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UN: Members Struggle With Nonproliferation Measure

(Archive) A U.S. initiative to block the spread of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons to terrorist groups is facing tough scrutiny from UN member states concerned that the UN Security Council is trying to legislate on global arms control. States representing more than one-quarter of the UN membership spoke about the proposed nonproliferation resolution at an open debate yesterday in the council. They shared widespread concern about the transfer of weapons of mass destruction to nonstate actors, but some also called the U.S. resolution too intrusive.

United Nations, 23 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council is close to voting on a measure that would require all states to toughen efforts to control the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

But the resolution, first mentioned by U.S. President George W. Bush last autumn, has attracted criticism from a number of UN member states worried that the Security Council is over-reaching its authority.

Representatives of more than 50 states addressed the resolution at a council meeting yesterday. A number of them called for narrowing the scope of the resolution to make its recommendations less coercive.

U.S. officials want the resolution to fill in a gap in a system of treaties and other agreements regulating the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The U.S. deputy UN ambassador, James Cunningham, said the measure is not about enforcement. He said it invokes Chapter 7 of the UN's charter -- which authorizes the use of force or sanctions in special circumstances -- to send a message about how the Security Council views the threat to international peace and security.

Cunningham said groups such as Al-Qaeda clearly intend to use weapons of mass destruction and there is an urgent need to cut off their access to such technologies. "The international community has also become aware of the existence of sophisticated, international black-market efforts to buy and sell the plans, technologies, and the materials required to build these weapons, making them available to the highest bidder," he said. "Thus, the threat the Security Council [is] addressing is both clear and present."

"The Security Council, where five states which retain nuclear weapons also possess the right to veto any action, is not the most appropriate body to be entrusted with the authority for oversight over nonproliferation or nuclear disarmament." -- Pakistan's UN ambassador.
The five permanent members of the Security Council, the world's first nuclear powers, agreed on the resolution last month after six months of negotiation. The current draft calls for all states to adopt and enforce laws to prevent any nonstate actor from manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, developing, or transferring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. It also calls on states to maintain effective border and export controls to block the shipment of such items.

But states such as nonpermanent council member Pakistan are concerned the resolution could be used in the future to impose sanctions or use force against governments, rather than nonstate actors as originally intended. Pakistan recently admitted that the father of its nuclear-weapons program was involved in an international network that sold nuclear parts to North Korea and Libya. But it stresses it now has control of its nuclear assets, sites, and material.

Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, said that the threat posed by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among nonstate actors was not imminent. Existing treaties, he said, already prescribe legislation that would deal with the threat. "The Security Council, where five states which retain nuclear weapons also possess the right to veto any action, is not the most appropriate body to be entrusted with the authority for oversight over nonproliferation or nuclear disarmament," he said.

The proposed resolution has also raised alarm in India, which, like Pakistan, is a nuclear power that is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. An Indian envoy, Vijay Nambiar, said his government was worried by what he called a recent council tendency to assume wider powers of legislation on behalf of the international community. He said limitations so far in carrying out the counterterrorism resolution -- Resolution 1373 -- showed the need for the council to build international consensus before approving sweeping new measures.

Iran's deputy UN ambassador, Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, raised concern that the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would impede international cooperation in technology for peaceful purposes. He called for such a provision safeguarding such cooperation to be included in the resolution. “The issues covered by the resolution are extremely important and highly controversial,” he said. “Comprehensive consultations between co-sponsors and interested states not only are desirable but also are imperative. Let's not miss this solemn opportunity. Let's not substitute it with a hasty and inconclusive process.”

Iran is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but has recently admitted to developing a range of nuclear capabilities. It is currently under scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

German Ambassador Guenter Pleuger said his country supports the resolution but was still seeking improvements. He stressed that the multilateral treaty system should provide the basis for all nonproliferation efforts. "We must not forget that this multilateral treaty regime retains its full validity and relevance, that it is the core instrument for the preservation of international peace and security," he said.

The IAEA helps monitor compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which includes all countries except for Pakistan, India, and Israel. North Korea recently removed itself from the treaty.

The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons helps implement the provisions of the chemical weapons convention, which has been ratified by 161 states. There are 151 parties to the biological weapons convention, but it does not have an enforcement mechanism.