Remarks by Ian Stewart to Working Group Two of the UN’s High Level Review of Sanctions

Remarks by Ian Stewart to Working Group Two of the UN’s High Level Review of Sanctions.

The UN has launched a ‘High Level Review’ of UN sanctions in order to “enhance their effectiveness and thereby better address threats to international peace and security through improved integration with today’s evolved network of internal and external institutions and related legal instruments”.

The review is structured around three working groups:

  • UN integration and coordination on the implementation of UN sanctions
  • UN sanctions and external institutions and instruments
  • UN sanctions, regional organizations, and emerging challenges

Ian Stewart from Project Alpha provided the comments on the 29th May 2014 in New York.

In way of introduction, I have, for the past three years, been seconded from the British Government to King’s College London where I run Project Alpha, a research and capacity building project working to improve the implementation of WMD trade controls. This has included supporting some of the UN panels of experts, the IAEA, private sector, and individual states. For example, Alpha has held around a dozen industry outreach events in the UK, China, and elsewhere, has provided free e-learning on export controls, and has prepared numerous case studies and academic papers on illicit (WMD-related) trade and related issues. From this work, and while speaking in a private capacity, I would make several key observations that are relevant for this high level review of UN sanctions. These remarks are my own and do not reflect the views of any organisation with which I am affiliated.

Before I start, it may be helpful for me to add context to my comments: I believe that the goal of UN sanctions is increasingly intended to ‘prevent’ undesirable activities from taking place. In the past supply-side controls have often been adopted either to signal discontent or to avoid the reputational damage associated with having supplied someone with something for an end use of concern. The increasing expectation that supply-side controls in general, and sanctions in particular, can prevent an action from being either completed successfully, or undertaken in the first place (such as the pursuit of a WMD program), through resource constraint or some other mechanism is challenging. It requires global coordination and global implementation of practical measures. It is with this in mind that I make the following points:

First, the targeted sanctions tools as they presently exist may need to evolve further before they are capable of meeting the goal of prevention. In certain areas, such as WMD-relevant technology prohibitions, the reliance in UN sanctions on the lists of the export control regime lists alone is not sufficient to prevent proliferation. Those lists are deliberately drafted not to control everything that is needed for proliferation, but only what is essential – this minimises the impact of controls on legitimate trade. Therefore, while it is helpful that UN sanctions often have a catchall provision, thought should be given to the creation of an augmented list of WMD-relevant technologies for inclusion into WMD sanctions episodes. In other areas, such as proliferation financing, it is not clear to me that implementation of the FTAF standards alone could prevent a proliferator from using the financial system to acquire goods or services. Instead, the goal perhaps should be to allow the detection of non-compliance. Whatever the goal, clearer expectations are needed.

Second, the sanctions panels can be more effective in monitoring implementation. In the nuclear sphere, for example, it is vital that there be a link between the investigative work of the panels and the verification work of the IAEA. Recognising that panels cannot themselves collect all the information that is required, Alpha has recently established a collaboration of academic and civil society organisations which will focus on developing open source and trade data for non-proliferation purposes, both to share with the panels of experts and other bodies such as the IAEA (see Another challenge, however, is that it is difficult for the panels to use information provided by civil society. Therefore, experts must be all-source analysts who are empowered to follow any relevant lead. This may require a different type of expert who, in addition to being politically-aware and a subject matter expert, has also an analytical or investigative background. In this regard, there may be scope for utilising associate experts to ensure that the panels have access to the types of people that they require. Panels also need access to technical expertise. In some circumstances, this will require access to labs or specialist facilities to, for example, verify the material properties of an interdicted item. Thought must be given as to how to provide (or finance) this: reliance on member states is possible but potentially problematic unless properly managed.

Third, reporting provisions are not working. There are two types of reporting: the first relates to implementation, the second to action (such as interdictions). On the first, the reporting burden for states across all sanctions panels and resolution 1540 is significant. Consolidation must take place. However, I am unsure whether, even with consolidation, reporting can be made manageable without more systemic change. It is for that reason that the COSTA-NP, which I mentioned earlier, has commissioned construction of an online tool that can import submitted reports (such as the 1540 matrices) and then allow civil society to propose modifications and updates to the report based upon their knowledge of implementation in particular states. This tool could then allow either national authorities or UN officials to review the comments before a final report is generated for formal submission. In effect, this is crowdsourcing implementation reporting. The use of such novel tools poses challenges, but solutions do need to be found.

The other type of reporting relates to actions taken by states, such as interdictions of materials and equipment. Reporting in this regard is currently poor. States hold much more information than is presently reported. One outcome of this review should be to set out clearly and concisely what information states should be reporting to the committee. For example, export licence refusals to a country subject to sanctions could be valuable information for a panel.

Fourth, there is a need to build capacity. In that context, I am pleased to see the 1540 group of experts. I view 1540 as a mechanism through which states can build capacity to meet their sanctions obligations. The Arms Trade Treaty may also contribute in relation to capacity building related to the implementation of conventional arms embargos. While it should be remembered that UNSCR1540 was not a sanctions resolution, further coordination between the 1540 committee and the sanctions committees could enable prioritised capacity building to take place.

Fifth, there is a need to think about the implementation of sanctions not only across thematic bounds, but also within issues. WMD sanctions build upon many of the same tools as arms embargos, on anti-terrorism measures, and so on, but they also differ in a number of ways. Given that we now have several years of experience of implementing UN targeted sanctions in pursuit of non-proliferation goals I believe there would be value in examining what lessons can be learned for those sanctions episodes (i.e. those against Iran and North Korea).

Sixth, and at risk of straying beyond the remit of this working group into the design of sanctions, thought must be given as to how to manage potential cases of non-compliance. In several cases, panels of experts have reported suspected non-compliance to their sanctions committee but no action has been taken.

Finally, all of these subjects and more warrant a much fuller discussion than I have time for today. Therefore, to bring my comments to a close, I would suggest a short list of meetings that could be held under the remit of the working group:

1) UN sanctions and export control regimes: synergies, opportunities challenges

2) Reporting requirements: striking a balance

3) Financial measures: from affect to effect

4) UN WMD Sanctions: Lessons from the Iran and North Korean sanctions episodes

I look forward to working with members of the working group as this important work continues going forward.

Ian J. Stewart