News Briefs

Central African Countries Sign Small Arms Pact

Farrah Zughni

Eight Central African countries—Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, and São Tomé and Principe—signed a convention for the control of small arms and light weapons on Nov. 19 in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. Three other countries—Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, and Rwanda—are included in the convention, but have not signed it.

Known as the Kinshasa Convention, after the capital city of Congo where it was drafted last April, the agreement “reflects the latest developments in the control of small arms and light weapons, as well as the specificities of the subregion,” according to a Nov. 11 UN press release. The agreement calls on members to “prevent, combat and eradicate” illicit arms trade in the region, foster cooperation among the parties in this effort, and reduce armed violence. It also sets legal, procedural, and security standards for all participating countries.

The Kinshasa Convention fills a geographic gap as similar conventions now cover trade in small arms and light weapons in large parts of East, West, and southern Africa. The treaty will come into force 30 days after the sixth state ratifies it.


Export Reform Implementation Steps Detailed

Jeff Abramson

The Obama administration in December released draft regulations to implement portions of its ongoing export control reform overhaul, providing key details for the approach it announced earlier in the year.

The newly proposed regulations flesh out the plan for aligning military as well as dual-use lists into three tiers, in part by defining key terms such as “critical,” “substantial,” and “significant.” (See ACT, October 2010.) Those terms are used to indicate the types of advantages gained by controlling items in particular tiers.

For example, first-tier items as those “that are almost exclusively available from the United States and that provide a critical military or intelligence advantage.” The rules say the term “critical” means “providing a capability with respect to which the United States cannot afford to fall to parity and that would pose a grave threat to national security if not controlled.”

The publication of the proposed rules in the Dec. 9 and 10 Federal Register started a 60-day comment period. The tiering rules were published for the Department of State, which oversees the U.S. Munitions List (USML), and the Department of Commerce, which oversees the Commerce Control List (CCL) of items that have defense and civil uses.

The administration released a Commerce Department-specific rule proposing a new license exemption to allow exports, re-exports, and transfers of specific items to destinations “that pose little risk of unauthorized use of those items.” No first-tier items would be eligible for the exemption, and exporters using it would be required to issue special statements and receive written agreements from consignees that the items would not be transferred to restricted destinations.

The administration also published draft State Department amendments to regulations for USML Category VII, comprised of tanks and military vehicles. As detailed in August, the administration expects that only 26 percent of what the department licensed in the previous year under the category would remain in the revised version. According to a Dec. 9 press release, once the final rule is released and the congressional notification period concludes, the remaining items would be transferred to the CCL and a determination made over time regarding which items should be dropped from the CCL entirely. The release also stated that, “[a]t the end of this process, we anticipate that a significant percentage of the items that are transferred off of the USML would be permitted to be exported without a license.”

The Category VII review is to be a model for remaining USML categories. The administration “has an aggressive schedule to complete its rewrite of the entire USML in 2011,” the press release said.


U.S.-Russian Civil Nuclear Pact Clears Hurdle

Daniel Horner

The congressional review period for a U.S.-Russian agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation ended Dec. 9, opening the door for the agreement’s entry into force.

Under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, cooperation agreements such as the U.S.-Russian one do not need to be approved by Congress; they can enter into force after 90 days of so-called continuous session from the date of submittal unless Congress passes a joint resolution of disapproval. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) introduced such a resolution, and some other lawmakers criticized the pact, but there was no concerted legislative action to block it.

The agreement was negotiated by the Bush administration and was submitted to Congress in May 2008. The administration effectively withdrew it in September of that year, citing Russia’s military clash with Georgia the previous month. There also had been questions on Capitol Hill about the status of Russian assistance that could help Iran develop a nuclear weapons capability or boost its missile development efforts.

Those questions continued after the Obama administration resubmitted the accord last May. (See ACT, June 2010.)

Unlike some other U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements, the one with Russia does not bring with it the prospect of significant near-term business for U.S. firms. Supporters of the agreement have said it could have important nonproliferation benefits.

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (see p. 59) cited Russian officials as saying that pursuing conversion of Russian research reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium “beyond the feasibility study phase may require implementation of a U.S.-Russian agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation.” Russia and the United States recently agreed to carry out a feasibility study on converting the reactors to low-enriched uranium fuel.

The U.S.-Russian pact benefited from Congress’s long postelection session. When Congress adjourned at the end of September, the agreement still needed another 15 legislative days to reach the required 90-day threshold. If the postelection session had been shorter than that, the Obama administration would have had to resubmit the agreement to the current Congress, starting a new congressional clock. Congress adjourned Dec. 22.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last September, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) cited the U.S.-Russian pact as illustrating the need to revise U.S. nuclear export law to require an affirmative vote from Congress to approve nuclear cooperation agreements. (See ACT, October 2010.) At the time, Ros-Lehtinen was the panel’s ranking member; she is now chairman.


U.S. Missile Interceptor Fails Test

Daniel Horner

A  ground-based interceptor (GBI) missile failed to hit its ballistic missile target in a Dec. 15 test, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said in a press release that day.

The interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California; the ballistic missile target was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the MDA said.

The MDA said there would be an “extensive investigation” of the failure and that the next flight test would be scheduled after the agency determined the cause of the failure.

The test was the second in a row in which a GBI missile failed. The previous test was on Jan. 31, 2010.

Thirty GBI missiles are currently deployed and on alert in Alaska and California.