"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
November 2005
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Cover Image: 

Czech Uranium Removed

William Huntington

The Department of Energy’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) program repatriated 14 kilograms of Soviet-supplied highly enriched uranium (HEU) from a Prague research reactor to a “secure” facility in Russia without incident on Sept. 27. The operation was part of an ongoing U.S.-Russian effort to remove weapons-grade fuel from vulnerable Soviet-era research reactors around the world.

The secret, two-day mission secured unused HEU fuel assemblies from the VR-1 Sparrow reactor on the campus of Czech Technical University. An International Atomic Energy Agency team measured the mass and enrichment level of the fuel and placed special security seals over the large steel transfer casks. Under the cover of darkness, a Czech security team escorted the shipment to the airport where the HEU was officially handed over to Russian authorities.

The HEU was flown to Dimitrovgrad, Russia, where it will be blended down to low-enriched uranium (LEU) suitable for use in reactors but not nuclear weapons.

The VR-1 Sparrow reactor has recently come back online following its conversion to the use of LEU fuel, marking the first full conversion under a joint U.S.-Russian program to convert HEU-fueled research reactors to LEU use.

According to a National Nuclear Security Administration press release, the GTRI program has repatriated 122 kilograms of fresh HEU to Russia in eight shipments. With the Sept. 27 transfer, the second from the Czech Republic, all of that country’s HEU designated for repatriation has been removed.

In Kazakhstan, state-owned uranium producer Kazatomprom and the nonprofit organization Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) completed the blenddown of 2,900 kilograms of uranium reactor fuel. The fresh fuel, enriched up to 26 percent, was created for use in the BN-350 fast-breeder reactor at Aktau, Kazakhstan.


Brazilian Regulator Denies Uranium Claims

William Huntington

Odair Gonçalves, president of Brazil’s Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN), told Arms Control Today Sept. 28 that reports that a foreign source had once supplied Brazil with uranium enriched to the point that it could fuel a nuclear bomb were inaccurate.

In an interview with Brazil’s Globo TV in August, a former CNEN president, José Luiz Santana, claimed that the military had acquired enriched uranium from a foreign source and had hoped to test a nuclear device in September 1990. The military program only ended, Santana maintained, when CNEN managed to gain control over the enriched uranium in August 1990, seven months into his tenure as president of the agency.

But Gonçalves told Arms Control Today that Brazil never possessed weapons-grade material. He suggested that Santana had instead been talking about an imported stock of almost 20-percent enriched uranium. Gonçalves could not say from where this stock of enriched uranium had been imported, but did say that the material was known to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and was under safeguards. Although weapons-grade uranium is generally considered to be at least 90 percent enriched, crude nuclear weapons can be fashioned from somewhat lower-grade uranium.

Santana’s claims came as Brazil’s one-time nuclear weapons ambitions again became the subject of speculation after comments made by former Brazilian President José Sarney in August. Sarney, whose entrance into office in 1985 ended a 19-year-old military government, said that he terminated a secret nuclear weapons program with his ascension to power. Nonproliferation experts have long considered the existence of such a program indisputable, but Sarney’s comments are the first confirmation to come from a senior Brazilian source. Later in August, Santana told Globo TV that it was not until 1990 that the nuclear weapons program was definitively cancelled.

Saying that no documentation can be found within CNEN confirming that a nuclear weapons program ever existed, Gonçalves acknowledged that the secrecy imposed by the former military government could prevent such conclusive proof from ever coming to light. However, Gonçalves contended that had such a program ever existed, it could not have continued past the adoption of the 1988 constitution, which contains a clause specifically outlawing nonpeaceful uses of nuclear energy.

“We can’t guarantee anything from the old government,” Gonçalves said. “Even our constitution was different. But since 1988, it’s possible to say that there’s nothing going on.” Brazil did not sign or ratify the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) until 1998, although by 1994 it had accepted international scrutiny of its nuclear activities by the Argentine-Brazilian Accounting and Control Commission.

Asked about the possibility that Brazil might sign a version of the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, Gonçalves said that Brazil had been waiting to see the outcome of the May 2005 NPT Review Conference before making a decision. Additional protocols give the IAEA added inspection authority, including the ability to inspect undeclared nuclear facilities, and to date, Brazil has resisted signing one. Now that the review conference has passed, Gonçalves said, Brasilia is studying the issue anew. More than a year ago, Brazilian Ambassador to the United States Roberto Abdenur made a statement similarly indicating that Brasilia is not closed to the idea of an additional protocol. (See ACT, June 2004.)

Still, Gonçalves suggested that Brazil, in the context of debating an additional protocol, may raise questions about other countries’ compliance with their commitments under the NPT. In particular, he suggested Brazil would like to see the five NPT acknowledged nuclear-weapon states ( China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) meet their obligation to make good-faith efforts toward nuclear disarmament.

Brazil’s uranium-enrichment facility under construction at Resende has generated international concern, as it is the first centrifuge facility to come online since the revelations surrounding a black-market enrichment technology network headed by Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan and Iran’s pursuit of similar technology. Confirming that the first of four centrifuge cascade modules at Resende is now operational, Gonçalves said that Brazil could complete construction on the remaining three modules in seven years if the project is fully funded. At full capacity, Gonçalves stated that Resende would produce half of the fuel necessary for Brazil’s two nuclear power plants.

Downplaying concerns to the contrary, Gonçalves also maintained that Resende could not be used to produce fuel for the navy’s nuclear propulsion program because the facility is only licensed to enrich uranium to 5 percent, while the submarine reactors require 18-19 percent enriched fuel.

Last year, the Brazilian National Energy Policy Council was commissioned by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to issue recommendations on the future of Brazil’s nuclear energy program. Gonçalves told Arms Control Today that Brazil has not yet made a final decision on the fate of Angra-3, its planned new nuclear reactor. Some outside experts believe that the Resende facility will not be commercially viable without the construction of Angra-3 or the export of enriched uranium fuel abroad.

But Gonçalves suggested that more than economic considerations were at play. “It depends what you call commercially viable,” Gonçalves said. “Because when you are speaking about energy, to have some complete cycle, a closed cycle, completely independent from other suppliers and so on, could be very important.”

Click here for a complete transcript of the interview.


U.S. Proposes Nuclear Fuel Safety Net

Wade Boese

The United States recently announced it will establish a nuclear fuel reserve for countries that forgo the ability to make their own nuclear fuel. This reserve would serve as a backup source of nuclear fuel for such countries if their regular supply channels are interrupted.

Reining in fuel production capabilities has become a top priority of U.S. policymakers because such materials also can be used to make fissile material—plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU)—for nuclear weapons.

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman unveiled the outlines of the nascent U.S. proposal Sept. 26 in videotaped remarks to the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA promotes the use of nuclear technologies and materials for peaceful purposes and seeks to deter or detect the illicit use of civilian nuclear programs for building nuclear weapons. The General Conference is the annual budget and policy decision-making meeting of IAEA members, now numbering 138 states.

Bodman told the conference that the Bush administration “firmly believes that all responsible nations should have access to peaceful uses of the atom.” At the same time, Washington, other Western capitals, and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei have encouraged countries to forgo certain nuclear technologies that can be used in producing both energy and weapons, specifically uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities. But some countries, such as Iran, have expressed unease or outright opposition to this approach because they contend it would deny them technologies to which they have a right and leave them at the mercy of outside suppliers.

To ameliorate this concern, Bodman said the United States would make available nuclear fuel “for an IAEA-verifiable assured supply arrangement.” He offered scant details but asserted, “Through this arrangement, I believe we can advance our common goals of fighting proliferation while expanding the use of nuclear power around the globe.”

U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Ambassador Gregory Schulte partially fleshed out the U.S. proposal in a Sept. 28 letter to ElBaradei. Schulte said the United States intends to blend down 17 excess metric tons of HEU into low-enriched uranium, which cannot be used to make weapons. The lower-grade uranium is the primary fuel for nuclear reactors.

The U.S. ambassador indicated the blended-down uranium would be available should a country experience a “disruption in supply” of its nuclear fuel. Only states that “forego enrichment and reprocessing” would be eligible to receive this reserve fuel, he wrote. Bodman’s reference to “responsible nations” suggests the United States might also employ additional criteria to prevent states that it does not trust, such as Iran and North Korea, from obtaining fuel from this U.S. reserve.

Noting that blending down HEU is “an extensive and time-consuming process,” Schulte estimated that “[w]e anticipate that this fuel will become available in 2009.” A U.S. government spokesperson told Arms Control Today Oct. 18 that, when completed, the blend-down process would yield approximately 10 nuclear reactor reloads.

The U.S. government has provided no additional information on how the fuel reserve would function. Left unclear is whether a recipient would be charged for the fuel, how the fuel would be transported, and how the resultant spent fuel would be handled. In his letter, Schulte stated, “Details concerning this initiative are still being finalized.”

The U.S. proposal extends a policy first enunciated by President George W. Bush in a February 2004 speech on controlling the spread of nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2004.) The president made the case that nuclear suppliers needed to “ensure that states have reliable access at reasonable cost to fuel for civilian reactors” so they do not feel compelled to acquire their own uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities. “Enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” Bush declared.

ElBaradei has argued similarly and proposed a five-year moratorium on the construction of new plants for these activities. His call has gone unheeded, but the Group of Eight—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—agreed in July to extend for another year a moratorium on any new exports of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. (See ACT, September 2005.)

The IAEA director-general also convened an experts group to explore multilateral ways of producing and providing nuclear fuel. The group released its findings in February (see ACT, March 2005), laying out five alternative approaches, but countries have not reached agreement on any particular one.

Still, ElBaradei continues to press states on the matter. At an Oct. 5 event in Moscow, he argued that one of the more “interesting and challenging projects” facing the world is developing “a regime by which we can provide assurance of supply to all countries, subject to nonproliferation criteria, to be able to have reactor technology, fuel technology, and in return, accept not to develop their own independent fuel cycle [i.e., enrichment and reprocessing capabilities].” He concluded, “I think this will be a leap of faith in protecting ourselves.”

The recent U.S. proposal differs in many respects to ElBaradei’s concept. For example, the United States would retain ownership of the fuel reserve rather than placing it under multilateral control. Congress could then intervene and pass laws restricting how the fuel reserve would be operated. Most importantly, the U.S. proposal is fixed on providing “reliable access” to fuel, whereas ElBaradei is looking to give states that meet an apolitical set of nonproliferation criteria an “assurance” of supply. The latter is less subjective and unacceptable to the United States.


Challenges Face North Korea Talks

Paul Kerr

Participants in the six-party talks designed to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis are attempting to devise a strategy for implementing a Sept. 19 joint statement of principles for achieving “the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” All the parties have agreed to participate in a fifth round of talks, but no date has been set.

Key parties have held bilateral meetings. For instance, Chinese President Hu Jintao, whose country is hosting the talks, visited Pyongyang in late October. Additionally, Japan and North Korea have scheduled senior working-level normalization talks beginning Nov.3 in an effort to settle some of their outstanding issues. The last such talks took place late last year. (See ACT, June 2004.)

Reflecting South Korea’s increasingly public role in the diplomatic process, an Oct. 19 statement from its Foreign Ministry exhorted the other talks participants, particularly the United States and North Korea, to “harmonize the differences in their stances concerning the settlement of the North’s nuclear program” before the next round begins. Russia is the sixth party in the talks.

The joint statement of principles represents the most significant diplomatic achievement after four rounds of six-party talks spanning more than two years and provides important guidelines for future negotiations. For example, North Korea has committed to abandoning all of its civilian and military nuclear weapons programs as well as returning to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In return, other parties have promised security assurances, economic cooperation, and political normalization. However, the statement leaves several controversial issues unresolved. (See ACT, October 2005.)

The current nuclear crisis began in October 2002 when Washington announced that North Korean officials had admitted to possessing a clandestine uranium-enrichment program, which violated a bilateral agreement freezing Pyongyang’s graphite-moderated nuclear reactor and related facilities located at Yongbyon. The 1994 Agreed Framework resolved a crisis that began in the early 1990s when International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors discovered that Pyongyang had diverted spent fuel from the reactor. Enriching uranium or reprocessing spent reactor fuel to obtain plutonium can both produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The Issues

A persistent obstacle to the resolution of the latest North Korean nuclear crisis has been the two sides’ repeated clashes over the proper sequencing of rewards and obligations. The Bush administration has been reluctant to “reward” North Korea while it possesses nuclear facilities, and Pyongyang fears that the United States will pocket any concessions.

Although Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill acknowledged during an Oct. 4 press briefing that “we also have to take some measures on our side,” he has spent considerably more time describing the Bush administration’s detailed demands of North Korea. Washington wants Pyongyang to produce a declaration of its nuclear holdings, including components associated with its uranium-enrichment program, during the next round.

Other countries, such as South Korea and Russia, seem to disagree with this approach. They have called for the parties instead to focus on producing a specific plan to implement all aspects of the joint statement. Pyongyang would be required to issue a declaration during a future round.

Interestingly, despite the repeated U.S. insistence on the importance of verifying any North Korean declaration, two Department of State officials told Arms Control Today Oct. 21 that the administration has not yet agreed on a minimally acceptable verification scheme. This could be significant if Washington believes Pyongyang’s declaration to be inaccurate.

Although North Korea’s Sept. 20 demand for the early receipt of a U.S.- provided light-water nuclear reactor caused a stir, that issue now appears less significant. At that time, North Korea said it would not rejoin the NPT or the IAEA until it received a reactor, a demand the other parties rejected. However, subsequent North Korean statements have modified this demand, and an Oct. 24 Foreign Ministry statement does not mention such an early provision at all.

Operating Reactor, No Freeze

Despite Pyongyang’s September pledge to abandon its nuclear programs, Hill told a Washington audience Sept. 28 that North Korea continues to operate the Yongbyon reactor. The administration wants North Korea to shut down the facilities but will not negotiate a freeze, Hill said.

Administration officials such as Hill and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have argued that negotiating a freeze would prolong the six-party talks and distract from focusing on dismantlement. A former State Department official agreed during a September interview with Arms Control Today that negotiating a freeze could have such an effect, observing that a June 2004 North Korean proposal contained a detailed compensation scheme for a freeze but lacked sufficient detail about the dismantlement phase. (See ACT, September 2004.)

By contrast, Ambassador Robert Gallucci, the lead U.S. negotiator in the Agreed Framework talks, said that his team sought a freeze as a means of securing a rapid settlement so that North Korea could not benefit from protracted negotiations.

During those talks, North Korea agreed to an IAEA-monitored freeze of the reactor and related facilities, including approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods. Since December 2002, Pyongyang has ejected the inspectors, announced its withdrawal from the NPT, restarted the reactor, and claimed to have reprocessed the rods. (See ACT, June 2005.)

Pyongyang announced last spring that it had shut down the reactor and unloaded the spent fuel rods. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D), who visited North Korea in October, said officials told him they had reprocessed this additional spent fuel, the Associated Press reported Oct. 20. Richardson previously served as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

It is unknown whether North Korea’s claims are true. U.S. intelligence assesses that North Korea has produced one or two nuclear weapons using plutonium produced prior to the 1994 agreement.

Additionally, North Korea appears to have resumed construction on at least one of two larger reactors whose construction also had been frozen under the Agreed Framework. Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) stated in September that North Korean officials had notified him during a recent meeting that they were “proceeding with” reactor construction, Agence France Presse reported. A Sept. 11 satellite image published by the Institute for Science and International Security shows what appears to be limited new construction activity at the smaller of the two reactors.

Whither KEDO?

The United States established the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to implement the Agreed Framework, including the construction of two light-water nuclear reactors. However, the organization may be eliminated when its executive board next meets.

A KEDO spokesperson told Arms Control Today Oct. 26 that the board will likely meet in late November, although no date has been set. The board comprises Japan, the European Union, South Korea, and the United States.

The board first suspended work on the reactor project in December 2003. The Bush administration had repeatedly stated that it does not want the project revived but had previously contemplated a role for KEDO in implementing any future agreement with North Korea. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

However, that is no longer the case. Hill stated Sept. 19 that “the United States supports a decision to terminate KEDO by the end of the year.” Furthermore, recent statements from South Korea and Japan, who had previously not supported terminating the reactor project, make the organization’s demise appear even more likely. Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura asserted that “there is no one who thinks there is that option for KEDO…to continue,” the Kyodo News Agency reported Oct. 11.

Taking a slightly different tack, South Korean Foreign Minster Ban Ki-moon told Reuters Oct. 2 that the reactor project should be ended, although he appeared to leave open the possibility that the organization may still have a role to play in the future, including overseeing possible future reactor projects.


India, Pakistan Sign Missile Notification Pact

Erin Creegan

India and Pakistan Oct. 3 finalized an agreement to notify each other in advance of ballistic missile flight tests. This long-awaited move aims to reduce tension between the two nuclear neighbors.

Indian External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri oversaw the signing of the pre-notification agreement, which went into force that day. The two sides had nearly completed the agreement earlier this year when the foreign ministers met in August, but the signing was delayed by prolonged negotiation over the final wording of the agreement.

Officials said that, under the accord, the country’s defense ministries will provide their counterparts at least 72 hours of notice before conducting a ballistic missile flight test. India and Pakistan agreed not to allow trajectories of tested missiles to approach or land close either to their accepted borders or the Line of Control, the cease-fire line running through the disputed region of Kashmir. They pledged not to allow tested missiles to fly closer than 40 kilometers from these boundaries or land closer than 70 kilometers away.

The agreement states that pre-notification applies only to tests conducted with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles launched from land or sea. The agreement does not apply to cruise missiles. Cruise missiles are powered their entire flight and can be maneuvered, while ballistic missiles are only powered for the first few minutes of their flight and follow a charted trajectory to the ground. Pakistan tested its first cruise missile Aug. 11. The agreement also does not apply to surface-to-air missiles. India conducted two such missile tests on the day of the agreement’s signing.

According to a representative from the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., who spoke to Arms Control Today Oct. 25, the limitations on missiles covered by the agreement reflected mutual reservations. The official said the missiles covered by the agreement represent a feasible de-escalation commitment by India and Pakistan, with the hope of inching toward more comprehensive commitments.

International reaction to the Agreement on Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles was positive. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Oct. 14 that the United States welcomes this achievement and is pleased with the commitment both countries have shown to the peace process.

India is estimated to have 45-95 nuclear warheads while Pakistan is believed to have 30-50 nuclear weapons. The countries’ geographical proximity assures mutual vulnerability to attack within a few minutes.


Hungarian Missiles Set for Destruction

Wade Boese

The United States recently agreed to help Hungary scrap more than 1,500 excess shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. A top Department of State official has told lawmakers that he will be urging similar operations elsewhere.

On Sept. 27, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary George Walker signed a cooperation agreement with Hungarian Defense Minister Ferenc Juhász to destroy 1,540 SA-7 missiles, also referred to as Strela-2s. These Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) are leftover Soviet-era weapons from when Hungary was a member of the now-defunct Warsaw Pact. Hungary is currently part of the 26-member NATO alliance, which for decades squared off against the Warsaw Pact across Europe.

Washington will contribute $350,000 to cover transportation, logistical, security, and destruction costs for the missiles. The process is expected to get underway within the next few months and to be completed within six months.

Motivating the agreement is mounting concern that terrorists might buy or steal these types of weapons to attack civilian aircraft. The State Department asserts that more than 40 such attempts have been made since the 1970s.

Hungary will retain roughly 100 MANPADS. In a June 2005 report volunteered to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (see page 33), Hungary said its MANPADS holdings include 243 Strela-2s, 61 Iglas, and 45 Mistral-2s. A Hungarian Ministry of Defense spokesperson told Arms Control Today Oct. 27 that all of these Strela-2s would be destroyed, but the Iglas and Mistral-2s would be kept “to ensure the safety of Hungarian air space.”

Still, the Hungarian destruction program will add to the U.S. government’s tally of having helped destroy more than 17,000 MANPADS worldwide to date.

John Hillen, who was confirmed Oct. 7 by the Senate to serve as assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sept. 30 that he will seek to increase such activities, as well as “to address other conventional weapons that are potentially proliferable, dangerous, or otherwise might fuel regional conflict.” The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs oversees the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, which implements conventional weapons destruction and landmine clearing programs. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who chairs the foreign relations panel, welcomed Hillen’s pledge. “I haven’t been able to get such a vigorous statement before, and I am thankful for your statement today,” Lugar said. He added, “I have not found quite the enthusiasm that is necessary, and this is one that ought to be elevated.”

Lugar has been pressing the Bush administration to boost efforts to address the threats posed by surplus conventional weapons and has introduced legislation toward that end. Lugar’s legislation is part of the foreign affairs authorization bill for fiscal years 2006 and 2007, which the Senate has not yet voted on and may not.

The exact size of the task facing Hillen and the State Department is unknown. A May 2004 report by the Government Accountability Office, however, estimated that 500,000-750,000 MANPADS may exist worldwide. In a September 2005 estimate, the State Department projected that “several thousand” MANPADS might be outside government control.


Suppliers Weigh Indian Nuclear Cooperation

Wade Boese

At an October meeting, the world’s leading nuclear suppliers offered mixed reactions to a U.S. initiative to expand civil nuclear cooperation with India. The group is awaiting a formal U.S. proposal as well as Indian steps toward granting greater outside access to its nuclear facilities before deciding how to proceed.

President George W. Bush promised Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh July 18 that the United States would seek to revise U.S. law and international rules so India could obtain nuclear materials and technologies to expand its nuclear energy sector. (See ACT, September 2005.) For nearly three decades, the United States and many other nuclear suppliers have significantly limited nuclear exports to nuclear-armed India. New Delhi exploded a nuclear device in 1974, employing materials and technologies acquired for peaceful purposes, and conducted a further series of nuclear tests in May 1998. India is also one of three countries— Israel and Pakistan are the other two—never to join the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Bush administration officials have not revealed how they want Congress to modify or waive U.S. law to implement the president’s plan. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Oct. 18 that the administration would present its approach to lawmakers before the president visits India early next year.

After not being consulted in advance about the proposed cooperation, congressional leaders are pressing the administration to give them more input. The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and House International Relations Committees sent a letter Oct. 17 to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recommending the administration “begin substantive discussions with our respective committees as soon as possible before final decisions are made on any new legislative proposals.” The bipartisan quartet noted, “We firmly believe that such consultations will be crucial to the successful consideration of the final agreement or agreements by our committees and the Congress as a whole.”

The administration is clearer on what it will request other governments to do. Specifically, administration officials indicated at a Sept. 8 International Relations Committee hearing that the United States will ask its fellow 44 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to exempt India from a 1992 rule that nuclear importers must subject their entire nuclear apparatus to international oversight, technically known as full-scope safeguards. India refuses to submit itself to the rule, and Washington wants to maintain the rule as a general principle.

Still, the United States did not present a specific exemption proposal at an Oct. 17-18 NSG meeting. Instead, it explained the July deal and its motivations, group member officials told Arms Control Today. NSG members, whose meetings are confidential, coordinate their nuclear export controls to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

At the meeting, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom endorsed boosting nuclear ties with India, while Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland registered strong reservations. Most members have yet to decide one way or another about the proposed cooperation. But the majority, including France and the United Kingdom, emphasized that their support hinges on how India’s general nonproliferation pledges are translated into specifics.

In what has turned out to be a domestically divisive declaration for his government, Singh told Bush that India would separate its civilian nuclear program from its military counterpart and permit international oversight of nonmilitary facilities. He also reaffirmed existing Indian policies to institute tighter export controls, adhere to a nuclear-testing moratorium, and support negotiating a treaty to end the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons.

Some NSG members, such as Canada, questioned why the United States did not obtain more from India, particularly a pledge to cease production of bomb-making materials. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have publicly announced an end to such production, and China is understood to have also followed suit. Indian officials maintain their country will do no less and no more than these five states.

Similarly, other NSG countries knocked the arrangement for not getting India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning nuclear testing. However, the Bush administration also opposes the accord, which will not enter into force until the United States, India, and nine other specific countries ratify it.

Still, the critical issue determining whether the nuclear trade door will be opened wider for India is if it enacts a “credible split of its civilian and military” nuclear programs, one diplomat of an NSG member told Arms Control Today Oct. 20.

When this separation will begin remains uncertain. Burns traveled to India near the end of October to negotiate a phased implementation approach for the deal, but no final agreement was announced. NSG members urged the United States to share the timetable once it is completed.


EU Slaps Arms Embargo on Uzbekistan

Jacob Parakilas

On Oct. 3, the European Union voted to impose arms sanctions and other restrictions on Uzbekistan. The sanctions include a ban on the sale or transfer to Uzbekistan of arms, military equipment, or any other equipment that might be used for internal repression.

The EU expressed concern about Uzbekistan’s human rights record, particularly the government’s violent response to a protest in May in which Uzbek government forces opened fire on a group of protestors in the town of Andijon. The government has denied wrongdoing, asserting that it acted in self-defense against armed Islamic extremists and killed fewer than 200 people. However, other groups and witnesses have placed the death toll much higher and asserted that most of those killed were unarmed. The incident has yet to be subjected to closer official scrutiny, as Uzbekistan has so far resisted calls for an international inquiry.

In addition to preventing arms transfers, the EU’s move cancels all official EU/Uzbek meetings and prevents Uzbek officials associated with the shootings in Andijon from entering any of the EU’s 25 member states. The restrictions are scheduled to last for an initial period of a year, with the possibility of extension if Uzbekistan continues to block an investigation.

Uzbekistan’s relations with the United States are more complex. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Uzbekistan allied itself with Washington’s war on terrorism and offered the United States the use of the Karshi-Khanabad airbase for operations in Afghanistan. However, this summer the Uzbek government demanded that the United States vacate the base by the end of the year. On Oct. 6, the Senate voted to block a $23 million payment for the use of the base.

So far, the United States has not stated whether it will impose measures similar to those of the EU. In an Oct. 6 interview with Radio Free Europe, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried said, “There’s a lot of concern…in the United States about the direction [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov is leading Uzbekistan, leading his country. That is, the Uzbeks need to think about this, and we will see what they do. I don’t want to speculate about what we will do in response to their actions because they haven’t taken them yet.”

However, the effectiveness of Western arms sanctions on the Uzbek government is unclear. The Uzbek military and state police forces are predominantly equipped with Russian- and Chinese-made equipment, and neither country has given any indication that it intends to levy sanctions on Uzbekistan.


China's Export Controls: Can Beijing's Actions Match Its Words?

Anupam Srivastava

At their September plenary in Madrid, members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) decided not to take up the question of inviting China to join the group. China had applied to join the voluntary export control regime in July 2004, and that year’s October plenary in Seoul had “failed to reach a consensus” on Beijing’s bid. China’s failure to win consensus support underlines a more fundamental challenge Beijing poses to global nonproliferation efforts and institutions.

Recent interviews with U.S. and British officials reveal the reason for not formally considering Chinese membership again this year was continued concern over Beijing’s implementation of pledges to adhere to export control standards equivalent to the MCTR. Russia and the United Kingdom were more willing than the United States to acknowledge that China had made progress. But all of the other countries agreed that Beijing still needed to do much more to block certain weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-sensitive exports.

China has vastly improved its legal and procedural infrastructure to control trade in strategic goods and technologies.[1] Yet it has failed to block several instances of proliferation and lacks transparency in enforcement.[2] It is unclear whether the current gaps between policy pronouncements and actual behavior simply mark a transition period to its new responsibilities or if this mixed record is symptomatic of its continued perception of nonproliferation as a “selective, arbitrary tool” employed by Washington and its allies to maintain strategic and technological pre-eminence.

Most evidence indicates that China previously has followed a “bargain-embedded approach” in which its compliance with nonproliferation norms is legalistic, narrow, and largely tactical. U.S. and other Western policymakers have the opportunity to foster a broader, more strategic commitment to nonproliferation in China by demonstrating to Beijing how adhering to nonproliferation norms will serve some of its long-range foreign policy and economic interests.

Recent Changes

Recent years have marked several positive steps by Beijing and some setbacks.

Positive Steps

China has considerably improved the legal and procedural architecture governing its trade in dual-use goods and technologies. The improvements include new export control regulations regarding nuclear, chemical, biological, missile, and advanced conventional weapons and revised national control lists in the above spheres. Cumulatively, they have aligned China’s export control system more closely with the benchmarks established by the multilateral export control arrangements: MTCR; the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which aims to coordinate nuclear export policies to prevent countries from exploiting peaceful nuclear cooperation as a pathway to nuclear weapons; the Australia Group, which regulates exports that could contribute to chemical and biological weapons; and the Wassenaar Arrangement, which seeks to enhance cooperation in preventing sales of conventional arms and dual-use goods to countries or regions of concern.

In 2002, in an important nonproliferation signal, China became the first of the five de jure nuclear-weapon states to amend its domestic legal procedures to complete a voluntary additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Such agreements grant the IAEA greater authority to verify that non-nuclear-weapon states do not divert nuclear materials and technologies to weapons programs.

China’s 2003 White Paper on nonproliferation policy and associated measures provided additional evidence of growing domestic commitment. In 2004, China was formally invited to join the NSG, marking China’s membership into the first of the four regimes that it had long criticized as cartels designed to perpetuate the technology superiority of the advanced Western nations.


On the flip side, China’s nuclear and missile relations with Iran and Pakistan have raised questions about China’s commitment to global nonproliferation.[3] Ongoing U.S. and IAEA investigations into the clandestine network headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, have revealed the startling fact that China transferred a design for a 25-kiloton nuclear warhead and open test data to Pakistan in the mid-1980s.[4] This adds to well-known transfers of ring magnets and short-range missiles (M-9 and M-11) in the 1990s for which several Chinese and Pakistani entities were sanctioned by the United States.

In recent years, Chinese firms have been sanctioned many times for providing missile-related assistance to Iran in violation of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000.[5] In the most recent episode late last year, the sanctioned entities included two of China’s largest companies: China North Industries Corp. (NORINCO) and China Great Wall Industry Corp. Both have been subject to repeated U.S. sanctions since the 1990s and described as part of China’s “serial proliferator” problem by senior officials in the Bush administration.[6]

Critics have also raised questions about a May 2004 Chinese agreement to build a second civilian nuclear reactor at Chasma in Pakistan. Although the agreement predates China’s NSG membership and the reactor will be placed under IAEA safeguards, questions remain about the merit of nuclear transfers to a country whose weak export controls permitted the Khan network to undermine global security and where risks of unauthorized diversion of Chinese technologies and materials to its weapons program remain high. Further, media reports following Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s April 2005 visit to Pakistan quote senior Pakistani atomic energy officials saying that China wants to build additional reactors, although doing so would violate its obligations under current NSG guidelines.[7]

If the United States seeks to curb such sales, it will face new challenges following a July 18 agreement with India in which it agreed to provide New Delhi with civilian nuclear assistance.[8] The United States will need to clarify to China and other NSG members that its deal with India is a special case, justified by India’s strong nonproliferation record and by particular commitments New Delhi has made to separate its civilian reactors from its weapons complex and place the former under IAEA safeguards and to align its dual-use control lists with those of the MTCR and the NSG. Such explicit clarification would also enable the United States to rebuff any Pakistani expectations that Islamabad can receive similar treatment from Washington unless its record on enforcement improves.

Legal Authorities

According to government officials, China is currently drafting a new, overarching export control law to bring its national export control authorities under one statutory umbrella and to provide additional legal force to the 2004 Foreign Trade Law.[9] The current law, which amended a decade-old statute, provides legal authority to administer export controls in China and has strengthened criminal and administrative sanctions against illegal trade operations, including potential cancellation of operators’ licenses.

Although no details about the draft law or the timeline for its promulgation are available, additional changes to Chinese export control laws are required following China’s entry into the NSG and as the country further integrates into the international nonproliferation regime.

Even before the Foreign Trade Law, China had already made significant changes in its export control laws and regulation in recent years.

In late 2002, China promulgated new munitions, chemical, biological, and missile-related export control measures. Together with revised regulations in the nuclear sphere in 2001 and in customs and criminal law in 2000 and 2001, respectively, the measures effectively harmonized China’s legal infrastructure of export controls with multilateral standards. The arms control measures also enabled the international community to better assess China’s export control performance.

Other official regulations promulgated over the last 10 years provide additional legal authority to administer export controls, including China’s obligations as a signatory to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Biological Weapons Convention, and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and to carry out international trade sanctions mandated by relevant UN Security Council resolutions.


China’s entry into the IAEA in 1984 and the NPT in 1992 helped establish domestic legal authority in the nuclear sphere. Administrative circulars issued in May and September 1997 included control lists similar to those of the NSG and the Zangger Committee, a smaller 35-member group of nuclear suppliers that produces the so-called “trigger list” of nuclear materials, equipment and technology requiring IAEA safeguards. A June 1998 circular, which was amended in 2001, brought China’s nuclear and nuclear dual-use export control regulations into effective compliance with international standards. Following its NSG membership, China has said it plans to publish an amended nuclear dual-use control list and regulations in 2005 that will make them identical to the NSG, but it has not yet done so.


In the missile sector, China’s August 2002 regulations have harmonized its legal provisions with those of the MTCR. Further, the revised control list is virtually identical to the MTCR’s equipment, technology, and software annex. The real gap, however, lies in Beijing’s markedly slender technical interpretation of the military end uses of critical dual-use technologies in adjudicating license applications, especially when exporting to end users in countries of proliferation concern such as Iran.

Chemical Weapons and Technology

China approved chemical weapons and technology regulations in 1995 incorporating its CWC commitments into national law, and the appended control list contained four schedules that capture all items covered by the three CWC schedules and a fourth CWC category of unscheduled discrete organic chemicals. Its October 2002 regulations and the appended dual-use control list now cover all items on the Australia Group equipment and related technologies list as well as 20 dual-use items considered possible chemical weapons precursors, bringing China’s lists into effective compliance with CWC and Australia Group control lists.[10]

Biological Weapons and Technology

China published its first-ever export control statute in the biological weapons and technology realm in October 2002. Before this, dual-use biological items and technologies were regulated by an assortment of national laws, none of which specifically addressed dual-use biological export controls. This gap was closed with the control list appended to the 2002 regulations that is identical to the Australia Group control list.

Conventional Arms

China followed up its 1997 regulations by publishing a revised set of conventional arms regulations in October 2002 and a military products export control list a month later. Although this control list includes most items in the Wassenaar Arrangement’s control list, it provides far broader categories and vaguer definitions. This lack of specificity could be exploited by Chinese enterprises to evade responsibility for certain transfers.

China has in recent years also begun to incorporate provisions that relate to emerging issues of international concern. Thus, each set of the 2002 regulations explicitly covers not only traditional exports but also intangible technology transfers and the difficult issues of “deemed exports.” Such exports might occur, for example, if information that would require an export license is shared by a U.S. citizen with a foreign national on U.S. soil. In that case, information is “deemed” to have been exported to the home country of the foreign national and, as such, requires an export license.

Moreover, Article 16 in each of these regulations contains a catch-all clause that instructs the exporting entity not to export an item if “it knows or should know…that the [item] will be used by the receiving party directly for the purpose of [WMD programs], whether included in the control list or not.” Article 6 of the December 2003 White Paper further amplifies this new legal responsibility of the domestic exporter. China is reportedly working to introduce this clause in the revised nuclear guidelines that will be published to incorporate changes necessitated by its NSG membership. However, implementation of catchall controls might violate China’s 2004 Administrative Law, which stipulates that mere suspicion of diversion or proliferation is not sufficient grounds to block the export or import of goods or technology.

Brokering, transit, and transshipment controls represent areas of remaining weakness in the legal system. According to the Ministry of Commerce, China does not recognize the status of brokers in export transactions. This makes it unclear whether China disallows brokering activities or they simply remain unregulated. Also, no provisions are specifically designed to control the transit or transshipment of strategic goods and technologies. Article 24 of the amended Customs Law does require all transits, transshipments, and through-shipments of sensitive items to be declared to customs authorities, but it does not provide the legal basis to regulate their movement through Chinese territory.

Export Licensing Process

The publication of comprehensive licensing regulations for all strategic commodity classes by late 2003 has opened China’s export control system to an unprecedented degree of regulatory transparency, although in some areas, the military in particular, responsibility remains unclear. Licensing regulations are publicly accessible, and the December 2003 White Paper provides details of how China’s dual-use export licenses are processed.

China’s licensing and regulatory institutions also have been restructured in a process that began in 1998. The Export Control Division of the Science and Technology Department in the Ministry of Commerce is the main licensing and regulatory body for dual-use export controls, but a number of Chinese agencies are tasked to participate in the interagency review of licenses:

  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs principally evaluates the foreign policy or national security implication of a proposed export or whether it might violate China’s international treaty obligations.


  • The National CWC Implementation Office is charged with regulating the domestic dual-use chemical sector and implementing China’s CWC commitments.


  • The China Atomic Energy Authority licenses nuclear trade and issues governmental assurances to foreign regulatory bodies.


  • The Ministries of Health and Agriculture participate in the review process in their relevant domains. The Ministry of Commerce also can call on a cadre of 200 experts from diverse technical fields as required.

The main licensing body to administer controls on advanced conventional weapons exports is the Commission on Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND). Prior to the 1998 restructuring, it reported both to the State Council and the Central Military Commission of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The 1998 restructuring wrested the arms export control agenda away from the PLA. Now under civilian control, COSTIND generally reports to the State Council, but its arms trade division receives and vets licenses for conventional and certain missile-related items. However, the vetting and eventual approval of export licenses also requires extensive consultation with the PLA’s General Armaments Department, with oversight from the Central Military Commission. As a result, there is continued ambiguity about controls on conventional arms exports and regulations governing export behavior of the reorganized defense industrial enterprises of China that have resulted in several questionable exports to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea in recent years.

Enforcement as the Litmus Test

Enforcement is presently the weakest link in China’s export control system. A wide disparity exists between the dictates of established Chinese law and the capacity of the Chinese state to consistently enforce them. For China, this is a significant challenge. Overcoming it will require both political will and a massive injection of physical, technical, and financial resources. Given China’s checkered track record of controlling trade in sensitive goods and technologies, the international community is likely to use effective enforcement as the ultimate criterion for assessing Beijing’s commitment to nonproliferation.

In recent years, China has sought to close the long-standing gap between official pronouncements and actual behavior by strengthening and clarifying the criminal and civil penalties incurred for export control-related violations. The Customs Laws of the People’s Republic of China, originally promulgated in 1987 and amended in 2000, provides the General Administration of Customs enhanced legal authority to control cross-border traffic, including the right to search, detain, and seize cargo leaving China. The Ministry of Commerce has provided additional authorization and guidelines to General Administration of Customs to inspect any cargo suspected to be an illegal export. China’s recent decision to join the U.S.-led Container Security Initiative (CSI) and to make Hong Kong and Shanghai CSI-compliant ports will require additional provisions and capacity for real-time coordination among intelligence agencies, customs officials, and border guards for search and seizure of WMD-sensitive cargo in domestic ports or territorial waters.

For now, export control enforcement remains opaque and susceptible to jurisdictional turf-battles, with prosecution dependent on the type of violation. Customs-related violations are presumably enforced by customs, CWC-related violations by local government bodies, criminal law-related violations by the Public Security Bureau and the General Attorney for the Prosecution Office, and Administrative Law-related violations by local government offices. The Ministry of Commerce also reportedly handles certain aspects of export control enforcement. China’s export control enforcement is weakened by overlapping jurisdictional claims, unclear designation of lead agencies to prosecute violations, and bureaucratic wrangling.

A persistent problem in ascertaining the scale of illicit dual-use proliferation from China results from its lack of transparency. China does not make publicly available such data as the number of license applications, number of license approvals and denials, reasons for denial, instances where catch-all controls were employed, and number of violations prosecuted annually. In 2004, Beijing for the first time announced that two chemical companies in China were found guilty of export control violations. However, no specific information is available about the precise nature of violations and the type of penalties imposed on them.

In addition, Beijing still relies mainly on foreign intelligence to unearth illicit transactions.[11] China’s very limited use of pre-license checks and post-shipment verification increases the risk of unauthorized diversion of an export to prohibited end uses or its re-export to prohibited end users. These problems are exacerbated by widespread corruption and the lack of an independent judiciary.

It is important to recognize, however, the enormity of the challenge that China confronts, given that it has one of the longest land-air-sea borders in the world. The General Administration of Customs, in charge of all cargo clearing China’s borders, employs 46,000 officials stationed in 41 customhouses across the country. In addition, it oversees 300 affiliated customhouses and 245 ports, while the Public Security Bureau and the People’s Armed Police secure the areas immediately outside of customs surveillance zones. Customs officials possess specialized equipment to detect nuclear, biological, chemical, and dual-use items, although the quality of the equipment, the familiarity of the staff with the equipment, and the motivation to monitor illicit transactions rigorously varies markedly from one border post to another. Many customhouses are equipped with large-scale X-ray machines, electronic platform balances, plate identification systems, electronic gates, and container number identification systems. Several others lack even rudimentary equipment and training for its staff. A good case in point is Dandong, located on China’s border with North Korea. According to unnamed Chinese government officials, it lacks basic equipment to scan vehicles and large containers and adequate space for on-site inspections. Effective enforcement efforts at China’s border posts and custom houses, especially in the southern and western provinces, are routinely undermined by seasoned smugglers.

A New Export Control Dynamic

With the enactment of the 2002 laws and regulations, a new dynamic is apparent within China’s official export control community.[12] One school of thought views the new laws and regulations as sufficiently detailed and easily accessible so that companies have no excuse for ignorance. As such, if domestic companies are now found in violation, stiff penalties and prosecutions should deter future offenders as well as send the message for industry to comply with its new and increased export control obligations.

Another school of thought recognizes industry as the “first line of defense” to prevent unauthorized exports, as well as the need for increasing outreach to the industry. To this group, improved interaction with the industry is crucial because most advanced technologies are dual-use in nature and increasingly fungible within and across civilian and military sectors. This problem gets compounded in a continent-sized country with extensive and often undermanned or under-equipped borders.

Further, the post-World Trade Organization economic landscape of China has seen a steady growth in the number of dual-use producing industries basing manufacturing and trading operations in China to serve markets in the country and abroad. Yet, even those government officials who recognize the critical need for more outreach to the industry are often unwilling to cooperate with other departments in organizing outreach workshops or are lukewarm in supporting domestic or foreign nongovernmental entities in such endeavors.

In a broader context, China’s “mixed record” in the multilateral arena underscores the difficulty in ascertaining the degree to which its policy elite and industry managers have imbibed the normative and practical components of export controls and the overarching nonproliferation “security culture.” China’s agreement to build additional nuclear reactors in Pakistan while its application to the NSG was pending and its missile-related transfers to Iran while its MTCR application is still pending points to a continued bargain-embedded approach toward its nonproliferation obligations. Similarly, following the December 2004 sanctions, NORINCO offered to develop an internal compliance program in return for the lifting of U.S. sanctions—an offer that was rejected—instead of abjuring such transfers in order to end sanctions and facilitate its goal of doing business in the United States.

In framing future nonproliferation negotiations with China, a critical issue to bear in mind is the pivotal role of high technology in China’s economic and security priorities. China has emerged as the global manufacturing hub for low-technology products but recognizes that its cost advantages are fleeting and that, in order to attract foreign investments in advanced technology, it needs to improve the state of technology security and build up its high-technology sectors. Viewed from this perspective, export controls can be a tool to help China achieve its strategic objectives and by extension can provide important leverage for securing greater Chinese cooperation on nonproliferation.

Similarly, Beijing’s developmental imperatives have prompted the doctrine of “peaceful rise of China” (heping jueqi) and a dedicated pursuit to increase its comprehensive national power.[13] Its recent, energetic diplomacy with its neighbors in Southeast Asia and Central Asia, many of whom are battling rising Islamic militancy and terrorism, reveals its desire to assure them that China would be a factor of stability in Asia. Lack of adequate safeguards on China’s own strategic arsenal would undermine their confidence in China’s leadership credentials within the evolving security architecture of Asia. This represents another important avenue for calibrating U.S. and multilateral negotiations to secure greater Chinese cooperation on nonproliferation.

Finally, the European Union is currently debating whether to lift its arms embargo stemming from China’s Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. Lifting the embargo could give China access to EU arms and technologies that are superior to those it is currently acquiring from Russia and Israel. The EU, under the United Kingdom’s current presidential term, is unlikely to lift the embargo, but the issue might be revisited in the spring of 2006 during the Austrian presidency of the EU.

If and when it tackles the issue again, one useful condition that the EU could tacitly impose for lifting the embargo—although it was imposed for human rights violations—would be to require China first to demonstrate a practical improvement in its export control implementation and safeguarding of sensitive technologies. Indeed, U.S. and EU officials confirm that this factor has featured prominently in their deliberations. Further, the Pentagon’s July 2005 report to Congress on Chinese military power warns that lifting the embargo could lead to greater proliferation from China:

Beijing ’s track record in transfers of conventional arms and military suggests EU or other third-party sales to China could lead to improvements in the systems that Chinese companies market abroad, including to countries of concern, such as Iran. Of note, some of China’s major recipients of military assistance— Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe—all are subject to EU arms embargoes.[14]

In sum, China’s economic priorities and foreign policy goals stress a growing need to improve export controls and strengthen technology security in its civilian and military enterprises. A wise policy for the United States and its allies to follow would be to leverage China’s growing self-interest in stronger adherence to global nonproliferation regimes and practice to push Beijing to improve the transparency and enforcement of its export control obligations and to help it meet its growing international responsibilities.

Anupam Srivastava is director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia.


1. “PRC White Paper: China Adheres to Enforcing Nonproliferation Export Control,” Xinhua, September 1, 2005.

2. Evan S. Medeiros, “Chasing the Dragon: Assessing China’s System of Export Controls for WMD-Related Goods and Technologies,” RAND, 2005.

3. Stephen Rademaker, Remarks to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, March 10, 2005.

4. See William Burr, ed., “ China, Pakistan, and the Bomb: The Declassified File on U.S. Policy, 1977-1997,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 114, March 5, 2004.

5. The Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 authorizes the president to penalize any foreign entity that transfers items to Iran that could aid its pursuit of dangerous weapons.

6. David Sanger , “ U.S. Is Punishing 8 Chinese Firms for Aiding Iran,” New York Times, January 18, 2005.

7. “ Pakistan to Build More Nuclear Power Plants With Chinese Help,” News ( Islamabad), April 9, 2005.

8. “ Pakistan Wants Civilian Nuclear Deal,” Associated Press, September 8, 2005; Wade Boese, “Bush Promises India Nuclear Cooperation,” Arms Control Today, September 2005, pp. 23-25. See Harold Bengelsdorf, Fred McGoldrick, and Lawrence Scheinman, “India-U.S. Nuclear Deal: Taking Stock,” Arms Control Today, October 2005, pp. 6-12.

9. The Standing Committee of the 10th National People’s Congress of the PRC, Foreign Trade Law of the People’s Republic of China, April 6, 2004.

10. The measures were promulgated by Decree No. 33, dated October 18, 2002, of the then-Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (now the Ministry of Commerce), the then-State Economic and Trade Commission (now the National Development and Reform Commission), and the General Custom Authority (also known as the General Administration of Customs), and went into effect November 19, 2002.

11. Interviews with author, Shanghai, September 2005; interviews with author, Beijing, June 2004.

12. This assessment is based on diverse communications with members of the export control community in China, the United States, and Europe.

13. Kurt M. Campbell, Testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, February 2, 2005.

14. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, 2005,” p. 25.


LOOKING BACK: Multilateral Arms Transfer Restraint: The Limits of Cooperation

James A. Lewis

As the United States and Europe wrestle over European plans to sell conventional arms to China, many Americans would like to see a new transatlantic treaty regime. They disparage the existing regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement, which coordinates export policies on conventional arms and related industrial technologies.

European officials also acknowledge the limitations of the current arrangement; British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has even proposed a new arms trade treaty.

Yet, it is unlikely that any replacement or change to the Wassenaar Arrangement can provide meaningful restraint in conventional arms transfers and still be acceptable both to the United States and Europe. The negotiations during the early 1990s that led to the creation of the Wassenaar Arrangement made clear that mutual restraint in transfers of advanced technology and arms is impossible when foreign policies diverge. And with the end of the Cold War, any Atlantic consensus was fast eroding over sales to commercially important nations in Asia and the Middle East.

The Wassenaar Arrangement, established in 1996, replaced NATO’s Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM). Created in the 1950s, COCOM blocked technology transfers to the Soviet Union and its allies. It had three lists of controlled goods—arms, industrial equipment, and “atomic” technologies—that members “embargoed” to the Soviets. To ensure that an export of a listed item was consistent with the embargo, COCOM procedures required the review and consent of all members. This gave the United States extraterritorial authority to “veto” exports to the Soviet bloc.

COCOM was not a nonproliferation regime. It lacked a global scope and applied only to the Warsaw Pact, China, Vietnam, Albania, Mongolia, and North Korea. It controlled only the advanced industrial equipment the Soviets needed to make their already formidable military equal to the United States.

COCOM’s extraterritorial reach made it unpopular with U.S. allies. With the Soviet collapse, there was immediate pressure to end it. Germany and France in particular believed that the United States used the regime to advance its commercial and foreign policies, using procedures that were no longer acceptable.

The 1991 Persian Gulf War showed that COCOM was neither well suited to the post-Cold War world nor adequate for nonproliferation. Iraq had built the world’s fourth-largest army with $40 billion in foreign arms acquisitions. The discovery by post-war inspection teams that Iraq had easily obtained a broad range of Western industrial equipment for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and for conventional arms was disquieting. The administration of President George H. W. Bush launched two initiatives to remedy these problems. The first sought agreement from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the P-5) to restrain arms transfers to the Middle East. The second sought agreement from the Group of Seven (G-7) states on exports of sensitive industrial and civil goods to Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea.

New Initiatives

The Bush administration put forward its plan for arms transfer restraint shortly after the end of the Persian Gulf War. The administration was prompted not only by the ease with which Iraq had purchased a huge conventional force and equipment for an extensive WMD program, but also by a desire to forestall congressional interest in legislating new restrictions on arms exports. The proposal called for the P-5 to cooperate in ending destabilizing arms sales or proliferation-related exports to the Middle East and was closely linked to British Prime Minister John Major’s effort to create the UN Register of Conventional Arms.[1]

The arms transfer component of the Middle East initiative became, at the United Kingdom’s suggestion, a proposal for a regime with global scope to prevent destabilizing arms transfers. The core would be a commitment by the five governments to observe a common set of guidelines for major weapons systems. The guidelines emphasized avoiding arms transfers that could destabilize a region, put human rights at risk, or provide inappropriately advanced technology. These principles became a precedent for the UN Register of Conventional Arms, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the European Code of Conduct.

Transparency measures would reinforce guidelines. Participants would notify other partners in advance of a proposed arms transfer to allow them to judge if it was consistent with the principles and to intervene through diplomatic channels if they decided it was not. Transparency would give supplier states confidence that they understood the range of acquisitions by a country and allow them to better assess the consequences of a sale. It would also reduce the risk of a purchaser evading detection through piecemeal acquisitions from different suppliers.

The United States was untroubled by advance notification because its Arms Export Control Act already required that Congress be notified of proposed transfers, but the idea faced stiff opposition from France and China. Negotiators met in Paris, London, and Washington and made progress in developing principles and procedures. Talks collapsed when China withdrew in 1992 after the United States decided to sell F-16s to Taiwan.

The G-7 proposal was similar. It called for a mechanism to ensure that industrial exports did not result in another Iraq. A G-7 summit tasked experts to develop restrictions on transfers of sensitive industrial equipment to four problematic states: Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea. In large part, the abject failure of COCOM even to touch such transfers to Iraq prompted this initiative. Additional items whose export might contribute to terrorism, such as hang gliders and zodiac boats, would also be restricted. The G-7 talks were moving toward consensus but had not progressed as far as the P-5 discussions by the end of President George H. W. Bush’s administration.

Assembling a New Regime

The Clinton administration was initially uncertain whether to proceed with the P-5 or the G-7 initiatives it had inherited. Fortuitously, a renewed impetus for an arms transfer regime arose at the first summit between Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in April 1993. The United States expressed concern over arms sales to Iran, particularly the sale of three Kilo-class submarines. In turn, the Russians asked the United States to end the economically burdensome COCOM restrictions.

Yeltsin’s request led to a plan to replace COCOM with a regime that merged the P-5 and G-7 efforts. The new regime would block transfers of arms and industrial goods to Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea and strengthen restraint for sales to unstable regions. The implied trade for Russia was that, if it agreed to stop arms sales to such countries, the United States would end its technology embargo and support Russian membership in the regime, speeding Russia’s incorporation into Western institutions. This was the genesis of the Wassenaar Arrangement. The proposal assumed that COCOM procedures would continue, including the so-called veto, which the United States saw as crucial for ensuring common decisions on exports.

In July 1993, U.S. officials met with counterparts from Germany, France, and the United Kingdom[2] to discuss how to move ahead. There was unexpected opposition. British officials praised COCOM’s work in winning the Cold War but said the conflict’s end also ended the need for controls on arms and technology not covered by the existing nonproliferation regimes. They recommended immediate termination with no replacement. The Germans seconded this.

Ironically, given their later opposition, the French rescued the proposal. They argued that it was premature and abrupt simply to terminate COCOM, as this might create gaps in the coverage of the nonproliferation regimes. The French intervention led to agreement to take the proposal to a September 1993 NATO meeting in Bonn. There the United States would accept COCOM’s end in exchange for European agreement to a new regime for arms and industrial equipment. Tellingly, the French warned the United States not to ask for too much.

The End of COCOM

In Bonn, the United States presented a detailed 17-page proposal that retained COCOM procedures and added elements of the G-7 and P-5 initiatives. The proposal survived long enough for the German chair to go around the table and obtain a resounding rejection. Although the allies disparaged the proposal as cumbersome and intrusive, they agreed that a new arms transfer regime had merit and negotiations should continue. The goal was to present a draft agreement to a sub-ministerial meeting scheduled three months later in The Hague.

It ultimately took three years to reach agreement. The United States wanted a regime that would let it continue to shape other nations’ arms exports. France, Germany and others wanted to restrict the most egregious transfers and little else. For the United States, retaining prior review was crucial. It would build confidence that international norms were being respected and allow consultations if a member state felt a transfer was ill advised or dangerous. Most countries did not want prior review as many feared that although the United States could force them to stop a sale, they would lack the same influence over U.S. transfers.[3]

Washington clung tenaciously to prior review and floated numerous variants during the negotiations. It narrowed the scope to only to a few countries and to “sensitive goods,” and when this was rejected, it tried “very sensitive goods.”[4] Opposition to advance notification, led by France, Germany and the United Kingdom, only grew stronger when Russia joined the negotiations.[5]

The Russians were embittered by the lengthy negotiations that preceded their entry. The chief sticking point was the U.S. demand that Russia, like all other Wassenaar members, agree not to sell arms to Iran. It took almost two years to reach agreement. The Russians asked why U.S. arms sales to Israel and Saudi Arabia were not equally destabilizing and attempted several times to link ending sales to Iran to U.S. agreement to limit sales to Saudi Arabia or Israel.

Other European states made similar points, noting that they denied manufacturing or testing equipment to programs that the United States supported such as Israel’s Arrow missile defense system. The German Foreign Ministry denied the sale of Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia and asked if the United States would honor that denial and refuse tanks to the Saudis. The United States responded that its global security commitments gave it a unique responsibility to transfer arms despite foreign objections. This lack of reciprocity damaged the U.S. case, and it highlights a central and often unnoticed problem for multilateral arms transfer restraint. There were also hints that a few countries were tempted to curry favor with China or Arab states by vetoing U.S. transfers to security partners such as Taiwan or Israel.

The negotiations revealed that there was little commonality in foreign and security policies outside of the conflict with the Soviets. COCOM gave U.S. policymakers the false impression that NATO members’ security concerns were closely aligned. In fact, there were wide divergences. Many Europeans thought the goal of the U.S. effort was to multilateralize its unilateral embargo on Iran. Others saw no risk in transfers to China.

China: Irreconcilable Differences

Differences were most intense over China. Even in the 1980s, restrictions on trade with China were so contentious that COCOM’s embargo for that nation had to be progressively relaxed. From the onset of discussions, other allies made clear that they saw China not as a threat but as a potential member. They told the United States that a new regime would be stronger with China in it. The U.S. response was that China could join if it agreed to sell arms only where the United States approved. China did not threaten European security, and there was keen interest among all participants to enter its rapidly growing market. If the United States chose to hamper its own companies in this competition, the Europeans saw no reason to extend such restrictions to their own firms.[6]

Because Europe and the United States had imposed arms embargoes on China after the Tiananmen Square massacre and because Japan did not export arms, the China debate focused on dual-use technologies.[7] The United States assumed that there would be no arms sales from allies to China. It tolerated Russian sales to China as a lesser evil necessary to win Russian assent to end arms sales to Iran.

Key supporters in the negotiations bluntly stated that they would not restrict commercial trade with China. Despite understandings that Cold War restraints would be observed until the new regime was in place, high-technology trade with China expanded rapidly after 1994. In the middle of negotiations, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl led a large trade mission to China to push high-tech exports. The United States and its allies did not have a common China policy, and no ally wished to see the Wassenaar Arrangement become a tool to force commonality.

Alternatives Approaches

Given the unacceptable U.S. proposals, several states put forward their own ideas for a new regime. European alternatives were modeled on existing nonproliferation regimes rather than COCOM. Norway, France, the United Kingdom, and others wanted an arrangement like that of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) that would include lists of sensitive technologies, common understandings, and national discretion on exports.[8]

An MTCR-like arrangement appealed to Europeans. It dropped COCOM’s extraterritorial reach, used a “nondiscriminatory” approach that did not use the G-7 list of dangerous “rogues” to which a policy of absolute denial would apply, and avoided prior notification. The Europeans were somewhat disingenuous in putting forward these alternatives, as they did not include the most robust feature of the MTCR or the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG): the “no undercut” rule.[9] Their proposals also lacked the MTCR consultation mechanism for sensitive transfers.

External developments slowed the Wassenaar talks. As the UN Register of Conventional Arms progressed, countries were unwilling to adopt arms requirements that differed from what they had agreed to in the United Nations. Interagency disputes in the United States, known to the United Kingdom and others, over sharing arms transfer data made its proposal seem hypocritical.

Efforts to win multilateral support for arms transfer restraint were badly damaged by U.S. agreement to move arms discussions out of the larger Wassenaar negotiations, which involved more than 20 countries, to a small group of major arms producers: France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The small group’s task was to develop more stringent procedures that would overlay any Wassenaar agreement on arms. These procedures (derived from the P-5 talks) would apply only to the small group members.

This placated Germany and Italy, who had been excluded from the P-5 talks, but it cut the United States off from its strongest supporters ( Norway, the Netherlands, and Japan). In moving arms transfer discussions to a group dominated by opponents, the United States eliminated any chance for meaningful restraint. France, Germany, and Russia combined to block agreement. Commercial interests and a desire to negate U.S. influence shaped discussion. France went so far as to say that it regarded Wassenaar’s arms procedures—a munitions list and post-facto notification—as only advisory. The move to a small group destroyed the chance for serious restraint and ended the U.S. effort begun in 1991. The same problems that afflicted the small group, particularly the opposition of France and Russia, will shape any new effort at arms restraint.

Multilateral Restraint

A common enemy provided a degree of harmony in transatlantic relations during the Cold War. Since then, diverging views on economic and foreign policies and the effort to forge a European identity have created serious tensions. At times, the policies of some European leaders appear intentionally antithetical to U.S. interests. We can no longer assume that Europe and the United States automatically share security interests.

The Wassenaar Arrangement is weak because of these tensions, but it is also weak because the impetus for conventional arms restraint has evaporated. Global arms sales have shrunk from Cold War levels. Asymmetric attacks pose greater risk than conventional warfare. Many allies have redefined their national interests to give priority to economics and commerce. Additionally, the global diffusion of technology and production undercuts the effectiveness of supplier regimes.

Other nonproliferation regimes share, in varying degrees, the Wassenaar Arrangement’s problems. That said, the MTCR, the NSG, and the Australia Group remain more robust. They are unburdened by COCOM’s legacy and have stronger support. The principal reason they are strong and the Wassenaar Arrangement is weak is that stopping WMD proliferation is a compelling policy rationale. WMD exports are almost impossible to justify, while conventional arms exports are routine and legitimate when undertaken in the context of Article 51 of the UN Charter, which guarantees the right to self-defense. Self-defense is an elastic concept that gives states with different foreign policies broad latitude to decide when an arms transfer is legitimate.

The negotiating landscape is cluttered with regimes that would complicate new arms transfer restraint discussions. Alternate mechanisms and guidelines include the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers, the European Union’s Code of Conduct and the UN Register of Conventional Arms. These will constrain any agreement, and it is likely that European states would use existing commitments to blunt U.S. initiatives.

The EU’s Code of Conduct for arms transfers will have the greatest influence. Despite uncertainty over the future of a common European security policy, EU members look to Brussels—not Washington and its partisan debates over China—to set the agenda. The code calls for respect for human rights and avoiding sales “if there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim.” Some but not all European countries take the code seriously. The dilemma lies in national discretion. Each country individually determines whether an export is consistent with the code. National discretion means that, if the EU lifts its embargo, transfers of advanced military technology (more useful to China than weapons) are inevitable. Making the code legally binding does not change this, unless committee decisions in Brussels replace national discretion on whether a transfer runs counter to the code. This is a step the major European powers will not accept.[10]

In this regard, a recent British proposal for a UN treaty is largely irrelevant. It focuses on small arms and the grey market, not the difficult issues. Nations will agree not to sell arms to African rebels, but they will differ on whether to provide advanced military technology to China. Nor would a treaty address the problem experienced in Srebrenica, where a mindless embargo left Muslims defenseless against the better-armed Serbs.

The Wassenaar Arrangement shows where the tensions will be if new arms transfer discussions begin. Will Europeans insist, as they did in the Wassenaar Arrangement, that agreement is impossible until Russia joins? They argued then that a regime would be ineffective without all major suppliers involved, but Russia will not accept an arrangement that closes off China, its largest arms export market. Other participants are unlikely to accept the U.S. notion that a transfer already approved by Congress needs no further scrutiny. The United States is equally unlikely to accede to other nations’ denial policies for arms exports to Pakistan, Taiwan, Colombia, or Israel.

It is no insight to say that key U.S. allies and other major nations disagree on many issues: Iraq, UN reform, and the response to terrorism. The experience of the Wassenaar Arrangement suggests that this is not a temporary aberration due to one administration’s policies. Foreign policies diverged in the 1990s and have not grown closer since then. Effective restraint requires more than agreed upon procedures and guidelines. It requires common approaches to foreign policy and security. Absent this commonality, any new arrangement will be hollow and ineffective. European arms sales to China would be a callous mistake, but pursuing some new agreement on restraint is unlikely to stop them.



James A. Lewis was a negotiator in the P-5 Arms Transfer Restraint talks (1991-1993) and in crafting the Wassenaar Arrangement (1993-1996).


1. The proposals were announced by President George H. W. Bush in a speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy on May 29, 1991. Discussion of weapons of mass destruction later moved to a separate track.

2. France , the United Kingdom, and the United States sent representatives from their defense and foreign ministries; the Germans were represented by foreign and economics ministry representatives.

3. Norway ’s experience in trying to get the United States not to re-transfer Norwegian-made light anti-tank weapons to El Salvador, which contravened Norway’s arms transfer policy, colored the debate.

4. The United States was able to win agreement to “sensitive” and “very sensitive” lists but could never link them to robust notification procedures. The lists linger in the Wassenaar Arrangement, serving little purpose.

5. The very close coordination among France, Germany, and Russia to block U.S. initiatives foreshadowed their later actions vis-à-vis Iraq.

6. During the two and a half years of discussions, the Chinese approached some participants ( Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden) concerning membership. Other countries, notably Russia, approached the Chinese. Absent a signal that the United States would agree, no one pushed for China to join.

7. Europe’s embargo never forbade dual-use exports to China, and each nation has discretion in its application.

8. The Norwegian rapporteur of the working group was especially courageous in this regard.

9. “No undercut” means that, if one nation has denied a sale, other states will similarly refuse to sell the item in question. A considerably weakened no-undercut provision was ultimately included in the Wassenaar Arrangement.

10. Oliver Meier , “Between Noble Goals and Sobering Reality: An Interview With EU Nonproliferation Chief Annalisa Giannella,” Arms Control Today, September 2005, pp. 20-22.



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