Wassenaar Members Amend Founding Document

Wade Boese

At the annual year-end plenary of the Wassenaar Arrangement, held December 6-7 in Vienna, 33 of the world’s leading weapons exporters amended the arrangement’s founding document by adding a new section declaring that Wassenaar members would continue to prevent terrorist organizations and individuals from acquiring conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies that could be used for military purposes.

The move marked the first time that Wassenaar members amended the arrangement’s founding document, the Initial Elements, and that members formally acknowledged a role for the arrangement in dealing with weapon transfers to nonstate actors rather than focusing narrowly on arms deals between countries. A U.S. official said that the September 11 terrorist attacks underscored the “problems of porous borders” and the importance of looking at arms export destinations.

Established in July 1996, the Wassenaar Arrangement calls on its members, which include the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and many European countries, to exchange information voluntarily on their exports—and in some cases denials of exports—of certain conventional weapons and dual-use goods and technologies to non-Wassenaar members.

In past years, the United States, as well as other Wassenaar members, supported enhancing or expanding the arrangement, but some Wassenaar members have resisted any attempts to modify the arrangement, including adding amendments or agreeing to report new categories of weapons, fearing any change might be used to prohibit or undercut their legitimate weapons trade. The amendment on terrorism may be viewed by some Wassenaar members, including the United States, as a precedent for future amendments to the arrangement.

As they did last year, Wassenaar members also agreed at the December meeting to expand existing reporting categories. Under the arrangement, members are asked every six months to report deliveries of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, military aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, military and attack helicopters, warships, and missiles or missile systems. Members agreed that future reports regarding ACV exports should include transfers of armored bridge-launching vehicles and that deliveries of vehicles designed for towing artillery should be included in reports on large-caliber artillery exports.

Members could not find the required consensus, however, to expand their voluntary reporting to include roughly 10 other types of power-projection equipment or other systems not used for actual combat but employed in moving weapons and troops to the battlefield or recovering and repairing weapons damaged in combat. An effort to lower the weight threshold for what is considered a warship also failed to win approval. If it had been accepted, this requirement would have increased the types and number of ships whose export countries would have been requested to report.

In addition, a U.S. proposal to add a new reporting category for exports of small arms and light weapons did not have the support of one or two countries, effectively blocking its approval Although viewed by many countries as the villain of a United Nations conference devoted to the issue of controlling the small arms trade this past summer (See ACT, September 2001), Washington believes that exporters should “report small arms transfers,” according to the U.S. government official.

Members approved additions and subtractions to the dual-use goods and technologies control list, which identifies and classifies export items that Wassenaar members agree should be controlled, although how they do so is left to national discretion. For example, members removed some readily available commercial technologies, such as digital cellular radio systems, from the control list but added equipment used in high-altitude parachuting to it.