1540 Assistance Support Initiative:  If only CBRN assistance matchmaking was easy

By Dr. Richard T. Cupitt, Henry L. Stimson Centre

The Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and United Nations Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) both have roots in the Canadian mountain resort of Kananaskis.  Most readers of this newsletter will know about the establishment of the Global Partnership at the 2002 Kananaskis Summit and its original commitment to raise up to $20 billion for nonproliferation assistance projects, focusing first on then G8 member Russia, over a ten-year period.  Less well known is the extent to which the text of resolution 1540 echoes – often word for word – the 2002 GP Statement of Principles, a good example of the power of “agreed text” in diplomacy.  In spirit, moreover, both the GP principles and resolution 1540 also share an understanding that meeting nonproliferation objectives of the global community requires action to help those States requesting assistance and that these efforts must imbibe the values of cooperation and partnership.  

Many GP members had a sense of the scale of the needs and the many challenges in building these early GP assistance partnerships after working in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.  In contrast, the international community did not know the global scale of nonproliferation needs and challenges other than it must be large and require a long-term effort.  With its first report on the status of implementation of the many obligations of resolution 1540 in 2006, the Committee established pursuant to UN Security Council resolution, better known as the 1540 Committee, began to make clear the massive gaps in implementation worldwide.  GP members noted these more global risks and, in 2011, they decided that after its initial ten-year mandate, the GP needed to address CBRN nonproliferation on a global scale and do it “in coordination with existing multilateral mechanisms, including the 1540 Committee.”  Replicating the successes of the first ten years, however, would not come easy.  Not surprisingly, the 2016 comprehensive review of the resolution 1540 revealed the slow progress in closing those gaps and a broken process for turning assistance requests into assistance partnerships.  

With generous support from Global Affairs Canada, in 2017 the Henry L. Stimson Center began its 1540 Assistance Support Initiative (ASI) to tackle two of the specific assistance challenges identified in the 2016 comprehensive review – the lack of information on the scope of CBRN nonproliferation assistance available and the need to make 1540 assistance requests better fit the requirements of those offering help.  Although initially aimed at helping those seeking assistance identify potential assistance partners and draft more effective requests, collecting data on current and older CBRN nonproliferation assistance programs and projects also provides more tools for stakeholders to tailor and evaluate their assistance efforts and, perhaps most important, avoid unnecessary duplication.  

The 1540 Assistance Support Initiative (ASI): Open Access Online Database, Search Tools, and Assistance Resources

From an initial database of 986 programs and projects (with 232 funders / implementers) in 2018, the current ASI Database contains information on more than 1,500 CBRN nonproliferation assistance programs and projects (with 674 funders / implementers) worldwide.  We anticipate that the 2021 version of the database will contain closer to 2,000 entries.  The typical data entry for each program or project includes information on the funding source, the implementers, the types of activities, the recipients, the project or program duration, and more, freely available to all.  The GP Annexes and direct outreach to States, international and regional organizations, and civil society institutions are the key sources for the information in the database.  

The Stimson Center began putting the data on a project website in 2018.  Revamped in 2020 to make it more sustainable and user friendly, with automatic translation into the six UN languages plus Dutch, German, and Portuguese, the project website has guided search tools for users with different levels of familiarity with CBRN assistance, a host of additional assistance resources (including information on building diversity), and ideas on how to establish assistance partnerships.  Through the initiative’s Advisory Board and in close cooperation with 1540 regional coordinators and other stakeholders, the Stimson Center has worked individually with more than a dozen States to identify potential assistance partners as well as dozens more through training on the online tool in regional and multilateral meetings.   The Stimson Center has demonstrated the database at several GP and other multilateral meetings, it is used by 1540 regional coordinators in developing national action plans, and it is a resource on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) websites (the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) also used input on the ASI experience in developing its Article X assistance database).  


Next Steps

As with most databases reliant on voluntary reporting, it is only an imperfect snapshot of CBRN nonproliferation activities.  In addition to updating the data through its normal sources, the Stimson Center has overseen two pilot efforts to mine social media platforms to identify additional projects and has begun new collaborations with associations of NGOs that regularly participate in BWC meetings, the CWC Coalition, and the International Nuclear Security Forum to gather information on and highlight the contributions from civil society on assistance.

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly created novel challenges for everyone involved in CBRN nonproliferation assistance.  For the ASI, it meant that officials in States requesting assistance had less time and attention to give to CBRN nonproliferation assistance and that the UN Security Council delayed the next comprehensive review of resolution 1540 and important decisions on the mandate of the 1540 Committee to 2021-2022.  The Stimson Center is now working with UNODA to coordinate our efforts to hold an assistance conference on 1540 focused on a small group of African States.  The hope is that GP members will engage directly with States seeking assistance to discuss the challenges those offering and seeking assistance face and, after substantial preparatory work, produce some assistance partnerships.

The Stimson Center also has begun to crosswalk the obligations of resolution 1540 with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  CBRN nonproliferation usually takes a back seat to other development priorities in much of the world, but our initial review suggests that this need not be the case.  Besides the obvious connection to SDG 16 on peace, justice and stronger institutions, the obligations of 1540 directly overlap seven indicators in five other SDGs and indirectly to indicators in four other SDGs.  Clarifying these connections has the potential for seeing CBRN and official development assistance from a new perspective that can benefit both.

The Stimson Center also has taken some steps to ensure the sustainability of the initiative, such as hosting the online tool and formally connecting it to the work of others.  In 2021, Stimson aims to create an even more sustainable future for the ASI, including, if appropriate, offering it to GP members.  In any case, Stimson encourages all GP members to use the tool if they have not done so already and certainly welcomes your feedback.

For more information on ASI and other CBRN nonproliferation projects at the Henry L. Stimson Center, please contact Dr. Richard T. Cupitt at or see