Department of Foreign Affairs ans Trade, Australia

New controls on conventional arms exports

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies was launched in The Hague on 19 December 1995. The Arrangement was formally established by a Final Declaration issued by the representatives of 28 participating governments* who met in Wassenaar, the Netherlands, on 18 and 19 December 1995.

The declaration acknowledged that the initial elements of the new Arrangement were still subject to government approval and agreed that a small secretariat servicing the Arrangement would be located in Vienna.

The first plenary meeting of the Wassenaar Arrangement will be held in Vienna on 2-3 April 1996 and the overall structure and operations of the new Arrangement are expected to be finalised at this meeting.

The Wassenaar Arrangement is the successor regime to the Co-ordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) established by NATO in 1949 to control the export of military equipment and dual-use technologies to Warsaw Pact states. Negotiations to establish a successor regime to COCOM commenced in 1993 and COCOM was terminated in March 1994.

The basic objective of the Wassenaar Arrangement is to prevent the acquisition of conventional arms and sensitive dual-use technologies for military end-uses by States whose behaviour is, or becomes, a cause for serious international concern. It is designed to complement existing weapons control and non-proliferation regimes (the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Australia Group) and is not intended to impede bona fide civil transactions.
The Arrangement will be a very different regime from the mandatory Cold War-era COCOM export controls, functioning as a voluntary regime based on information exchanges on transfers and denials of designated goods and on the application of national export controls. It will not target specific countries ("rogue states") or regions ­p; it is envisaged that "behaviours of concern" and trends with adverse regional security implications will be revealed through the information exchange process.

There is a clear presumption that member countries will take appropriate action ­p; and specifically cooperate in preventing acquisitions of potentially destabilising arms or sensitive dual use items ­p; if the situation in a region or the behaviour of a state becomes a cause for serious concern.
The new Arrangement will have two pillars ­p; dual-use technologies and conventional arms. Dual-use technologies and goods are divided into three tiers of sensitivity (basic, sensitive and very sensitive) with different export licensing and information-sharing procedures applying to each of these tiers.

Good progress has been made in defining dual-use goods and technologies and in compiling and categorising the three tier lists. The lists will require regular review and updating to accommodate developments in technology. In terms of reporting obligations, conventional arms transfers and denials under the Arrangement will be based at the outset on the UN Arms Register. The UN Arms Register is a transparency regime which focuses on weapons platforms and does not require detailed reporting on weapons systems.

Australia would like to strengthen the reporting requirements for conventional arms transfers and denials under the new Arrangement to make it more effective in identifying trends and State behaviour of concern. We see a need to expand the reporting obligations for conventional arms to cover weapons systems as well as platforms ­p; systems determine the capabilities of platforms and systems information provides a clearer picture of trends and potential proliferation problems, thereby facilitating the identification of trends and behaviours of concern.

The information exchange will be the central feature of the new export control Arrangement and its content and processes will be critical to the Arrangement's effectiveness. From Australia's perspective, it is essential that all members participate equally in the information exchange if the new regime is to function transparently and effectively.

It is also important that the content and modalities of the information exchange do not impose unreasonable resource demands on participating states and that due provision is made to protect commercial-in-confidence information.

At present there are no formal requirements for membership of the Wassenaar Arrangement although it is understood a prospective member would be a producer or exporter of arms and/or dual-use technologies or goods, have acceptable non-proliferation policies and credentials (usually interpreted to imply membership or imminent membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime, Nuclear Suppliers Group and Australia Group) and adhere to fully effective export controls under national legislation.

Russia and the four Visegrad states (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) were admitted to the negotiations to establish the new Arrangement in September 1995. The Republic of Korea and Argentina and possibly several other countries are expected to be admitted at the first plenary meeting of the Wassenaar Arrangement in April 1996.

Any assessment of the Wassenaar Arrangement must await the finalisation of its structure and scope and experience of the actual operation of the information exchanges on which the new Arrangement is based. The Arrangement should, however, complement and reinforce existing global non-proliferation mechanisms and close a significant gap between these international control regimes.

The present draft document defining the new Arrangement contains an evolution paragraph which provides a foundation on which to develop the Arrangement further in areas of perceived weakness or inadequacy and offers scope for early consultations to strengthen the conventional arms reporting regime.

* The 28 member countries of the Wassenaar Arrangement are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Return to index: Peace and Disarmament Newsletter, April 1996
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