A role for civil society in oversight of WMD legislation

Jun 13 2013
VERTIC Blog >> National Implementation Measures
By Angela Woodward, Christchurch
Significant technical knowledge and expertise for the effective development and enforcement of WMD-related legislation resides in civil society, such as industry stakeholders, academics and NGO experts. For countries with small administrations, a significant proportion of the nation’s expertise in this field may be located outside government. States commonly consult with non-governmental stakeholders when developing legislation in other issue areas, but how common is this in the international security field?
Some States regularly liaise informally with civil society on international security topics, updating them on policy developments and changes in their national regulatory framework through meetings, publications and increasingly through social media. In the WMD field, such dialogue is often initiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or by other government departments with a specific role in biological, chemical or radiological/nuclear security, such as the host agency for a National Authority. Such exchanges help to foster a culture of transparency in the States’ activities and, where this outreach occurs with relevant industry groups, can also help to promote a culture of compliance with new national measures by improving awareness and understanding of the legal and political context of the regulatory environment and of the security consequences of breaches. Ideally, of course, such stakeholder groups will also be given a meaningful role in the development of such legislation and other measures, such as through consultation processes. 
Certain States have gone a step further and legislated for a mandatory, on-going role for civil society in the oversight of WMD regulatory frameworks. For example, membership of the South African Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, established under Section 4 of the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, No. 87 of 1993, includes representatives of chemical, biological and space (aerospace) and nuclear industry and, by practice, a civil society representative pursuant to the “such other members as the Minister may deem necessary” clause. The Council’s general function is to “protect the interests, carry out the responsibilities and fulfil the obligations of the Republic [of South Africa] with regard to non-proliferation” (Section 6(1)) and it has specific authority concerning the development, monitoring and enforcement of national implementation measures for international conventions concerning WMD non-proliferation, including (redacted list):
  • “control and manage all activities relating to non-proliferation, and provide guidance, instructions and information in connection therewith;
  • supervise and implement matters arising from international conventions, treaties and agreements related to proliferation affairs entered into or ratified by the Government of the Republic;
  • designate knowledgeable persons from other government institutions and the industry as members of committees of the Council”;
  • issue, suspend or revoke permits under section 13 [concerning the designation of controlled goods, and related permits, registration and transfer controls]
  • “ensure that the conditions of permits and end-use requirements are met, and take the necessary regulatory steps in this regard;
  • control the activities and means of transit or re-export, including those relating to goods in transit or in bond;
  • institute and coordinate investigations, carry out and coordinate inspections and verifications”;
  • issue codes of conduct concerning non-proliferation; and
  • publish information concerning the Council’s activities.
Another example, albeit one with a significantly more limited mandate, is the New Zealand Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC) which was established under Section 16 of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act 1987. Chaired by the Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, the committee consists of eight additional members appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who in practice have all been drawn from civil society. The current membership includes four NGO experts, two academics and a former military officer and senior defence official. PACDAC’s functions, as specified in Section 17 of the Act, are more advisory in nature than those of the South African Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and include remits to:
  • Advise the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade on such aspects of disarmament and arms control matters as it thinks fit;
  • Advise the Prime Minister on the implementation of the 1987 Act;
  • Publish public reports on disarmament, arms control and the implementation of the 1987 Act.

The committee is also tasked with making recommendations concerning funding applications for projects and tertiary scholarships submitted to the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust (PADET), whose purpose is to “advance education and thereby promote international peace, arms control and disarmament”. It also decides funding applications from New Zealand NGOs to the New Zealand Disarmament Education United Nations Implementation Fund (DEUNIF), for core and project costs to implement recommendations of the 2002 United Nations Study on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education; possibly the only government fund established to implement the Study’s recommendations. See a previous blog post on this United Nations Study

As many other States are only now considering the establishment of national oversight mechanisms for fulfilling their obligations under WMD treaties and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, it is a timely opportunity for them to reflect on whether an how to include a formalized role for civil society experts.

Disclaimer: Angela Woodward was appointed to the New Zealand Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control for a three-year term in 2011. 

Last changed: Jun 13 2013 at 10:54 AM