Security Council Open Debate on Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, June 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Security Council open debate under the theme, “the Global Effort to Prevent the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) by Non-State Actors” was convened by the Council’s current president, Bolivia, on 28 June 2017. Guided by the concept note circulated prior the meeting, the debate was primarily focused on the current progress in the implementation of UNSCR 1540 (2004), as well as relevant challenges and lessons learned. The speakers have challenged the existing ways in which the current international non-proliferation framework prevents non-state actors - particularly terrorists - from acquiring weapons of mass destruction in light of increased globalisation, cross-border trade and technological advances. In this vein, the participants called for strengthening local, national and international legal and technical capacity for accountability and non-proliferation through effective financing and fulfilling extra-territorial obligations, for enhanced cooperation, including with civil society, and for full and permanent disarmament, expressing their support for the ongoing negotiations around the nuclear ban treaty. While many delegates pointed out at the growing nature of militarisation, they failed to acknowledge the gendered impact of WMDs that constitutes itself through strengthening patriarchal and militarised thinking and women’s lack of access to state security.

General Analysis 

The meeting was the third open debate on non-proliferation of WMDs in less than a year, reflecting the international community’s heightened concern about the risk of obtaining WMDs by non-state actors, including by exploiting existing loopholes to access the technology. According to Joseph Ballard, Senior Officer from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), “the use of weapons of mass destruction by non-state actors is not longer a threat but a chilling reality”. Ballard also highlighted the emerging nexus between technology - e-commerce, 3-D printing, social media - and WMDs. Indeed, sophisticated procurement networks, such as the dark web, make concealment of illicit trafficking easier, and ultimately circumvent national and international controls. Meanwhile, some speakers, including Pakistan, South Africa and Guatemala, advocated in support for peaceful uses of nuclear energy and other dual-use technologies.

 The necessity for Member States to intensify and recalibrate their efforts to implement UNSCRs 1540 and 2325 was one of the main themes of the discussion. While many expressed their pride for the accomplishments delivered through the reports to the 1540 Committee, the representative of Morocco mentioned that these reports constitute “a declaration of intent” rather than a sufficient monitoring mechanism. The debate demonstrated that the implementation capacity of Member States differs significantly, which can play a positive role for non-state actors who attempt to acquire WMDs. While some representatives highlighted the need to strengthening partnerships for the implementation and strengthening national legislations, others called for technical assistance from Committee 1540 and other Member States as a way to enhance capacity-building.

While the prevention of non-State actors from acquiring dual-use materials, equipment and technologies is of critical importance to maintaining the global norm against the use of chemical weapons and in favour of international peace and security, prosecuting all those responsible for supporting terrorist actions was stressed by Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, among others. Despite the gains made over the last decade, increased cooperation among security agencies, including the sharing of information, was seen as vital to overcoming remaining challenges.

However, prosecution of those accountable for the use of WMDs, whether state or non-states actors, is not always an easy task when the opinions of Member States, especially those of Permanent UNSC Members, differ significantly. While the majority of speakers expressed concerns over reports that chemical weapons have been used in Iraq and Syria and the potential for the use of nuclear weapons by the DPRK, the representative of Syria suggested that the responsibility for chemical threat lies with those who delivered sarin to non-state actors in the Middle East, and the representative of the DPRK declared that it is not going to use its nuclear arsenal unless it is attacked by foreign powers. 

Countries in Focus:

The re-emergence of chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq was among the most pressing issues during the debate. Voicing the support for the efforts by the OPCW Fact Finding Mechanism in Syria and the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to bring the perpetrators of the use of such weapons in Khan Shaykoun to justice, the speakers urged similar investigations in Iraq. The representative of Russia has also confirmed that his country would continue to conduct impartial investigations into the allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, demonstrating the lack of consensus in the Council.  

 The representative of the United States underlined the need for greater controls over chemical materials, highlighting that the use of chemical weapons by the Government of Syria was “troubling” and urging all States to increase pressure to make President Bashar al-Assad stop. Rejecting allegations that its military forces had used chemical weapons, the representative of Syria said his country had constantly warned the Security Council about the danger of terrorist groups acquiring weapons of mass destruction and had clearly identified the countries supplying them.

Gender Analysis

Of the 64 statements delivered at the debate, none of the speakers addressed issues relevant to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. The dialogue on moving money away from militarisation and securitisation, by allocating funding to the United Nations Trust Fund for Global and Regional Disarmament Activities, and towards the collaboration with civil society organisations is encouraging. It is however concerning that themes, such as women's participation, implementation and women’s critical role on disarmament, were absent from the meeting.

It is integral to recognise that actions directed at designing and implementing non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction resolutions need to be more gender sensitive. The ongoing international non-proliferation initiatives need to recognise the specific effects that weapons of mass destruction have on women. WMDs are themselves loaded with symbolism -- of potency, protection and the power to “deter” through material “strength”. For many, such symbolism obscures the real point of the existence of these arms -- to destroy -- and their horrendous effects. Women are still not recognised as relevant actors in disarmament, even though they have always been at the forefront of the anti-nuclear resistance since the beginning of the nuclear age. The role of women is also recognised by the UN General Assembly in 2010 and the 2015 UNSCR1325 Global Study. Yet, the UNSC is far from recognising effects of WMDs on women and the value of their agency in disarmament.

Concluding remarks

As another Security Council Open Debate on the non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction has shown, the world’s current security environment is shifting towards alarming trends, but the global security architecture dealing with its increasing threats is not evolving with it. Women and children remain the first victims of the perpetuance of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - especially by non-state actors - as the patriarchal militarisation of societies directly affects women's lives and survival. An increase in political and financial support for national and regional platforms enabling women civil society’s meaningful participation in disarmament decision-making is urgent in order to balance the current gender-blind security framework. Moreover, the combat against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction requires greater outreach to civil society members, and women’s groups in particular, as governments must ensure that disarmament decisions are addressed from multiple angles to best prevent proliferation.


The Meeting Record is available here.


Concept note on the Open Debate on Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction