"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Little Progress at Wassenaar Export Control Regime Plenary
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AT A DECEMBER 2–3 plenary in Vienna, the 33 members of the Wassenaar Arrangement failed to reach consensus on a U.S. initiative to increase transparency on members' arms deals. However, member-states approved non-binding criteria to assist states in evaluating potential arms exports and took initial steps toward building restraint in exports of small arms and man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), such as shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles.

Wassenaar, which became operational in July 1996, aims to promote transparency and "greater responsibility" among participating states in their export of conventional weapons and dual-use goods and technologies to prevent destabilizing accumulations. Most major arms exporters participate in the arrangement, with the key exceptions of Brazil, China, Israel and South Africa. Unlike the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM)—Wassenaar's Cold War predecessor—the arrangement does not seek to restrict exports to a particular region. Yet it does encourage members to refrain from exports to regions in conflict and states of concern to other members. The arrangement has two control lists: the Munitions List and the Dual-Use Goods and Technologies List, which is broken into two tiers of "basic" and "sensitive" with a sub-set of "very sensitive." Twice per year, participating states voluntarily exchange information on deliveries of conventional arms in the seven categories of the UN Register of Conventional Arms (tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile systems). States also exchange information semi-annually on licenses denied for basic dual-use goods and licenses approved for sensitive and very sensitive items.

In addition, members are expected to notify other members within 60 days of license denials for sensitive or very sensitive dual-use goods and licenses approved if an "essentially identical transaction" was denied by another member within the previous three years. No state, however, can block another's export. A U.S. government official noted that despite a plenary statement touting the increased amount of information exchanged, a few countries have consistently not participated with regard to dual-use goods. The United States, one of a number of members that characterize Wassenaar as under-performing to date, further contends that the current reporting categories on conventional arms are inadequate.

At the plenary, Washington continued to seek expansion of the reporting requirements on conventional weapons by 10 categories to include power projection equipment, such as transport helicopters and ground-to-air missiles, which are not currently covered by the missile category. France and Russia blocked consensus on the initiative, with France claiming that the arrangement should improve existing mechanisms before adding more reporting responsibilities. Washington and other members will raise additional reporting categories again in the 1999 review conference, which will consist of a series of discussions coinciding with Wassenaar's general working group and expert group meetings.

The "Elements for Objective Analysis and Advice Concerning Potentially Destabilizing Accumulations of Conventional Weapons," approved by the plenary, lists several broad categories of criteria to assess whether a potential arms export could lead to a destabilizing accumulation. Wassenaar members, if they so choose, are to consider such factors as the risks of diversion to another end-user, the balance of forces in the region, the likelihood of the weapon being used to violate human rights, an importer's defense spending, and the possibility of reverse engineering.

Members also pledged to exercise "extreme vigilance" over small arms and light weapons transfers to areas in conflict and tasked the general working group with pursuing discussions on preventing the illicit possession of MANPADS, a priority issue for the United States. Participating states updated the dual-use control list by carving out exclusions for technologies that now have widespread civilian usage, such as cellular telephone technology. A U.S. State Department official said that none of the decontrolled items would pose a threat to sensitive U.S. programs or military command and control on the battlefield.

Members reaffirmed past decisions not to export arms to Afghanistan and to exercise maximum restraint in transfers to African regions in conflict. But, as reported in The New York Times on December 6, Russia and Bulgaria are currently shipping arms to Ethiopia, a state on the verge of war with Eritrea.