Creating a New Multilateral Export Control Regime

By Beck, Michael; Gahlaut, Seema | Arms Control Today, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Creating a New Multilateral Export Control Regime

Beck, Michael, Gahlaut, Seema, Arms Control Today

As the United States turns to military means to disarm Iraq, it is an opportune time to reflect on the role that Western governments played in arming Iraq with the technologies and components needed for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and on the failure of export controls to limit Iraq's access to such items. It is important to remember that much of Iraq's WMD capability was derived not from smuggling and theft, but from purchases of key weapons-related components by Iraqi agents who systematically exploited gaps in Western export control systems. Post-Persian Gulf War national and international investigations revealed that Iraq purchased-either directly or through front companies-the majority of materials and technologies needed for its various weapons programs.

Much of what we know about Iraqi capabilities indicates that they were built over the years by setting up elaborate networks of shell companies, innocuous procurement agents, and convoluted financial and transshipment routes.1 One recent media report notes that "Iraqi agents have been known to carry 30-page shopping lists of prohibited equipment. They usually pay in cash and buy in bulk. The military industrial commission usually remits the money through the nearest Iraqi ambassador or military attache."2 All of this effort converged on one goal: to divert legitimate exports of dual-use goods and technologies, those with both civilian and military applications, into Iraq's illicit weapons programs.

The Iraqi case has at least three serious implications for the future U.S. arms control and nonproliferation agenda. First, the post-September 11 focus on preventing nuclear and other WMD materials and technology with military purposes from falling into the hands of terrorists needs to be complemerited with a parallel focus on ensuring that trade in dual-use technologies is closely monitored and regulated. For those trying to operate under the radar while building their WMD capability, seemingly legitimate purchases of technologies and materials are as attractive as smuggling of such technologies. Indeed, the recent revelations about the WMD capabilities of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea suggest that these states apparent capabilities owe a great deal to the export decisions-deliberate or inadvertent-made by supplier states such as Russia, China, Germany, France, and Pakistan.

Second, the U.S. reliance on supply-side strategies such as export controls, which involve government licensing and oversight of the trade in weapons and sensitive weapons-related technologies, need to be tempered with the understanding that these tools comprise only one segment-albeit an important segment-within the broad spectrum of arms control and nonproliferation tools available to the international community. Export controls are designed to thwart and delay proliferation by limiting access to WMD-related technologies and goods. By limiting access, these controls help to make WMD programs more expensive, financially and diplomatically, for countries seeking such weapons. Unfortunately, the ease with which technical knowledge and hardware spread in our globalized world means that export controls by themselves cannot end proliferation. They are the proverbial finger in the dike that stanches the flow while waiting for reinforcement. That reinforcement stems from parallel support on multiple fronts, such as confidence-building measures, arms control agreements, multilateral sanctions and incentives, and counterproliferation, all of which are aimed at offering viable alternatives to merely coping with the effects of proliferation. Although export controls may have inherent limitations, they are certainly less costly than pre-emptive strikes and armed interventions to disarm proliferators.

Finally, the United States must work with its allies and other major suppliers to strengthen cooperation in regulating and monitoring trade in weaponry and dangerous technology. Currently, they seek to coordinate their export regulations on proliferation-sensitive technologies and conventional arms through four multilateral export control regimes: the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies. …

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Creating a New Multilateral Export Control Regime


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