Wassenaar Endorses Steps to Deny Terrorists Arms

Wade Boese

The United States and 32 other leading arms exporters Dec. 12 endorsed voluntary steps to make it more difficult for terrorists to acquire conventional arms and dual-use goods that could be used to build weapons of mass destruction.

As part of an annual year-end meeting of the Wassenaar Arrangement, its 33 members agreed to stiffen export controls on shoulder-launched missiles, institute tougher laws regulating arms brokers, and exchange information on their exports of small arms and light weapons. Established in July 1996, the Wassenaar Arrangement commits its members to share data on their arms exports and regulations with the aim of preventing other countries from building up destabilizing arms stockpiles.

U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Brill, who chaired the Dec. 10-12 plenary, described it in a postmeeting press conference as achieving “some of the most significant progress” ever by the voluntary regime. He said, “These are all the kinds of items that are very practical and relevant in a day-to-day sense because it is conventional weapons that kill people.”

Washington and many other capitals view the possibility that a terrorist group could acquire shoulder-launched missiles, formally known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), as one of the most serious threats to civilians today. To better address that danger, Wassenaar members agreed to update guidelines for controlling MANPADS exports that they previously agreed to three years ago. (See ACT, January/February 2001.)

The revised guidelines stress that decisions to export shoulder-fired missiles should only be made at a “senior policy level.” The earlier version simply recommended that “competent authorities” should decide whether to make a deal.

To guard against MANPADS being stolen and misused, members are calling for all newly manufactured missiles to be equipped with features—“as such technologies become available to” producers—that only permit authorized users to fire them. Countries are also encouraged to destroy any excess missiles that they possess or to help other countries dispose of their extras to cut down on the chances that they might fall into the wrong hands.

The United States is currently planning or involved in projects aiming to destroy up to 10,000 excess MANPADS in several countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Liberia, and Serbia and Montenegro. Washington is working out the details of a destruction program with Nicaragua.

In addition to reporting on any future MANPADS exports, members will also share information on unscrupulous buyers, as well as those that fail to live up to their obligations to safely secure the missiles they purchase.

Members are further urged to adopt “adequate penalty provisions” for those that violate MANPADS export controls.

More generally, Wassenaar members agreed that penalty provisions needed to be established and enforced for any illegitimate arms brokering activities regardless of the type of weapons involved. In a document titled “Elements for Effective Legislation on Arms Brokering,” the 33 countries pledged to regulate better the activities of arms brokers on their territories and consider limiting the number of individuals and firms authorized to do such work.

Members also agreed to exert greater vigilance over exports of dual-use goods to recipients subject to arms embargos if the item is intended for a military end-use. Dual-use goods are defined as those that can be used both for civilian and military purposes.

In a move pushed by some Wassenaar members for years, the 33 countries added a new weapons-reporting category. Twice per year, members exchange information on their deliveries of heavy weapons, such as tanks and combat aircraft. In the future, they will also report on exports of small arms and light weapons, including revolvers, rifles, and machine guns.

The minimum threshold criterion for reports on exports of artillery systems was also lowered from 100 millimeters to 75 millimeters to capture some types of mortars.

This spate of activity by Wassenaar members at their December meeting stemmed in part from the fact that they had just concluded a year-long assessment of the regime and were primed for action. A U.S. government official said that all Wassenaar members had started the year with a shared priority of strengthening controls on MANPADS.

The next Wassenaar plenary is scheduled for this coming December in Vienna, and the next comprehensive review of the regime is scheduled for 2007.