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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
U.S. Dual-Use Exports Largely Go Unchecked

The U.S. government process for checking whether American commercial exports are being misused for weapons purposes needs improvement, the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded in a January report.

The GAO found that the Department of Commerce conducts few inspections to see if a foreign importer is actually using U.S.-supplied dual-use goods properly. Dual-use goods are items with both civilian and military applications. During fiscal years 2000-2002, the Commerce Department approved more than 26,000 shipments of dual-use goods abroad. Nearly 7,700 of those went to destinations in states of concern, such as China, India, Israel, Russia, and Syria. China and India each accounted for more than 2,000 of the deals.

A total of 428 follow-up inspections, more formally known as post-shipment verification (PSV) checks, were done over that same three-year period on exports to states of concern. GAO found that the inspections were of limited value because U.S. inspectors frequently were not aware of the end-use conditions pertaining to the import in question or did not have adequate technical knowledge to assess whether the import was being wrongfully used. Some governments, notably China, also restricted inspectors’ access. GAO further discovered that recipients were not always informed of how a specific import could be used.

Moreover, GAO stated that PSV findings were not given much weight in later export decisions. Although importers with negative PSV results were more strictly evaluated when requesting additional imports, GAO also found that it did not preclude them from concluding future deals.

GAO recommended that the Commerce Department buttress its inspectors’ technical knowledge of U.S. dual-use goods, as well as their understanding of the specific conditions applying to each export’s supposed end-use. The congressional watchdog agency also said that U.S. exporters should provide buyers with written prohibitions on an import’s use. The Commerce Department responded that it “has already taken significant steps to strengthen the PSV process along these lines.”


In a November 2003 unclassified report on global proliferation during the first half of last year, the CIA identified Russia as a key source of dual-use goods and technical knowledge for proliferators. The report stated that Russian entities “continued to be eager to raise funds via exports and transfers.” Of ongoing concern to Washington is Russia’s continued involvement in Iran’s nuclear reactor project at Bushehr, which does have the Kremlin’s official blessing.