GAO Says Multilateral Export Control Regimes Too Weak

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, November 2002 | Go to article overview

GAO Says Multilateral Export Control Regimes Too Weak


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


NEWS AND NEGOTIATIONS

CONCLUDING A 13-MONTH study of four international regimes designed to stem global weapons proliferation, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported October 25 that the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement are not working as effectively as they should and need to be made more robust.

While noting that governmental and nongovernmental nonproliferation experts believe the four regimes have successfully helped institute standards limiting worldwide exports of dangerous goods and kept such items out of the hands of troublesome governments, GAO asserted that measuring the actual impact of the regimes is difficult, and it identified several shortcomings that undercut their utility.

Established over a span of 21 years, beginning with the 1975 creation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and ending with the 1996 founding of the Wassenaar Arrangement, the four regimes each deal with a specific area of proliferation concern, although they are largely comprised of the same members. More than 30 countries, including the United States, have committed to adhere voluntarily to the regimes, which were established separately to regulate the global trade of dangerous materials by harmonizing national export controls. The Nuclear Suppliers Group limits nuclear materials and technologies; the Australia Group addresses chemical and biological weapons-related goods and technologies; the MTCR restricts missiles and related technologies; and the Wassenaar Arrangement covers conventional arms and goods with both military and civilian uses.

GAO, which conducts investigations and studies for Congress, said two chief problems hamper the regimes: members do not share adequate information with each other in a timely manner about their approval and denial of exports, and they fail to implement regime decisions quickly and consistently enough so that members' export controls are uniform. Making agreedupon changes to national export controls has taken some countries, including the United States, more than a year.

The report warned that countries or groups seeking outlawed or deadly capabilities might exploit an exporter's outdated controls or incomplete knowledge of what exports other suppliers are denying.

The regimes' voluntary nature also hinders them from working effectively, according to GAO. None of the regimes have monitoring or enforcement mechanisms, and all the regimes operate by consensus, meaning that a single country can block proposals or initiatives to strengthen a regime. Although the consensus rule can frustrate efforts to reform regimes, U.S. officials told GAO that it can also work to the U.S. advantage by permitting Washington to block proposals it does not like.

The regimes are also limited by the difficulty export controls have keeping pace with rapid technological changes; the growing number of countries outside regimes, such as China and North Korea, that are capable of manufacturing and selling weapons and related technologies; and the lack of criteria by which to judge regime performance. …

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