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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Missile Control Regime Focuses on Iran, NK
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Wade Boese

A group of countries devoted to stemming the spread of missiles vowed recently to intensify efforts to deny Iran and North Korea exports that could aid their missile programs. China’s alleged failure to curtail such exports to Iran is a key factor frustrating Beijing’s campaign to join the group.

The 34 members of the voluntary Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) met Oct. 4-6 in Copenhagen, Denmark, for an annual plenary to exchange information on global missile proliferation, update the group’s export control list, and set action priorities. Regime members are supposed to restrict their exports of missiles and related items. In a post-meeting statement, the group cited recent UN Security Council measures on Iran and North Korea and “expressed their determination to implement the calls in these resolutions.”

Security Council Resolution 1695, passed July 15 in the wake of a salvo of North Korean missile tests, requires all countries to prevent Pyongyang from procuring “missiles or missile related-items, materials, goods and technology.” Two weeks later, the Security Council approved Resolution 1696 after Iran failed to suspend uranium-enrichment activities that could yield fissile material for nuclear weapons. Among other steps, that resolution calls on countries to prevent exports that might benefit Iran’s ballistic missile program. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Per Fischer, the current MTCR chair and special adviser on nonproliferation to the Danish minister for foreign affairs, told Arms Control Today Oct. 17 that the group’s commitment to follow through on these “extremely important” resolutions was the recent conclave’s top achievement. A senior Department of State official agreed in an Oct. 18 Arms Control Today interview, applauding the regime’s “very strong and unanimous agreement to take substantive action” on the resolutions.

Regime members have disagreed about what constitutes acceptable transfers to Iran. An August 2005 State Department report charged Russian entities with supplying “missile-applicable technologies to missile programs of proliferation concern in China, India, Iran, and other countries.” The report added that the “continuing pattern” of such exports “calls into serious question Russia’s ability to control missile proliferation.”

More recently, Washington announced sanctions in August on two Russian entities—the state-owned arms export agency Rosoboronexport and aviation company Sukhoi—for shipments to Iran that allegedly appear on multilateral export control lists or could aid Tehran’s development of unconventional weapons or missiles. (See ACT, September 2006.) Rosoboronexport protested the sanctions, saying they were unwarranted.

The U.S. government also has penalized Chinese entities repeatedly, most recently in June, for alleged unconventional weapons- and missile-related exports to Iran. All told, since 2001 the State and Treasury Departments have imposed a total of 50 sanctions on 25 Chinese entities involved in deals with Iran since 2001. In addition, the State Department has also levied four other sanctions against Chinese entities for missile proliferation to unspecified destinations.

In Sept. 14 testimony to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, strongly criticized China’s missile export control record. “The Chinese government’s irregular enforcement of the regulations meant to stop such proliferation continues to give the United States deep reservations” about China’s intentions, she said.

As a result, the United States maintains its opposition to China’s MTCR membership bid. Applicant countries must win the consensus of the group to join. Eleven other countries— Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia—also want regime membership but did not receive an invitation at the October plenary.

Until his term as chair ends at the next plenary, one of Fischer’s main responsibilities is continuing consultations with regime applicants and other nonmembers about their missile export controls. Fischer asserted he wants to be more “systematic” in tailoring the regime’s cooperation with outside states, particularly those in the Middle East and Asia.

A key outreach activity, the senior State Department official said, is pressing countries to establish or improve their export controls so proliferators cannot use these states’ territories as transshipment hubs. Two years ago, Security Council Resolution 1540 obligated all governments to institute border, domestic, and export controls to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring unconventional arms and their potential delivery vehicles. (See ACT, May 2004.)

Fischer and the senior State Department official both said the primary challenge facing the regime is ensuring controls keep pace with the rapid development and diffusion of technology. Although members agreed in Copenhagen to some yet undisclosed control list changes, the U.S. official said Washington wanted more. The United States unsuccessfully sought to add some cruise missile technologies to the control list and remove some unmanned aerial vehicle technologies.