On Tuesday August 23, 2016, under the Japanese presidency, the Security Council held an open debate under the theme, "Challenges in Addressing Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), their means of delivery and related materials." The dominant themes of the debate were the importance of improving national capabilities and international cooperation to detect, stop and deter the trafficking of illegal weapons, and the need to enhance mechanisms ensuring the safeguard of nuclear weapons and materials. Specifically, all Member States underscored the evolving threat of such weapons falling into the hands of non-State actors and terrorist groups. Claiming the need to implement fully Security Council Resolution 1540 which obligates states to “establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their acquisition by non-state actors,” the representatives of Uruguay and Syria invited all Member States to prevent financing of WMDs’ proliferation. The representatives of Japan, Spain, Uruguay, France, the United Kingdom and the United States were among speakers voicing concern over nuclear weapons tests taken by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea despite Council resolutions and sanctions. Others mentioned the use of chlorine in the conflict in Syria, ahead of the expected release on 24 August of the findings of a joint investigation by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), saying those responsible should be held accountable.
Sadly, the representative of Panama was the only speaker to bring the Council’s attention to the clear link between the proliferation of WMDs, heightened militarism and its negative effect on women's security. Aside from this statement, no mention of gender was made by all speakers including the Secretary-General.
Stating that “the disarmament agenda has stalled in several areas,” Mr. Ban urged the Council to show leadership and develop further initiatives to bring about a world free of weapons of mass destruction. “It is time to refocus seriously on nuclear disarmament,” he said, calling on all parties to embrace a spirit of compromise during the next review cycle of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons beginning in May 2017. On biological weapons, Mr. Ban questioned the international community’s ability to prevent or respond to a biological attack. He also suggested giving a closer look at the nexus between emerging technologies — such as information and communication technologies, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing and synthetic biology — and weapons of mass destruction.
The Council heard from several experts on the issue. Emmanuel Roux, Special Representative of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), described how Al-Qaida, Aum Shinrikyo and other extremist groups had announced their intention — backed by attempts — to develop, acquire and deploy WMDs against civilians. Technology once perceived as sensitive military-grade expertise was now available to broader audiences, he said, adding that a lack of coordination between agencies, ministries and States had created loopholes for terrorists to exploit. Supporting this view, Gregory Koblentz, Director of the Biodefense Graduate Programme at the Schar School of Policy and Government of George Mason University in the United States, drew attention to several new areas of concern, such as the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, 3-D printers and a part of the Internet called the Dark Web.
Kim Won-Soo, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, underscored that Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) had enabled the international community to make advances in addressing the proliferation of WMDs to non-State actors. However, he underscored the lack of collective responsibility to implement this resolution.
The importance of improving national capabilities to detect, stop and deter the trafficking of illegal weapons was one of the main themes of the discussion. In this regard, the representative of Malaysia said that States should strengthen their respective law enforcement and national legislation by enacting effective export and trans-shipment controls. In addition, the representative of Ukraine highlighted that the risk of acquiring WMDs by terrorists stems from poor national legislation and rapid development of technology.
Additionally, the speakers highlighted that achieving a world free of weapons of mass destruction was a collective responsibility. However, there is a lack of “collectiveness” in actions of the international community. The representative of Morocco underscored, in this vein, the need for international cooperation and greater collaboration to help States increase their capacities, particularly those in Africa. The representative of Netherlands also highlighted collaboration within and across governments must be enhanced, with industry and civil society equally essential to such efforts.
Expressing their concerns around the potential use of new technologies (i.e.: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)) by non-state actors, the speakers advocated for the peaceful use of related technologies. The representative of Algeria urged States to fulfil their disarmament commitments and allow equitable access for the peaceful use of related technologies. Professor Gregory Koblentz, in this vein, suggested that drones could be used by border security to detect such weapons, while biometrics and radio frequency identity chips could help improve security and inventory control.
As it is clear from the analysis, national ambitions for control of territory, markets and populations will continue to be a serious threat. It is in the hands of political actors – nation states, alliances of states, non-state militias – that weapons systems do their deadly work. Disarmament and non-proliferation instruments are only as successful as Member States’ capacity and desire to implement them.
Out of nearly 70 statements delivered, only the representative of Panama highlighted the role of women in disarmament efforts. Highlighting that the nuclear deterrent strategy is a myth and noting that women and children are most often affected by radioactive exposure due to their vulnerability in conflict, she invited Member States to look at women not only as victims but also as valuable actors in decision-making processes when it relates to disarmament. In addition, four speakers (5.7%) referred to the suffering of civilians as a result of the proliferation of WMDs. The representative of the United States, for example, claimed that the Assad regime in Syria had repeatedly used chlorine against the Syrian people, and it appeared that such attacks were continuing. In response, the representative of Syria claimed serious violations of resolution 1540 (2004) by Arab countries and other States since they allegedly assist terrorist groups in acquiring chemical weapons that are used against civilians and the military.
Concerning disarmament and demilitarisation, the biggest challenge of dismantling the world’s nuclear weapons remains. Moreover, as it is seen from the current discussions, new military technologies are on the horizon. Armed with bombs and missiles, UAVs already killed many civilians, including women and children. Biological and chemical warfare may have been outlawed, but there is no clear-cut guarantee that these weapons have been destroyed. This world that depends on weapons, and on WMDs, is not changing. Domination of states, imperialist projects, inter-state rivalry, occupation, and contested borders affect the current disarmament efforts as they relate to the WMDs. As this debate demonstrates, there is no place for gender-sensitive view in this “exclusive” process.