posted on Wed 17 Jan 2018 2:21 PM
Briefing: Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Tomorrow (18 January), the Security Council is holding a high-level briefing on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction focused on confidence-building measures. President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan will preside. Secretary-General António Guterres will brief, and Council members are expected to make statements following the briefing. At press time, President Andrzej Duda of Poland was also expected to participate in the meeting, while at least four other members were expected to be represented at the ministerial level.

The meeting is one of the signature events of Kazakhstan’s presidency. In a January 2017 policy statement, Nazarbayev stated that a priority of his country’s Council tenure would be “to help ensure humankind’s survival through a world free of nuclear weapons”, while referring to Kazakhstan’s decision to give up its nuclear weapons after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan has circulated a concept note in preparation for the briefing in which it posits that confidence-building measures in relation to weapons of mass destruction can help to resolve regional conflicts, noting that “these weapons raise the stakes or exacerbate conflicts”. In large part, the note frames the briefing in the context of prevention, emphasising the importance of dialogue, diplomacy and confidence-building measures. It refers to treaties, joint projects, and no-first-use pledges as examples of confidence-building measures.

The concept note further emphasises that there is a “need to evolve new strategies on the basis of a harmonious combination of interests of all UN Member States, [and] to elaborate [a] unified approach for cooperation in certain specific areas, including improved dialogue between nuclear and non-nuclear States”. Along these lines, it says that the meeting will be focused on formulating:

  • recommendations linking conflict prevention, non-proliferation and confidence-building measures;
  • confidence-building measures that strengthen the non-proliferation regime and improve the implementation of resolution 1540 on weapons of mass destruction;
  • political measures to do away with incentives related to possessing weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems; and
  • confidence-building measures as part of a non-proliferation process in which member states make specific relevant commitments.

The Secretary-General is expected to discuss measures that the Council and the wider UN membership can pursue to facilitate political settlements to conflicts related to weapons of mass destruction. He is further expected to address how the UN system can implement confidence-building measures with regard to non-proliferation. In an address to the General Assembly yesterday, Guterres said that “global anxieties about nuclear weapons are the highest since the Cold War”.

Members will most likely use the opportunity tomorrow to emphasise the importance of maintaining the international architecture and norms related to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Members may underscore the need to uphold resolutions, treaties and conventions undergirding efforts to counteract the threat of these weapons. In this sense, there may be references to the importance of compliance with resolution 1540, which aims to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical and biological—to non-state actors, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the biological weapons convention, and the chemical weapons convention. Some members will most likely refer to the country-specific cases on the Council’s agenda in which the use or threat of weapons of mass destruction remains an ongoing concern, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran and Syria.

Tomorrow’s briefing builds on the Council’s recent work on non-proliferation. At the thematic level over the past two years, this has included: an open debate on 23 August 2016 on the “challenges in addressing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery, and related material” (S/PV.7758) at the initiative of Malaysia; the adoption of resolution 2310 on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament on 23 September 2016; an open debate at the initiative of Bolivia on 28 June 2017 on “the global effort to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by non-state actors” (S.PV.7985); and a ministerial-level briefing on 21 September 2017 at the initiative of the US on the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems (S/PV.8053).

The Council continues to engage actively in addressing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in country-specific cases. It has strengthened and expanded sanctions against the DPRK in the past two years in response to activities related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs through the unanimous adoption of five resolutions: S/RES/2270 (2 March 2016), S/RES/2356 (2 June 2017), S/RES/2371 (5 August 2017), S/RES/2375 (11 September 2017), and S/RES/2397 (22 December 2017). In spite of the strengthening of sanctions over the years, the DPRK has continued to develop its nuclear capabilities and ballistic missiles in violation of the resolutions. The recent efforts to relaunch inter-Korea dialogue, the reopening of the hotline between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK, and Pyongyang’s decision to participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics could be cited by some members as an opportunity to explore confidence-building measures with the DPRK.

The Council continues to meet semi-annually on the implementation of resolution 2231, adopted on 20 July 2015, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. Some members might refer to the painstaking multilateral negotiations that led to the JCPOA and the importance of maintaining the agreement in light of criticism of the JCPOA by the current US administration.

Despite the failure to renew the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN in November 2017, the Council continues to receive information regarding the chemical weapons dossier on Syria. Some members could use the opportunity to raise the possibility of developing a process by which the Council could begin to discuss a mechanism to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria to replace the JIM.

While no formal Council outcome is expected during tomorrow’s meeting, it is anticipated that Kazakhstan will produce a chair’s summary to capture the key themes of the meeting.