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– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
Divisions Still Impede Wassenaar Export Control Regime at Plenary

THE 33 COUNTRIES of the Wassenaar Arrangement concluded their December 9-10 plenary meeting in Vienna without resolving outstanding differences over the evolution and operation of the export control regime. As a result of persistent disagreements, members failed to act on initiatives to expand reporting categories, address existing imbalances in reporting requirements and appoint a permanent head for the Vienna-based Secretariat.

Wassenaar, comprised of most industrialized arms exporters with the notable exception of China, aims to facilitate the coordination of members' national export control policies, promote transparency in the export of conventional weapons and dual-use equipment and prevent their destabilizing accumulation. Members are expected to provide information semi-annually on exports to non-Wassenaar members of weapons and "sensitive" dual-use goods that appear on the regime's two control lists: the Munitions List and the Dual-Use Goods and Technologies List, which is divided into basic and sensitive tiers. Denials of "basic" dual-use goods are also to be reported semi-annually, while denials of "very sensitive" dual-use goods and approvals of transactions that were previously denied by another Wassenaar member within the preceding three years are to be notified to the Secretariat within 60 days.

Unlike its Cold War predecessor, the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), Wassenaar members cannot veto exports by another member. While Wassenaar's mandate does not target specific states (as COCOM did), members have agreed to refrain from deals with states in areas of tension and heavily armed regions or those countries that generate concern among members.


Differences Remain

At the plenary, members reaffirmed earlier decisions not to export to any recipient in Afghanistan and to "exercise maximum restraint" in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. The plenary's sole public statement warned of "potentially destabilizing accumulations of armaments in certain regions," but did not identify any region by name. According to a U.S. official involved with Wassenaar matters, a confidential summary report also called on members to complete their information submissions, indicating that full participation remains a problem.

At Vienna, the United States and Britain proposed additional reporting categories for the regime's Munitions List beyond the current seven (tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships and missile systems) to include power-projection equipment such as transport helicopters and aerial refueling vehicles, but France and Russia blocked this initiative, arguing that the current reporting categories are adequate. Another U.S. official familiar with the plenary meeting indicated that Russia claimed the proposal was designed to deny markets to Moscow and limit its exports.

Members also discussed the creation of a so-called correspondence list that would increase reporting requirements for items appearing on the Munitions List (which now fall outside the seven reporting categories), but are similar to goods on the Dual-Use List and must be reported if exported. For example, night vision equipment on the Dual-Use List exported for a civilian end-user must be reported, while similar night vision equipment on the Munitions List sent to a military end-user does not. Exporters of primarily dual-use goods, such as Japan and Switzerland, pushed for the correspondence list as a means to redress this imbalance, but the initiative failed as some members refused to accept new reporting obligations.

After more than a year of operation, Wassenaar members remain divided over how intrusive the arrangement should be. Some members, particularly France and Russia, do not want Wassenaar to evolve beyond the current information exchanges, while the United States and others have advocated developing a stronger regime that relies on more than solely national discretion to control exports. However, French insistence to wait until the regime's first review conference, scheduled for 1999, to assess Wassenaar's operation will likely stymie any changes in the near future.

Perhaps reflective of the gap between members, the plenary closed without appointing a permanent head of the Secretariat, which has been led by an acting head since Wassenaar became operational in November 1996.