UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection

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 NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in all of the regions and countries of the world to-date. On 5 January 2015, Ambassador Roman Oyarzun Marchesi of Spain was elected as the new Chair of the Committee, and the ambassadors from New Zealand, Nigeria, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as Vice-Chairs.

United Nations Security Resolution 1540 (2004), un.org

Regional and National Information

Introduction to the UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection

The threat that non-state actors may acquire nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) weapons has been a growing concern for the international community over the last decade. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, information about the ambitions of certain terrorist organizations to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and revelations about the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology by a global network headed by Pakistan's Dr. A.Q. Khan prompted the United States and several other countries to seek measures to supplement the existing nonproliferation treaties.

Responding to these concerns, 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 WMD, related materials, and their means of delivery. 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.

The resolution covers a wide range of measures, including: export and border controls; nuclear security and physical protection; prevention of terrorism financing; and other related activities. UNSCR 1540 also calls on states to cooperate in preventing the illicit trafficking of NBC weapons 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 Committee’s original mandate lasted two years; this mandate was extended twice—in 2006 and 2008—before the April 2011 decision by the Security Council to extend the operations of the 1540 Committee until 2021.

28 April 2014 marked the tenth anniversary of the adoption of UNSCR 1540. At the meeting to commemorate the anniversary on 7 May, the Security Council issued a presidential statement (S/PRST/2014/7) reaffirming its concern about the spread of WMD. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson urged global commitment to make the resolution more effective. The Statement recommended that the 1540 Committee consider developing a strategy for incorporation into a comprehensive review of the implementation status, to be submitted to the Security Council before December 2016.

The NTI UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection provides information on the implementation of the resolution above and beyond that of the 1540 Committee, which is restricted in the use of information not directly related to the scope of the resolution. The additional information presented in this collection includes: a brief description of national capabilities related to current or prior possession of NBC weapons; domestic industries and facilities that may contribute to the production of WMD programs; 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 NBC weapons or the materials to manufacture them. Others may be transit routes for such materials or technologies, or a haven where the financing of such activities may be conducted without scrutiny. These variances are taken into account within this resource collection. The varied nonproliferation challenges faced by states in each region and their varied 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 revelations of the A.Q. Khan nuclear trafficking network in 2004 highlighted the need to counter illicit trafficking activities. 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.

Many supporters of PSI, an initiative that coordinates efforts to impede sea, air, and land shipments of WMD and related materials, have pointed to UNSCR 1540 as a legal justification for the initiative's activities.

Although adding a legal basis for PSI was an initial reasoning for supporters to draft the resolution, during negotiations for the final text a number of delegations, including permanent UNSC member China, insisted that reference to "interdictions" be removed from the final draft.

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.

Council members and more than 20 non-members had been permitted to comment on the resolution's draft at the open Council meeting held on 22 April. However, none of the proposals put forth by non-Security Council members were taken into consideration when the final text was drafted. Many delegations not involved with the negotiations were concerned about the "legislative" nature of the resolution since it binds all member states to follow the mandate of the resolution. For example, India's representative stated: "We are concerned that the exercise of legislative functions by the Council, combined with recourse to Chapter VII mandates, could disrupt the balance of power between the General Assembly and the Security Council, as enshrined in the Charter." To alleviate the concerns of states with limited ability to implement the resolution, UNSCR 1540 also includes a key provision that calls on all states to offer assistance when possible to other states in need of relevant capacity building.

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." 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

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

Another provision of UNSCR 1540 established the 1540 Committee under the Security Council. The 1540 Committee is comprised of representatives from each member of the Security Council along with any additional 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.

Within reports to the 1540 Committee, member countries provide details on the steps that have been taken or the intended steps towards the implementation of this resolution. The country reports serve as an important tool in understanding the scope of the proliferation challenge and how it can best be addressed. The Committee's purpose in conducting 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 system, provided lengthy reports giving extensive details of their domestic framework, other states, particularly developing economies, provide much less detail, simply indicating their support for the resolution.

As part of UNSC Resolution 1977, adopted 20 April 2011 to extend the 1540 Committee mandate by another 10 years, the Security Council aimed to address additional avenues for improving UNSCR 1540’s implementation. Resolution 1977 highlights the need for closer cooperation between the 1540 Committee and regional organizations, noting the that Security Council “calls upon relevant international, regional and subregional organizations to designate and provide the 1540 Committee by 31 August 2011 with a point of contact or coordinator for the implementation [UNSCR 1540] and encourages them to enhance cooperation and information sharing with the 1540 Committee on technical assistance and all other issues of relevance.” Additionally, the 2011 decision encouraged states “to prepare on a voluntary basis national implementation action plans ….mapping out their priorities and plans for implementing the key provisions of [UNSCR 1540] and to submit those plans to the 1540 Committee.” Further, Resolution 1977 “encourages the 1540 Committee, at its discretion, to draw also on relevant expertise, including civil society and the private sector, with, as appropriate, their State’s consent.” The Resolution also calls for the 1540 Committee to conduct a comprehensive review of the status of implementation of UNSCR 1540 both after five years and prior to the renewal of its mandate. Therefore, the first comprehensive review must be produced before December 2016. The former Committee Chair Oh Joon of the Republic of Korea, at his final semi-annual briefing to the Security Council as a Chair, stated that "Committee must soon begin work on the comprehensive review of implementation as stated in UNSC Resolution 1977 (2011)."

As of June 20145 the, 1540 Committee website lists over 170 states that have submitted their national implementation reports. The European Union, a non-UN-member entity, also submitted an implementation report. 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. As of June 2015, 86 member states have identified points of contact.

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. To alleviate this issue, a number of the major supporters of the resolution—including the United States, the European Union, and Japan—have actively offered assistance. This assistance, and efforts of the 1540 Committee, aim to fill the capacity gap faced by many states with regards to implementation of UNSCR 1540. However, many states remain concerned about the level of resources that will be needed in order to fully implement the resolution in the long-term.

Questions have also been raised by countries, particularly those who were not involved with negotiating UNSCR 1540, as to whether a UN resolution like this one 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. The intent of UNSCR 1540, according to supporters, is for the resolution to complement rather than conflict 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 provide a host of both regional and national information relevant to the resolution in a single place. As such it is designed to assist states in implementing the resolution.

June 8, 2015

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 NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in all of the regions and countries of the world to-date.

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.