Stopping Weapons Dead in Their Tracks: Export Controls, Nonproliferation Tools

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Lab officials hold a discussion on the safety record at one of the nation's top federal laboratories Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Stopping Weapons Dead in Their Tracks: Export Controls, Nonproliferation Tools

Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, as well as conventional weapons, remain among the highest national security priorities in the United States.  In the wrong hands, WMD and missile capabilities present very real and direct threats to the American people and to U.S. friends, forces, and interests around the world.

The United States is committed to addressing WMD and missile proliferation challenges. This work is crucial in promoting the safety and security of Americans around the globe. U.S. policy makers, together with international partners, have established a number of tools in the nonproliferation toolkit.  Employing these tools together and across the broad spectrum of issues enhances our ability to succeed.

(From left to right) Ambassador Philip Griffiths (Wassenaar Head of Secretariat), Ambassador Eve-Kulli Kala (Plenary Chair from Estonia) and Lisa Hilliard (Wassenaar Staff) at the Neuer Saal in the Hofburg at the Wassenaar Plenary from December 2014.

Effective nonproliferation requires a variety of tools to navigate complex and overlapping international relationships and realities.  Many of these tools are diplomatic, from the bilateral relationships we have with individual countries to the formal multilateral relationships we build at organizations like the United Nations.  When we have shared priorities and capabilities with other groups of countries, we cooperate with them through multilateral regimes.

Multilateral regimes help us to establish, implement, and maintain international standards that advance regional stability and international security.  Over the years, multilateral action has proven to be one of the most effective tools in impeding proliferators’ access to equipment and technology that could advance their programs.

There are four primary multilateral nonproliferation regimes often described as export control regimes that help establish norms for responsible nonproliferation behavior.

  • The Australia Group is an informal forum of countries focused on ensuring that entities in participating countries do not assist – either intentionally or inadvertently – states and other actors seeking to acquire a chemical and biological weapons capability.
  • The Missile Technology Control Regime was created to limit the proliferation of missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction as well as related technology.
  • The Nuclear Suppliers Group comprises nuclear supplier countries.  It seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by implementing guidelines for nuclear and nuclear-related exports.
  • The Wassenaar Arrangement promotes transparency and responsibility in exports of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies.

These four groups are informal, political arrangements among generally like-minded countries that are committed to curbing the WMD and missile threat.  Their work, which harmonizes trade and export controls, through information sharing and best practices, makes it more difficult, expensive, risky and time consuming for proliferators and terrorists to acquire WMD and related materials.

In addition to the four strategic trade control regimes, other multilateral arrangements such as the Proliferation Security Initiative also help countries develop and strengthen capabilities to interdict the transfer of these technologies, another effective means to prevent proliferation. 

All these multilateral export control regimes help create a collaborative atmosphere, allowing the United States and its partners to improve global security.

But not all partners have the same capabilities, and because of this the United States works with many partner nations to help strengthen their ability to implement their nonproliferation commitments.  The Export Control and related Border Security Program (EXBS) of the U.S. Department of State provides expert-level technical assistance and is currently active in over 60 countries. 

Montenegrin Maritime Border Police officers practicing subduing a smuggling suspect during boarding of a suspicious vessel during a US Coast Guard-conducted, EXBS-funded, Boarding Officer Course delivered in Bar, Montenegro in February 2015.

EXBS uses a broad range of expertise from U.S. government agencies, the private sector, academia, as well as domestic and international non-governmental organizations to assist nations in improving their capabilities.  EXBS programs support adherence to the four strategic trade control regimes.  These programs include:

  • Providing workshops on establishing national export control lists,
  • Legal and regulatory technical assistance to strengthen trade control legislation and assistance in passing relevant legislation, and
  • Deploying an automated license processing system to promote sound practices in adherence to the guidelines of the four regimes.

Global stability and security are complicated but critical goals, and the U.S. Department of State is committed to advancing both.  Our diplomatic processes have seen steady progress the past decades, and we will continue to adhere to the nonproliferation trade control regimes and implement programs to continuously promote them.

The United States is a strong partner and advocate of these regimes, and is committed to investing in a comprehensive international architecture for preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation and stopping deadly weapons in their tracks.

About the Author: Pamela K. Durham serves as the Director in the Office of Missile, Biological,and Chemical Nonproliferation at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This blog is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.