations, notably the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). In the context of both biological and chemical weapons, national measures to prevent access by non-state actors to weapons and related materials are seen as the most important task ahead.

             On missiles, the report records some possibility of promoting a universal development of binding norms while recognizing specific conditions in various regions. It emphasizes the urgency of effective means to deal with man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), a particularly dangerous instrument to civil aviation in the hands of terrorists. The report underlines the intimate relationship between regulation of the legal possession of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and the risk of their uncontrolled spread, as the objects of main concern, SALW in illegal trade, quite frequently originate in the legal realm. A legally-binding instrument for marking and tracing SALW is thus of particular importance to sever this link. In addition, the report pleads for a prohibition of any transfer of SALW to non-state actors and for the inclusion in all post-conflict disarmament processes of combined efforts for addressing the SALW problem and reconciliation simultaneously.  

            The document recognizes the different approaches to landmine problems by Parties and non-Parties to the Mine-Ban Convention (Ottawa Convention). It invites the Ottawa community to address the problem of anti-vehicle mines promptly, and urges the universality of the Ottawa Convention and the Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.  

            Considerable attention was devoted to export controls, an item highlighted by Security Council resolution 1540 that has made certain commitments by States Parties to the various WMD non-proliferation and disarmament treaties, as well as the related supplier regimes, universally obligatory. The report recommends some steps to narrow the gap between participants and non-participants of supplier regimes. Most prominent among these recommendations is the suggestion to establish open-ended working groups to disseminate information on legal and technical issues. In a bold move, the report invites all United Nations Member States to support the Proliferation Security Initiative, the effort of a group of states to stop shipments of dangerous materials and technology that are already beyond the reach of export control agencies. The transformation of this initiative launched by a small group of states into a regular multilateral instrument is regarded as highly desirable.  

            The report recognizes the need to offer assistance to developing countries by states and group of states in a position to do so. Capacity-building is one of the most important and effective tools for preventing the proliferation of dangerous weapons. Gone are the times where the proliferation problem resided in technology transfer from North to South. The spread of technological and industrial capability has the downside of presenting new dangers, and help from more experienced to less experienced states on how to cope with this danger is an indispensable part of the overall effort of the international community to stem the proliferation of dangerous weapons, particularly to non-state actors.

            The gravest and most consequential considerations concerned the role of the United Nations, the Security Council in particular, notably in crises concerning weapons of mass destruction. The report recognizes the role of the multilateral regimes as the first line of defence against the risks of proliferation to states and non-state actors, and the pivotal function of the Council as enforcer of these regimes. Concluding from past experiences, the report judges that independent technical expertise must be available to the Council since national assessments are not sufficient to establish a clear and unequivocal picture on which to base sound political judgment. The core of such a technical capability could be located in the United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs, which would have a broad roster of experts to draw upon. The report advises taking the views of the states of regions concerned into account whenever the Council has to decide on how to deal with a WMD crisis in the future. 

            The report recognizes the need for the Council to fill in the void if a clear and present danger exists for which the international community has not yet devised multilateral, binding measures. The Council must use this authority with circumspection and prudence. The report proposes to add a "sunset clause" to all measures taken in this way, i.e., to revisit them after an appropriate time span.”