Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
March 26, 2013


In April 2004, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 1540, which establishes legally binding [1] obligations on all UN Member States to have and enforce appropriate and effective measures against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons (WMD), their delivery systems, and related materials.[2] UNSCR 1540 closes gaps in nonproliferation treaties and conventions to help prevent terrorists and criminal organizations from obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons.

All UN Member States have three primary obligations under UNSC Resolution 1540 (2004), to:

  • prohibit support to non-state actors seeking WMD and their means of deli very;
  • adopt and enforce effective laws prohibiting activities involving the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery to non-state actors; and,
  • have and enforce effective measures to reduce the vulnerability of many legitimate activities to misuse in ways that would foster the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery to non-state actors.

These obligations complement and strengthen the growing number of treaties, conventions and protocols that address WMD proliferation. Since April 2004, many governments have taken steps to adopt new or strengthen existing measures in line with their obligations under UNSCR 1540, as documented in reports submitted to the Security Council in 2006, 2008, and 2011. Nonetheless, many States still have gaps in their implementation of the resolution and, as important, fulfilling these obligations effectively means that governments must continually adjust their efforts to changes in the nonproliferation threats, risks, and vulnerabilities they face.

UNSCR 1540 presents the United States and others with an opportunity and an obligation to provide capacity-building assistance to states seeking to implement the resolution. The Security Council specifically calls upon countries in a position to offer assistance to do so in paragraph 7 of UNSCR 1540. For many governments, receiving such assistance offers dual benefits, both preventing proliferation and fulfilling fundamental development goals in fields as diverse as border control, environmental protection, public health, and supply chain security. Each country’s implementation of UNSCR 1540 will help protect all countries from proliferators, including terrorists and black-market networks, ensuring that they do not have access to the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Consequently, the United States has two primary and ongoing responsibilities in implementing UNSCR 1540. First, the U.S. government must coordinate its own activities to ensure that its laws and regulations meet the requirements of the resolution, helping to keep sensitive materials out of the hands of terrorists and other criminals while preserving legitimate commercial and peaceful uses of related materials. Second, the United States helps other States implement their obligations through bilateral assistance partnerships and through U.S. support to international bodies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The 1540 Committee

The Committee established pursuant to UNSCR 1540, known as the 1540 Committee, functions as a subsidiary body of the UN Security Council to monitor and foster implementation of the resolution. The Security Council has extended the mandate of the Committee in UNSCRs 1673 (2006), 1810 (2008) and 1977 (2011) and expanded the Committee’s functions each time. The current mandate expires on April 25, 2021.

The Committee follows an annual Program of Work in an open and transparent manner, organizing its activities around four working groups covering monitoring national implementation, cooperation with other international bodies, assistance, and outreach. The Committee’s Group of Experts, which under UNSC Resolution 2055 (2012) now includes nine experts from different countries and fields of expertise, provides substantive support to the Committee’s work. The UN Office of Disarmament Affairs supplies logistical and administrative support to the Committee and its Group of Experts.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted in a December 2012 statement on UNSCR 1540, “The 1540 Committee has a key role to play in ensuring that the world is a safe place and in allowing people in every country to pursue their lives free of fear of catastrophic attack by non-State actors.” For additional information about the Committee and its work, please see its web page.

Implementing UNSCR 1540 at Home

The United States follows a National Action Plan now under revision, to implement UNSCR 1540. In 2011 and 2012, the Committee and its Experts visited the United States to see how the United States fulfills its national obligations under UNSCR 1540. Officials from across the federal government hosted them at various facilities, briefing them on U.S. measures to protect sensitive materials from falling into the hands of terrorists and criminal organizations. The visits allowed U.S. officials to demonstrate good practices and offer lessons learned to share with other states seeking to implement UNSCR 1540 more fully. The Committee’s visits to the United States set a model for visits to other Member States. Since then, the Committee has made similar visits to other countries. For more information on the visit, please see the Experts’ Information Note.

Helping to Implement UNSCR 1540 Abroad

The Committee maintains a dialogue with all UN Member States in the interest of assisting every Member State to fulfill its international obligations under UNSCR 1540. In that spirit, the United States encourages other States to implement the resolution and undertakes, in accord with operative paragraph 7 of the resolution, to assist those States upon request.

Many U.S. Government departments and agencies have assistance programs that further implementation of UNSCR 1540, either bilaterally or in cooperation with international bodies.

The Security Council, in UNSCR 1673 (2006), invited the Committee to explore how it could enhance cooperation with international, regional and sub-regional organizations to help countries implement UNSCR 1540, which prompted the Committee to engage and cooperate with a wide range of now more than forty such bodies.[3] At the regional level, the African Union, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have all adopted decisions, resolutions and other measures to give their political and practical support to full implementation of UNSCR 1540. Several international organizations have taken similar actions. For example, IAEA resolution GC(54)/RES/8 of 2010 uses support for resolution 1540 as a legal framework for the Agency’s work in nuclear security, particularly as a means of eliciting assistance. More concretely, the IAEA includes UNSCR 1540’s obligations in the Integrated Nuclear Support Plans it has developed with more than 80 States.

The United States also supports efforts to augment the capacity of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to help their members implement the resolution by contributing to a “regional UNSCR 1540 coordinator” position in these organizations. It supports similar proposals by other regional and sub-regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Central American Integration System (SICA), in recognition that such organizations can contribute their understanding of regional differences and of opportunities for regional cooperation in ways that will help States implement UNSCR 1540.

In addition to these efforts, the United States worked with the Committee and the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs to develop UNODA’s Trust Fund for Global and Regional Disarmament Activities into a funding mechanism for projects specifically designed to further implementation of UNSCR 1540. To help the Committee in its work, the United States has contributed $4.5 million to this Trust Fund in recent years. The United States encourages other States in a position to do so to contribute to the Trust Fund.

Ongoing Efforts

The 2010 U.S. National Security Strategy puts some of the threats that stem from the nexus of proliferation with terrorists and other criminals in stark terms: “The American people face no greater or more urgent danger than a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon;” “Black markets trade in nuclear secrets and materials;” “Terrorists are determined to buy, build, or steal a nuclear weapon;” and “The effective dissemination of a lethal biological agent within a population center would endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and have unprecedented eco­nomic, societal, and political consequences.” Fortunately, the Committee has seen a marked increase in the number of measures by States worldwide taken to implement UNSCR 1540.

The Committee has seen a marked increase in the number of measures by States worldwide taken to implement UNSCR 1540. In 2011, for example, the Committee reported to the Council that 140 states had adopted laws to prohibit the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons – an increase of 75 states since 2006. Nonetheless, the Committee’s reports continue to show many gaps remain in national legal frameworks against the spread of WMD. In addition to the efforts of the United States, the Committee works closely with many States and international bodies to coordinate assistance, raise awareness, identify good practices, and otherwise facilitate States in their efforts to implement the resolution and close these gaps.

Learning More

For further information on the resolution and U.S. activities to support its implementation, please see the U.S. State Department brochure and fact sheet .

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[1]The UN Charter was ratified by each UN Member State in accordance with its respective constitutional processes. Chapter VII of the Charter authorizes the Security Council to determine the existence of any threat to the peace and to take measures to restore peace and security. Article 48 involves all UN Member States in carrying out Security Council resolutions, “The action required to carry out the decisions of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security shall be taken by all the Members of the United Nations or by some of them, as the Security Council may determine.” Article 49 states that “The Members of the United Nations shall join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council.” UNSCR 1540 involves all States, including those that do not possess nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or their means of delivery, calling upon them to work together to close the gaps among them, prevent the abuse of their territorial jurisdictions by proliferators, and prevent terrorists and criminal organization from obtaining such weapons.

[2]Definition of related materials in the resolution: “materials, equipment and technology covered by relevant multilateral treaties and arrangements, or included on national control lists, which could be used for the design, development, production or use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery.”

[3]The regional and sub-regional organizations also include the following: the Arab Maghreb Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the East African Community, the Economic Community of West African States, the Eurasian Economic Community, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, the League of Arab States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Oceania Customs Organization the Pacific Islands Forum, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Economic Community of Central African States, the Southern African Development Community, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

[This is a mobile copy of draft]