WMD to non-state actors: UNresolved

The United Nations debate to address the issue of weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorist hands has ended up with a lowest common denominator resolution.

The sponsors of the resolution, led by the United States, walk away after ensuring that ‘punishment’ is enforceable by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

China ended a threat to use its veto when language was dropped that had called for the interception of ships at sea suspected of carrying banned weapons.[NYT]

Countries like Pakistan can walk away by ensuring that the terms of the resolution are not retroactive and stressing that

Given that reality, Pakistan would not accept any demand for access, much less inspections, of its nuclear and strategic assets, materials and facilities, he said. It would not share technical, military or political information that would negatively affect its national security programmes or its national interests. Pakistan would continue to develop its nuclear, missiles and related strategic capability to maintain the minimum credible deterrence vis-à-vis its eastern neighbour, which was embarked on major programmes for nuclear weapons, missiles, anti-missiles and conventional arms acquisition and development.[UN]

And since member states will have the discretion whether to adopt the terms of the resolution in their national legislation, countries like India will also find it more palatable.

In the end, all this resolution will end up doing is ‘naming and shaming’ those who violate its terms. This also means that the decision to punish them with economic sanctions or military offensives will be left to realpolitik. However this resolution is not entirely without merit – at the very least it is a step towards making WMD sales to terrorists illegal in international law.