Meeting in Washington on December 18 for the second of their biannual summits in 2000, the United States and the 15-member European Union (EU) declared they would commit "to promoting the highest possible standards of conduct and enhanced export control practices" when selling weapons. The 16 countries pledged they would base their arms exports on the "shared principles of responsibility, transparency and restraint" and that they would encourage other weapons exporters to do the same.
In the document, formally titled "Declaration by the United States and the European Union on the Responsibilities of States and on Transparency Regarding Arms Exports," the United States and the EU deemed it "crucial to avoid" weapons exports that could be used for internal repression or violation of internationally recognized human rights. They also stated that arms exports, among other things, should not be destabilizing or aggravate internal or interstate conflicts or lead to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. However, the United States, the world's top arms exporter over the past decade, and the EU, whose members consistently rank among the top five arms exporters, did "reaffirm the right of States to acquire the means of self-defense."
The declaration noted the United States had recently proposed the negotiation of an "international arms sales code of conduct" to promote greater restraint and responsibility in world arms sales. But the Clinton administration and a majority of Congress opposed efforts that started in 1993 within Congress to legislate a national code of conduct aimed at establishing criteria, such as a country's respect for human rights, that Washington would use to evaluate U.S. arms importers. EU members approved a non-binding code of conduct in May 1998. (See ACT, May 1998.)