17 December 2018
Implementation of UNSCR 2231 (2015) three years on: the UNSG's sixth report
Emma Scott, Research Assistant, Project Alpha
The UN Secretary General has now released his sixth report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015), which governs the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (i.e. the nuclear deal with Iran). The UN Secretary General issues a report every six months to assess the implementation of the resolution. Project Alpha has been following these reports. Herein, we provide an analysis of the of this sixth report’s key findings in light of the former reports, and specifically related to the implementation of the nuclear related provisions; the ballistic missile related provisions; and the restrictions on the missile transfers or activities.
Key findings of the report include:
- 5 new proposals submitted through the Procurement Channel, which brings the total number of proposals submitted to 42
- 2 of the 6 cases of illicit procurement activity set out in the previous report did not meet the criteria set out in the Nuclear Suppliers Group Guidelines of Nuclear Related Dual Use Equipment, therefore did not require advanced approval by the Security Council; enquiries into the other 4 cases are ongoing
- Component parts of 3 additional ballistic missile launches at Saudi Arabia by the Houthis had features consistent with those of the Iranian Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile, as previously examined
- Two container launch units for anti-tank guided missiles recovered by Saudi-led coalition in Yemen had characteristics of an Iranian manufacturer
Since 12 June 2018, only 5 new proposals have been submitted through the Procurement Channel, bringing the total number of proposals submitted from 37 to 42. This figure is significantly down on the 13 proposals submitted in the previous reporting period 8 December 2017 – 12 June 2018. There has been no increase on the number of proposals approved or disapproved since the last report in June 2018, and there has been a slight increase from 7 to 9 proposals withdrawn since June 2018. Although, the procurement channel was slow to take-off from the beginning, it appears that it is slowing down further and not really functioning as a mechanism on the whole, and particularly, in the aftermath of the Trump withdrawal from the JCPOA.
|Status of the Procurement Channel|
|Reporting Period||No. of proposals submitted in the reporting period||No. of proposals submitted since implementation day (16 January)||No. of proposals approved||No. of proposals not approved since implementation day||No. of proposals withdrawn implementation day||No. of Proposals under review|
|16 January 2016 – 12 July 2016||1||1||0||0||1||0|
|13 July 2016 – 30 December 2016||5||6||3||0||1||2|
|31 December 2016 – 20 June 2017||10||16||10||0||2||4|
|21 June 2017 – 8 December 2017||8||24||16||3||5||0|
|9 December 2017 – 12 June 2018||13||37||24||3||7||3|
|13 June 2018 – 6 December 2018||5||42||28||4||9||1|
Ballistic Missile-related activities by Iran
In early January 2017, approximately, one year following implementation day of the JCPOA, and in the weeks following President Trump assuming office, reports started to emerge of Iran testing a range of ballistic missiles. The UN Secretary General’s reports have indicated approximately 20 tests conducted in the last two years, the details of which are briefly outlined in the table below.
|Ballistic Missile launches or tests by Iran since 16 January 2016|
|Date of Launch/Test||Type of missile/SLV||Type/Reason for Launch||Reporting State/outlet|
|15 November 2016||Qiam||Flight test||Israel|
|29 January 2017||Khorramshahr medium range ballistic missile||Flight test||Confirmed by Iran|
|18 June 2017||Ballistic missiles||Retaliation against targets in Syria||Israel|
|19 June 2017|
|4 July 2017||Medium range ballistic missile medium range ballistic missile||Flight test||US + E3|
|27 July 2017||Simorgh SLV||Not mentioned||US + E3|
|2 January 2018||Shahab-3 variant||Flight test||Israel|
|5 January 2018||Scud variant||Flight test||Israel|
|February 2018||Zolfaghar||Flight test||Israel|
|April 2018||Khorramshahr||Flight test||Israel|
|May 2018||Zolfaghar||Flight test||Israel|
|May 2018||Shahab-3 variant||Flight test||Israel|
|June 2018||Shahab-3 variant||Flight test||Israel|
|August 2018||Qiam||Flight test||Israel|
|August 2018||Zolfaghar||Flight test||Israel|
|30 September||Unknown (x 5)||Retaliation against targets in Syria||Israel (reported in Iranian media)|
|1 December 2018||Medium range ballistic missile||Test firing||United States|
While Iran has not categorically confirmed all of these tests, it has not denied all of them either with the exception of those reported by Israel between January and August 2018. Iran explicitly confirmed the 2017 test of the Khorramshahr missile maintaining that the test did not contradict the JCPOA nor resolution 2231. Paragraph 3 of resolution 2231 “calls” upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology […]”. The phrase “calls” is not the affirmative “decides” language of the Security Council as specified in resolution 1929 (2010) prior to the signing of the JCPOA. Consequently, the Security Council is blocked over the continuation of the program and the interpretation of 2231.
The US, alongside the United Kingdom, and France, as well as Germany have jointly reacted to the recent launches. These states maintain that they are “destabilising and provocative” and conducted in defiance of resolution 2231. They, alongside Israel, further maintain that the phrase “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons” includes all Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Category I systems, defined as those capable of delivering at least a 500kg payload to a range of at least 300km. Consequently, they say, as the missiles can be categorised as such, they are inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Within the context of Security Council reporting, China has been silent on the issue, while Russia has been coming to Iran’s aid. Russia maintains firstly that there is no legal prohibition through resolution 2231 on the development by Iran of missile and space programs and secondly there is no information that Iran’s ballistic missiles are designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons. In line with Iran, Russia also maintains that the Category I parameters of the MTCR (of which Russia is a member) were never intended to be used in the context of the resolution.
Iran’s position is threefold. Firstly, it maintains that its ballistic missiles have not been designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and are thus outside the purview of resolution 2231. Secondly, Iran’s missile activities are part of its conventional deterrence and defensive capabilities, and nothing in resolution 2231 prohibits conventional missile activity. Thirdly, Iran argues the definition of the MTCR is not an internationally agreed upon definition, and there is no reference to MTCR criteria in paragraph 3 of annex B to resolution 2231, therefore MTCR criteria is not applicable.
Iran’s most recent test on 1 December 2018 caused further cause for complaint by the US and key European member states, but in the closed-door Security Council meeting which followed there was no consensus. Taking advantage of the blockage, Iran has said it will continue to develop and test ballistic missiles and is unwilling to engage in dialogue on the issue. Consequently, despite the growing frequency, range and performance of the missiles, the status quo seems unlikely to change.
Ballistic Missile-related transfers or activities with Iran
Beyond the question of missile development and testing, the issue of ballistic-missile related transfers to and from Iran also remains. The question is whether Iran has transferred the missiles, parts thereof, or related technology to the Houthis in Yemen. Any such transfer post 16 January 2016 would constitute a violation of annex B to resolution 2231, which requires states to obtain prior approval from the Security Council for the supply, sale or transfer to or ‘from’ Iran of all items set out in the Missile Technology Control Regime list.
The Houthis could not apply for such authorisation because they are not a recognised UN member state, but rather a non-state actor, and such authorisation if requested by Iran would in any case never be granted because UN Security Council resolution 2216 (2015) on Yemen established an arms embargo on the Houthis. Therefore, the transfer of weaponry by Iran to the Houthis would also constitute a violation of 2216.
Launches of missiles by the Houthis in Yemen at Saudi territory began in July 2017. Since, there has been 14 launches in total. According to assessments by UN authorities, the missiles launched shared key design features with a known type of missile manufactured in Iran – the Qiam 1 short range ballistic missile. Putting the question of regional stability aside, the overarching problem is the proliferation of ballistic missile technology in the Middle East, and the spread of such technology to non-state actors. Iran’s categorical denials of these transfers illustrate that it is not the Iranian government’s official position to support the Houthis and proliferate ballistic technology, probably because the views in Tehran are unlikely to be united on these issues. However, Iranian denials are questionable in view of the evidence presented by the Secretary General, leaving a certain amount of responsibility for proliferation in the region with Iran.
|Launches by the Houthis at the Territory of Saudi Arabia|
|Date of Launch||Number of Missiles Launches||Name/Type of Missile Launched|
|22 July 2017||1||Qiam-1 (a Scud variant)|
|4 November 2017||1||Qiam-1|
|19 November 2017||1||Qiam-1|
|5 January 2018||1||Qiam-1|
|30 January 2018||1||Qiam-1|
|25 March 2018||3||Qiam-1|
|11 April 2018||1||Qiam-1|
|9 May 2018||2||Not mentioned|
|5 June 2018||1||Not mentioned|
|24 June 2018||2||Qiam-1|
Since the first report, the Secretary General has reported extensively on arms shipments to and from Iran. Resolution 2231 has two main provisions related to conventional arms. The first provision, paragraph 5 of annex B requires states to obtain prior approval from the Security Council on a case-by-case basis for supplying, selling, or transferring ‘to’ Iran the seven categories of arms defined by the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. In the three-year period since implementation day of the JCPOA, the UN Secretary General has only reported on one proposal to the Security Council, the outcome of which has not been publicly divulged thus far. In addition, there have been another three instances of attempted unauthorised shipments to Iran – two of which were prevented by Ukrainian authorities, and one by Turkish authorities.
In the second provision concerning paragraph 6 (b) of resolution 2231, the Security Council decided to prevent, unless decided otherwise on a case-by-case basis, the supply, sale or transfer of arms ‘from’ Iran. No reports exist of Iran trying to use this mechanism and it seems unlikely in view of political circumstances, that any such request would be authorised. Instead, approximately 14 cases have been mentioned in the Secretary General’s reports where arms and related materials assessed to be of Iranian origin have been seized or recovered by fellow UN member states’ authorities. Iran has not responded to the accusations.
Finally, Iran has also been found to be displaying defence equipment in international defence exhibitions on 5 occasions, in Iraq (x 3), in Turkey (x1), and in Azerbaijan (x1). Iran’s justification for not asking for prior Security Council authorisation was that no prior approval was required because Iran retained ownership of the items exhibited. The Secretary General has requested to the Security Council to clarify whether paragraph 6 also includes temporary transfers, but the Security Council has yet to respond.
Although, the evidence from member states seems to indicate that Iran is not respecting the arms embargo imposed upon it, the Secretary General and the Secretariat continue to examine much of the evidence submitted by them. To determine a violation of resolution 2231, the transfers emanating from Iran must have taken place after implementation day on 16 January 2016.
Three years on Iran’s nuclear, ballistic missile, and arms programs are as divisive as ever, both in the region and further afield. So far, Iran is implementing its nuclear related commitments under the JCPOA. In the author’s opinion, the possibility of US military action aside, Iran will continue to do so until the easing of restrictions begin on the nuclear program in 2025. The question here is in view of President Trump’s withdrawal from the current deal, will Iran be willing to sign up to an agreement covering the period post 2025?
Restrictions will be lifted of the ballistic missile activity in 2023. However, at present, Iran seems determined to continue its ballistic activities and ballistic proliferation in the region in defiance of Western calls of condemnation and concern. The ballistic programme already high on the U.S. agenda is also rising on political agendas in Europe, so the question for another article is how should Europe respond?
The embargo on conventional arms will be lifted in 2020, but even for now, it is proving difficult to impose. In this case, the question is whether and which states will be publicly willing to engage in conventional arms transfers with Iran in the post-2020 period – only two years from now.
 UN Security Council, Resolution 2231 (2015), S/RES/2231 ()2015, 20 July 2015.
 UN Security Council, Third report of the Secretary General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), S/2017/515, 20 June 2017.
 UN Security Council, Fourth report of the Secretary General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), S/2017/1030, 8 December 2017.
 Op. cit. UN Security Council, Third report of the Secretary General…, S/2017/515, 20 June 2017.
 UN Security Council, Fifth report of the Secretary General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), S/2018/602, 12 June 2018.
 Tasnim News Agency, ‘’Iran to Continue Testing Homegrown Missiles: General”, 02 December 2018, https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2018/12/02/1889585/iran-to-continue-testing-homegrown-missiles-general
 UN Security Council, Fifth report of the Secretary General…, S/2018/602, 12 June 2018.
 The seven categories of arms as defined by the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms include battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles, or missile systems.
 UN Security Council, Second report of the Secretary General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), S/2016/1136, 30 December 2016.