UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection

December 10, 2020

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The UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection examines implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in all participating countries, by region.

Introduction to the UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection

In April 2004, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1540 (UNSCR 1540), which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD), related materials, and their means of delivery. [1] The resolution, adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, is legally binding on all UN member states. In April 2011, the Security Council extended the mandate of UNSCR 1540 for 10 years. [2]

The resolution covers a wide range of measures, including: export and border controls, nuclear security and physical protection, and prevention of terrorism financing. UNSCR 1540 also calls on states to cooperate in preventing the illicit trafficking of WMD and related materials, and to provide assistance to states that lack the capacity to implement the resolution. The 1540 Committee was established under the Security Council to monitor and promote implementation of these national legal measures, and states were required to submit a report on their implementation efforts to this committee. Along with collecting and reviewing national reports, the 1540 Committee has also created matrices to present a fuller picture of the status of implementation in all states that have submitted their mandated 1540 reports.

The NTI UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection provides information on the implementation of the resolution above and beyond that of the 1540 Committee, whose reporting is restricted in scope by its mandate. The additional information presented in this collection includes: a brief description of national capabilities related to current or prior possession of WMD; domestic industries and facilities that may contribute to the production of WMD; illicit trafficking cases and enforcement activities; and incidents of terrorism and/or presence of terrorist groups. Since measures to prevent the spread of WMD and related materials and technologies can only be as effective as the capability and willingness of the relevant national authorities to enforce them, a significant factor limiting the effectiveness of such measures is the degree of corruption (indicative of the likelihood that authorities may contribute to proliferation or trafficking activities even when nonproliferation laws are in place), as measured by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Thus each country summary also includes its Corruption Perceptions ranking.

The roles that states may play in the proliferation of WMD vary widely. Some states have the potential to serve as a source of WMD or the materials to manufacture them. Others may serve as transit routes for such materials or technologies, or as illicit financial hubs. The varied nonproliferation challenges faced by states in each region and their capacities to deal with these challenges have a significant impact on efforts to implement UNSCR 1540. Therefore, certain security issues facing states in each region are identified here to provide some indication of the aspects of the resolution that may be an implementation priority.


The threat of non-state actors acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical weapons became a growing concern for the international community after the end of the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 heightened these concerns, as information emerged about the ambitions of certain terrorist organizations to acquire and use WMD. [3] Additionally, revelations about the A.Q. Khan nuclear trafficking network in 2004 highlighted the need to counter illicit trafficking activities. [4] To counter these types of proliferation networks and provide support for counter-proliferation efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries put forward what was to become UNSCR 1540, and urged the UN Security Council to take action to halt the illicit trade in WMD-related materials.

The UN Security Council adopted UNSCR 1540 on 28 April 2004. By taking the extraordinary step of adopting the resolution under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which addresses “threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression,” the Security Council highlighted the growing threat to international security posed by WMD proliferation. Decisions adopted under Chapter VII are binding upon all member states and override other international obligations. [5]

Under UNSCR 1540, the Security Council recognizes “the need to enhance coordination of efforts on national, sub-regional, regional and international levels in order to strengthen a global response to this… threat to international security.” [6] In order to meet the goals of the resolution, UNSCR 1540 mandates all UN member states to:

  • adopt measures that criminalize WMD proliferation;
  • enact effective export and other controls (including financial, transit, transshipment and brokering controls);
  • and secure sensitive materials.

The resolution further calls upon states to promote dialogue and cooperation on nonproliferation, and to take cooperative action to prevent illegal trafficking.

Reporting and the 1540 Committee

The 1540 Committee comprises representatives from each member of the Security Council along with outside experts tasked by the United Nations to aid the Committee in its work. The Committee’s main objective is to collect and review national reports, to undertake outreach to member states, and to assist with capacity building.

UNSCR 1540 requires states to submit detailed reports on the status of their controls relevant to the resolution. Most countries submitted national reports by 2006, with many providing supplemental reports about their progress in implementing the resolution in subsequent years.

The Committee conducts reviews of these reports is to identify where governments have overlooked proliferation loopholes in their national statutes, border controls, and export control systems. Although many states (particularly those with established export control systems) have provided lengthy reports with extensive details of their domestic framework, other states, and particularly developing economies, have provided much less detail and simply indicated their support for the resolution.

The 1540 Committee website lists 184 states that have submitted national implementation reports. The European Union, a non-UN-member entity, has also submitted an implementation report, as of December 2020. The 1540 Committee website also maintains a list of countries that have requested assistance and a list of countries that have offered assistance through the committee. In order to better facilitate assistance and offers, it is also important for member states to identify points of contact. 128 member states have identified points of contact and 47 have extended offers of assistance. [7]

Continuing Issues and New Challenges

Successfully implementing UNSCR 1540 poses a number of ongoing challenges for the international community. Many developing economies continue to see UNSCR 1540 as an “unfunded mandate,” since an obligation was created without concrete provisions to directly assist states in implementing the resolution’s requirements. [8] This view persists despite the fact that a number of the major supporters of the resolution (including the United States, the European Union, and Japan) have actively offered assistance. Many developing states also fear that implementing the types of export controls required by UNSCR 1540 will smother their nascent industries. Supporters of the resolution, however, counter that well-designed export controls laws do not hinder trade and investment. [9]

Several countries, particularly those who were not involved with negotiating UNSCR 1540, have questioned whether a UN resolution should address issues that have traditionally been covered by the three main treaties of the nonproliferation regime — the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BTWC). Supporters of UNSCR 1540 note these treaties do not directly regulate non-state actor behavior and the requirements outlined in them leave substantial gaps in the overall regime. Supporters of UNSCR 1540 contend that the resolution complements rather than conflicts with the existing treaties. For example, then Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter provided a briefing to the 1540 Committee in which he emphasized that improvements in measures to implement the CWC are occurring in parallel with the complementary requirements laid down in UNSCR 1540, which are binding on all UN member states, including states that have not ratified the CWC.

While UNSCR 1540 shows the resolve of some states to stop the proliferation of WMD to non-state actors, its provisions will require much cooperation by states in order to be effective. The UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection aims to assist states in implementing the resolution by providing relevant regional and national information in one place.

[1] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1540, 28 April 2004, www.undocs.org.
[2] United Nations, “Security Council Extends Mandate of 1540 Committee 10 Years, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 1977″ (2011), 20 April 2011, www.un.org.
[3] Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, “Al Qaeda’s Pursuit of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Policy, 25 January 2010, www.foreignpolicy.com.
[4] William J. Broad, David E. Sanger, Raymond Bonner, “A Tale of Nuclear Proliferation: How Pakistani Built His Network,” The New York Times, 12 February 2004, www.nytimes.com.
[5] United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, 24 October 1945, www.un.org.
[6] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1540, 28 April 2004, www.undocs.org.
[7] United Nations 1540 Committee, National Reports, www.un.org, accessed 8 December 2020.
[8] WMD Insights, “UN Security Council Resolution 1540 Part II: The Caribbean States: A Case Study,” August 2008, www.wmdinsights.com, retrieved from Web Archive.
[9] The Stanley Foundation, “Policy Analysis Brief, 1540 In Practice: Challenges and Opportunities for Southeast Asia,” May 2011, www.stanleyfoundation.org.
[10] Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, “OPCW Director-General Briefs U.N. Security Council’s 1540 Committee,” 18 April 2005, www.opcw.org.

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