Three Notable Nonproliferation Milestones in 2017

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The United Nations Security Council votes to pass a new sanctions resolution against North Korea during a meeting at UN headquarters, September 11, 2017.
The UN Security Council votes on a resolution to apply new sanction on North Korea.

Three Notable Nonproliferation Milestones in 2017

Over the years, foreign policy successes ebb and flow in nonproliferation. Our victories are—at times—marked by how far we’ve moved a pebble forward. Sometimes we liken our efforts to Sisyphus, refusing to give up. But eventually, through patience, persistence and perseverance, we celebrate diplomatic achievements that have a real world impact. 

Regardless of the level of success, our work in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation continues unabated: we work every day to keep the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people. As we wind down 2017, we’re taking stock of our year and sharing three notable nonproliferation successes.

1. The U.S. Launched its “Pressure Campaign” Against the DPRK

Early in the year, President Trump and Secretary Tillerson announced a new, more aggressive approach toward dealing with the burgeoning crisis from North Korea. In April, Secretary Tillerson chaired a special ministerial meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the threat to international peace and security posed by the DPRK’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The meeting gave UN Security Council members an opportunity to discuss ways to improve implementation of UN sanctions and to show their resolve to respond to further provocations. In his remarks, Secretary Tillerson called on UN members to take three actions against the DPRK:

  • Isolate North Korea financially
  • Suspend or reduce diplomatic relations
  • Enforce all UN sanctions

Since the Secretary’s remarks in April, more than 20 nations have acted to restrict North Korean diplomatic activities. Several countries halted military cooperation or suspended trade relations, and the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council continue to expand.

2. The Global Health Security Agenda was extended until 2024. 

In October, nearly 50 nations met in Kampala, Uganda for the Ministerial of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA)—a partnership of nations, international organizations and NGOs to help build capacity to create a world secure from infectious disease threats and elevate health security as a global priority.

GHSA launched in 2014 as a five-year initiative to increase country-level health security capacity to stop outbreaks at their source. GHSA now includes more than 60 nations all working to close gaps that allow infectious disease to take root and spread. More countries have strengthened their surveillance and laboratory capacity to diagnose dangerous pathogens. Yet there is much work to be done to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate.

Our highest priority at the Kampala meeting was to get international consensus on extending GHSA for an additional five years through 2024, which would offer an opportunity for the global health security community to continue working together to enhance data sharing, preparedness planning, epidemiological and laboratory surveillance, risk assessment, and response to infectious diseases and other health threats.

Now that the GHSA has been extended, the U.S. government will continue to work with partners to strengthen the next phase of this multilateral initiative, and shape the GHSA mission and structure to reflect the current global health security environment. These important efforts will help lead us all closer to a world that is both healthier and more prosperous.

3. States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention adopted a four-year workplan.

For more than four decades, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) has embodied the norm against the use of disease as a weapon, and we are all safer because of it. That norm remains strong, as does the U.S. commitment to work with other BWC Parties to combat this threat.

At its annual Meeting of States Parties (MSP) in December 2017, countries were able to complete the unfinished work of the BWC’s Eighth Review Conference by agreeing on a new, more ambitious workplan for the next four years, leading to the next Review Conference not later than 2021.  Nations came ready to negotiate, robustly supported by civil society, ready to remedy the less-than-satisfactory outcome of the BWC’s Eighth Review Conference in Geneva in November 2016. The positive outcome was based on the groundwork that Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States had laid, combined with the skillful chairmanship of Indian Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill and a keen recognition among all States Parties of the importance of continued work to combat the threat of biological weapons. In kicking off the MSP, U.S. Special Representative for the BWC Ambassador Robert Wood said, “From adversity springs determination,” and he called upon States Parties to make good use of the second chance afforded by the MSP, and not walk away “from the opportunity to combat the threat of biological weapons.” 

The work plan focuses on five distinct meetings of experts. Each meeting will have a designated chairperson. We look to this “core group” of five expert group chairpersons to help steer efforts in this rejuvenated workplan to successful outcomes.

As the life sciences rapidly evolve, it is vital that the international community cooperate to prevent the acquisition or use of biological weapons by anyone.

While these are just three of ISN’s more notable nonproliferation successes in 2017, others deserve a well-publicized shout out as well.

  • After many years of strong U.S. diplomatic support, the IAEA Fuel Bank opened in August 2017
  • India entered the Wassenaar Arrangement in December, bringing the number of countries participating in this important body to 42.
  • Our nuclear security partnership with China took a significant step forward in November when we conducted our first-ever bilateral scenario-based policy discussion on countering nuclear smuggling.

Looking forward to 2018, we will continue the work we do every day with our partners to disrupt WMD shipments, to prevent WMD terrorism, and to enforce UN sanctions. Maybe some of these efforts will make splashy headlines. But if they don’t, our efforts to work bilaterally, multilaterally, and in partnership with like-minded countries to prevent the proliferation of WMD will not be diminished. As long as the proliferators are at work, our efforts will continue. 

Follow us on Twitter (@StateISN) to stay updated on the latest U.S. nonproliferation policy. If you have your own “top three” list for 2017, send us a tweet. 

About the Author: Jennifer Bavisotto is a public affairs officer in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.

Editor’s Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.