UNSC Resolution 1887: Packaging Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the United Nations

UNSC Resolution 1887: Packaging Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the United Nations

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Kaegan McGrath

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Vasileios Savvidis

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


On 4 August 2009, Susan Rice, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, announced that President Obama intended to chair a special heads of state-level UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament on 24 September 2009. The meeting, according to Ambassador Rice, would not target any specific countries, but would instead focus on general issues concerning nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.[1] The announcement of the UNSC summit came just a few months after President Obama's speech in Prague where the president endorsed the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and outlined the administration's ambitious arms control agenda.[2] The administration's call for a world free of nuclear weapons, and an overall reinvigoration of U.S. diplomacy, has created renewed hope that the United States, working with its friends and foes, could make substantive progress on strengthening the international nonproliferation regime.

During the UNSC summit, attended by 14 heads of State, Council members unanimously adopted U.S. sponsored UNSC Resolution 1887. Though incorporating language on disarmament measures once eschewed by the previous U.S. administration, the resolution failed to deliver on any substantial framework for progress on achieving President Obama's call for nuclear disarmament as articulated in Prague. In essence, the resolution reaffirms many of disarmament commitments—non-legally binding political statements—by the nuclear weapon states (NWS) during both the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference and the 2000 NPT Review Conference, some of which ignored and even rejected by subsequent leaders.[3] As the balance between measures to promote nuclear disarmament and enhance nonproliferation efforts in the document clearly favors the latter objective, Resolution 1887 represents mixed signals from the Obama administration. The president's disarmament rhetoric espouses a general reinvigoration of multilateral efforts to work towards the security of a world without nuclear weapons, which may result in modest dividends in the context of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. However, the nonproliferation focus of the resolution evinces a studied pragmatism that recognizes the difficulty in seeking such a document through the consensus based NPT review process.

Security Council Resolutions Concerning Nonproliferation and Disarmament

Although the Security Council has taken action on specific violations of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreements mandated by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Council has also issued resolutions addressing more general nonproliferation and disarmament issues. For example, in June 1968, just a few weeks before the NPT would open for signature, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the three treaty depositories—offered positive security assurances to states that had agreed to renounce nuclear weapons.[4] To be sure, UNSC Resolution 255 did little more than reaffirm the obligation of UN member states to come to the aid of another member that had been the victim of aggression, irrespective of the weapons employed by the aggressor.[5] In the run-up to the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (RevCon), NWS again came under increased pressure to provide NNWS with security assurances, although this time around the NNWS focused on long-sought after guarantees that the nuclear weapon states would not use nuclear arms against them. The NWS, which also included China and France, each submitted declarations reaffirming previous so-called negative security assurances (NSAs), which were incorporated into UNSC Resolution 984. However, with the exception of China who had already adopted an unconditional no first-use nuclear policy, all of the NWS declarations on NSAs were conditional.[6]

The passage of UNSC Resolution 1887 comes at a time when some have begun to question the usefulness of the NPT regime in addressing the threats of nuclear proliferation in the 21st century. Following the disastrous 2005 NPT Review Conference, where States Parties were able only to agree that the meeting had in fact occurred, some analysts considered whether the time had come to begin writing epitaphs for the NPT regime.[7]

Drafting the Resolution

Although the Obama administration remained tight-lipped about its intentions directly following the announcement of the Security Council summit, Ambassador Susan Rice stated in mid September that the United States was expecting a "meaningful" and "comprehensive" UNSC resolution on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.[8] The Politico, a U.S. political journalism organization, obtained the text of the draft resolution and published it on the organization's website.[9] Between the release of the draft resolution and the adoption of the final text at the Security Council meeting, the resolution underwent slight adjustments, two of which were significant.

Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy

With regard to civilian nuclear energy, the final text noted with interest an initiative announced by France to convene an international conference on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in coordination with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which received no mention in the draft resolution.[10] The final text of the resolution also underlined that the NPT recognizes in Article IV the inalienable right—the word inalienable was missing in the first draft—to peaceful nuclear energy without discrimination and in conformity with a State's obligations under the treaty.[11] This is important, as the NPT does not provide a state with the right to develop peaceful nuclear energy; it merely recognizes that this is an inalienable right of all sovereign states.

Another interesting distinction between the original draft and the version adopted during the summit is how the inalienable right to peaceful nuclear energy is addressed as it relates to the articles of the NPT. Although Article IV of the NPT stipulates that nothing in the treaty shall affect the inalienable right to peaceful nuclear energy in conformity with Articles I and II of the treaty, there is no explicit linkage to Article III dealing with parties' obligation to implement IAEA safeguards.[12] The first draft of the resolution attempted to bridge this gap by underlining that the NPT in Article IV recognizes "the right of the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for the peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I, II and III of the Treaty."[13] Notably, the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference also included language referring to inalienable rights recognized under Article IV in relation to safeguards obligations outlined in Article III.[14] As one analyst has observed, this language asserts that regardless of whether there is evidence of nuclear weapons proliferation, "if a state willfully violates its [IAEA] safeguards agreement," that state cannot be "assured of being permitted any 'research, production and use' of nuclear energy at all."[15] However, the final text of UNSC Resolution 1887 does not make explicit this connection between Article III and IV, and instead recalls "in this context Article III of the NPT and Article II of the IAEA Statute."[16]

Regarding the Additional Protocol (AP)—measures in addition to NPT required comprehensive safeguards agreements aimed at establishing a qualitative understanding of all nuclear related activities in a given state, declared or undeclared—the final text calls on states to consider whether a recipient state has signed and ratified an additional protocol in making nuclear export decisions.[17] The original draft called for the consideration of having in place an additional protocol in these decisions.[18] Iran signed and implemented an additional protocol as a confidence building measure following discussions with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in 2003, but never ratified the protocol and ceased its implementation in January 2006 after the IAEA found Iran to be in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement.[19]

NPT Regime

The first draft of the resolution was deafeningly silent on one critical issue that has hamstrung successive attempts by Western powers to enhance nonproliferation obligations through the NPT regime and other multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament mechanisms—the Middle East. The resolution on the Middle East contained in the package deal agreed upon at the 1995 NPT RevCon was arguably one of the determining factors that led NPT States Parties from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to allow for the indefinite extension of the NPT.[20] In subsequent years, many NAM States have remained unequivocal in their demand for progress on implementing the Middle East resolution. For instance, during the general debate at the First Committee of the 64th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Egyptian Ambassador Maged Abdulaziz reiterated that the obstacle that prevents Egypt from acceding to the CWC, BTWC, "or even ratification of the CTBT," remains Israel's defiance to calls aimed at convincing it to join the NPT.[21] Although the final text of UNSC Resolution 1887 did not include specific reference to the Middle East, a reference to the outcomes of the 1995 and 2000 NPT conferences was inserted that acknowledges, if only indirectly, the resolution on the Middle East.[22] The inclusion of the reference to the 2000 NPT Review Conference is also important for NNWS as the conference agreed upon thirteen practical steps for "systematic and progressive efforts" towards nuclear disarmament, a victory for NNWS that remains highly salient in the NPT context.[23]

Proceedings During the Council Summit

United States

After stating that the United Nations had a pivotal role in preventing nuclear catastrophe, Obama contended that Resolution 1887 represented a shared commitment to the goal of a nuclear weapon free world. Furthermore, the president noted that the resolution brought agreement on a "broad framework" for action on reducing nuclear dangers while the international community works toward that objective.[24] With regard to the continuing proliferation challenges posed by both Iran and North Korea, the president declared that the Security Council had both the "authority and responsibility to determine and respond as necessary when violations" of the NPT threaten international peace and security.[25] After stating that, "we must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise," Obama then affirmed the Security Council's obligation to ensure full compliance with past UNSC resolutions on Iran and North Korea.[26]


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev began his statement by remarking that in the present international environment security is indivisible and global, which requires enhanced mutual understanding between nations and open discussions on problems that have accumulated over the years. With regard to strategic weapons, Medvedev reiterated Russia's willingness to reduce the "number of delivery vehicles of strategic offensive arms more than threefold" and continue to work on addressing the threat of missile proliferation.[27] While acknowledging that the level of mistrust among nations remained too high to untangle the "problematic knots in the field of non-proliferation and disarmament," Medvedev insisted that the international community must still work towards these goals.[28]


While other heads of state expressed their serious concern over the nuclear issues with Iran and North Korea, French President Nicholas Sarkozy was most emphatic in his call to action on this front. Sarkozy cautioned that although the Council was there to guarantee peace and talk about the future, "the present comes before the future, and the present includes two major nuclear crises."[29] After reminding the Council that Iran had violated five UNSC resolutions since 2005, Sarkozy recounted the instances in the intervening years when proposals were made for dialogue, noting that these proposals had produced nothing but more centrifuges and more enriched uranium. In the instance of the DPRK, the French president stated that Pyongyang "pays absolutely no attention to what the international community says," and concluded that at some point "we will all have to unite to adopt sanctions and to ensure that Security Council and United Nations decisions are complied with."[30] Sarkozy ended his remarks by announcing his country's support of the resolution and Obama's initiatives in this regard, but also called on states to find the courage to "declare sanctions on countries that violate Security Council Resolutions."[31]

United Kingdom

U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown noted that the Security Council meeting sent a "united, unequivocal, and undivided" message to the world that NWS and NNWS were committed to working together in order to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.[32] Brown also stated that the international community should be prepared to "renew and refresh" the bargain at the heart of the NPT.[33] In this regard, the prime minister acknowledged that nuclear energy would be an "essential" part of any plan to address the challenges of climate change and energy security.[34] For its part, Brown proclaimed that the United Kingdom would retain only the "absolute minimum credible and continuing nuclear deterrent capability," pledging that subject to technical review and multilateral negotiations, the submarine fleet that comprises the U.K. nuclear deterrent would be cut by a fourth—from four boats to three—by the mid-2020s.[35] On the issue of Iran, Brown asserted that as evidence that Iran had breached its international agreements continues to accumulate, the Security Council needed to consider tougher sanctions, and suggested that in the future the onus of proof must be on those that violate the NPT.[36]


At the outset of his remarks, Chinese President Hu Jintao assessed the international security environment as "complex and fluid" and asserted that in order to create a safer world for all, "we must first and foremost remove the threat of nuclear war."[37] President Hu then enumerated efforts that could be made in connection with this goal. Maintaining global strategic balance and stability while "vigorously" advancing nuclear disarmament, a traditional Chinese position, was first on this list.[38] In this regard, Hu called on all states to join the NPT and noted that the NWS with the largest arsenals should take the lead on "drastic and substantive" cuts in their nuclear arsenals.[39] Revisiting a phrase utilized by the Chinese at the Conference on Disarmament earlier in the year, the Chinese president stated that, "When conditions are ripe, other nuclear-weapon States should also join the multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament."[40] President Hu also declared that the policy of nuclear deterrence should be abandoned, all NWS should pledge not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against NNWS or nuclear weapon-free zones, and in this regard, NWS should conclude a legally binding international instrument. Although Hu insisted that all states must comply with their nonproliferation obligations, the president did not refer to Iran or North Korea's violations of past Security Council resolutions or non-compliance with NPT obligations.[41]

Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy

In a moment of levity during the meeting, Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni noted facetiously that, "Even if all the sites on African rivers were developed, we would not have enough electricity to sustain our population, unless, of course, it were scientifically proved that Africans do not need electricity."[42] The president's remarks prompted laughter during the meeting, but underlined the urgency of energy security in the developing world, particularly in Africa. President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso declared that the international community must commit to making civilian nuclear energy an effective tool for development, and proclaimed that in the current energy crisis, Africa needs the opportunity to gain access to nuclear power for electricity.[43] Also during the meeting, President Nguyen Minh Triet of Viet Nam proposed the convening of an international conference on the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, similar to the initiative cited in the resolution. The conference would facilitate an exchange of ideas on issues such as "international coordination, measures to support the development of policies, science, technology and regulations aimed at nuclear safety and security."[44]

Nuclear Nonproliferation

President Stjepan Mesić of the Republic of Croatia noted that while "every country must be guaranteed its right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy," it might be necessary to impose "more stringent measures of universally accepted international control" over nuclear technology.[45] In a similar vein, President Triet of Viet Nam advocated strengthening the authority of the IAEA in order to enhance the effectiveness of the NPT.[46] Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA, stated during the meeting that in over 90 States the IAEA has no verification authority or insufficient authority needed to ensure that a country is not engaged in clandestine nuclear activities. Moreover, ElBaradei acknowledged that because the mandate of the IAEA focuses on the possible diversion of nuclear material, the IAEA must be empowered with the appropriate legal authority to pursue potential nuclear weaponization activities.[47]


Echoing the sentiments expressed by other heads of state at the summit, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama asserted that, "All the nations of the world, with or without nuclear weapons, have the responsibility to take action towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation."[48] However, other speakers made clear that the possession of nuclear weapons by a small number of States remained the sole impetus for States seeking to acquire the capability to develop nuclear weapons, if only as a hedge for the future. For example, President Museveni of Uganda observed that, "it is clear that the possession of nuclear weapons is the main cause of other countries wanting to acquire them. It is not logical to say that a few of us should possess nuclear weapons and others should not."[49] Likewise, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso inquired as to how the international community could compel States to renounce the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction while other countries were developing and testing nuclear weapons.[50] Recognizing the inextricable link between nonproliferation and disarmament, Mexican President Calderón Hinojosa stated that, "It is time to move ahead not only towards non-proliferation but towards general and complete nuclear disarmament. There is no other way; that is the path we must take."[51]


The revisions made to Resolution 1887 between the initial draft and the final resolution adopted unanimously at the UNSC summit underscore the inherent difficulties in striking a balance between enhancing nonproliferation measures and offering substantive steps towards disarmament. However, the orientation of the resolution clearly emphasizes nonproliferation goals over disarmament, in both the initial draft and the final version of the resolution. The substance of the resolution adds very little to the disarmament objectives already enunciated by the Obama administration during the Prague speech, or by other political commitments made by NWS through documents adopted at past NPT review conferences. To be sure, the administration's decision to advance certain aspects of its nonproliferation agenda through Resolution 1887 demonstrates its ambivalence to the NPT review process as a vehicle for serious action. Nonetheless, the revisions made to the resolution between drafts that cater to the NNWS are indicative of the effort, albeit modest, to achieve a successful outcome at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, an endeavor with uncertain prospects for realization.


[1] Ambassador Susan Rice, Statement on September 2009 Head of State-level UN Security Council Meeting, States News Service,—4 August 2009.
[2] U.S. President Barack Obama, Speech on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament at Hradcany Square Prague, Czech Republic, The White House Office of the Press Secretary, 5 April 2009.
[3] See Lawrence Scheinman, "Disarmament: Have the Five Nuclear Powers Done Enough?" Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, January/February 2005,; and Sharon Squassoni, "Grading Progress on 13 Steps Toward Disarmament," Policy Outlook, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2009,
[4] Jozef Goldblat, "No First Use of Nuclear Weapons," Paper presented to Pugwash Meeting no. 279 on the NPT and the Security of NNWS, London, UK, 15-17 November 2002,
[5] Jozef Goldblat, "No First Use of Nuclear Weapons."
[6] These conditions exempted the NWS from providing negative assurances in the case of an invasion or any other attack on its territory, "its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State towards which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State." See United Nations Security Council Documents S/1995/261, S/1995/262, S/1995/263, S/1995/264, and S/1995/265 [Statements from Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council on Negative Security Assurances for NPT Non-Nuclear Weapon States], April 1995, and No-First-Use (NFU) Database, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Last updated June 2003,
[7] See Harald Müller, "A Treaty in Troubled Waters: Reflections on the Failed NPT Review Conference," The International Spectator, (July — September 2005), pp. 33-44, William Potter, "The 2005 NPT Review Conference: 188 States in Search of Consensus," The International Spectator (July-September 2005), pp. 19-32, and Rebecca Johnson, "Is the NPT being Overtaken by Events?" Disarmament Diplomacy, No.87, Spring 2008
[8] Ambassador Susan Rice, Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Ambassador Susan Rice at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, The Office of the White House Press Secretary, 18 September 2009,
[9] "Draft of U.N. Security Council Resolution on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Disarmament", Politico, 14 September 2009,
[10] Ibid.
[11] S/RES/1887 (2009), Operative Paragraph 12,
[12] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Article IV, paragraph 1,
[13] "Draft of U.N. Security Council Resolution on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Disarmament", September 2009.
[14] NPT/CONF.2000/28 (Parts I and II), Article IV and sixth and seventh preambular paragraphs, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, Paragraph 2: "The Conference reaffirms that nothing in the Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I, II and III of the Treaty."
[15] Christopher Ford, "Assessing the Obama Administration's Draft U.N. Security Council Resolution on Nonproliferation and Disarmament."
[16] Article II of the statute states that the IAEA shall, "accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world. It shall ensure, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose," IAEA Statute,
[17] S/RES/1887 (2009), Operative Paragraph 19.
[18] "Draft of U.N. Security Council Resolution on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Nuclear Disarmament", September 2009.
[19] Sharon Squassoni, "Iran's Nuclear Program: Recent Developments," CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Services, updated 6 September 2006,
[20] Tariq Rauf and Rebecca Johnson, "After the NPT's indefinite extension: The Future of the global nonproliferation regime," The Nonproliferation Review, 1746-1766, Volume 3, Issue 1, 1995, Page 35.
[21] Ambassador Maged Abdulaziz, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations, speaking before the First Committee, New York, 7 October 2009
[22] S/RES/1887 (2009), Preambular Paragraph 7.
[23] NPT/CONF.2000/28 (Parts I), Article VI and eighth to twelfth preambular paragraphs, paragraph 15.
[24] President Barack Obama, Remarks by the President at the United Nations Security Council Summit on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament, United Nations Headquarters, New York, New York, The White House Office of the Press Secretary, 24 September 2009,
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[27] President Dmitry Medvedev, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, S/PV.6191, Thursday, 24 September 2009, New York,
[28] Ibid.
[29] President Nicholas Sarkozy, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] President Hu Jintao, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Ibid.
[42] President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[43] President Blaise Compaore, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[44] President Nguyen Minh Triet, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[45] President Stjepan Mesić, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[46] President Nguyen Minh Triet, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[47] Mohamed ElBaradei, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[48] Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[49] President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[50] President Blaise Compaore, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.
[51] President Calderón Hinojosa, Remarks during the 6191st meeting of the Security Council, 24 September 2009.

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