Multilateral Export Control Regime: An Introduction

Ever since the end of World War II, industrialised and developed countries have tried to control the spread of strategic goods and dual-use technologies. Following the onset of the Cold War in the 1950s, these efforts gained further traction among the developed world keen to restrict the proliferation of such goods and technologies to the Soviet Union and its allies. 

Multilateral Regimes are groups that are independent of the United Nations that states may use to organize their export control programs. Their regulations apply only to members and it is not obligatory that a country join. 

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Thus broadly Multilateral Control Regime:

• Contribute by establishing control lists and guidelines that most of the potential suppliers subscribe to. 

• Help keep the most/best technology out of the hands of proliferators. 

• Create Global Standards 

The four major Multilateral Non-proliferation Export Control Regimes are:

The Australia Group - Ensuring would-be proliferators are not able to obtain necessary inputs for chemical and biological weapons through the development of ways to minimize export and transshipping risks. Licensing authority over a wide range of chemical weapons precursors is one way to reduce risk. Members require licenses for the export of dual-use chemical manufacturing facilities, equipment, and related technology, plant pathogens, animal pathogens, biological agents, and dual-use biological equipment. These items form the basis for the Group’s common control lists.

The Wassenaar Arrangement - Contributing to regional and international security and stability by promoting transparency and responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and sensitive dual-use (civilian/military) goods and technologies. Members of the Wassenaar Arrangement implement export controls on specific armaments and technologies. Export control guidelines help prevent destabilizing accumulations of weapons and technologies in volatile regions around the world.

Missile Technology Control Regime - Minimizing the risk of the proliferation of WMD delivery systems through the adherence of member states to common export policies and guidelines. Specifically, the aim of the MTCR is to restrict the proliferation of missiles, complete rocket systems, unmanned air vehicles, and related technology for those systems capable of carrying a 500 kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers, as well as systems intended for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction. It achieves its goals through export controls and licensing, relative information exchange between members, and outreach to non-members.

Nuclear Suppliers Group - Contributing to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of guidelines for nuclear and related exports. Forty member countries have developed export guidelines, which aim to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. These guidelines cover nuclear material, technology and equipment, which may be considered dual-use.

 Information on Other Organizations and Treaties

 World Customs Organization - Enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of customs administrations by promoting honest, transparent, and predictable customs environments. Comprised of 159 customs administrations, WCO members process 95% of international trade worldwide. The WCO and its partners assist customs agencies administer technologies and guidelines, which help to harmonize and simplify customs procedures around the world.

International Atomic Energy Agency - Promoting safe, secure, and peaceful nuclear technologies. The IAEA exists to verify that safeguarded nuclear material and activities are not used for military purposes, upgrade nuclear safety and security and prepare for and respond to emergencies, and mobilize peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology for critical needs in developing countries.

South Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC) - Stopping the flow and availability of small arms and light weapons in Southeastern Europe by sensitizing governments and civil society to small arms issues and formulating national strategies for SALW control. SEESAC liases directly with governments and communities to provide technical input, information exchange, coordination and overview of current and future efforts and fund-raising assistance for specific projects.

Nonproliferation and Arms Control Treaties and Agreements - Listing treaties and agreements support by the United States Department of State Bureaus of Arms Control and Nonproliferation.

 Critical analysis

The primary function of the regimes during their formative stages was to aid in the harmonization of national export control policies and to provide fora for cooperation, information sharing, and the promulgation of norms to govern trade in sensitive items and technologies. The regimes were not originally mandated to take on separate lives as organizations, charged with taking independent measures in the struggle against proliferation, and were certainly not chartered as institutions focused upon the very nebulous and at that time immature phenomenon of international terrorism.

Further since the end of the Cold War, the number of states participating in the regimes has grown, but at the cost of diluting the original membership criteria. This expansion was driven primarily by the euphoric belief in the non-proliferation community that the end of the Cold War had inaugurated an era in which former Warsaw Pact states would make common cause with the West to squelch WMD proliferation. Another factor was the consolidation of the European Union (EU) into a common economic market with few barriers to the movement of goods and services. The extension of the export control regimes to include the EU thus became almost automatic. 

The MTCR, for example, has grown in membership from seven members (the Group of Seven) in 1987 to 33 in 2002. That means that the regimes now include non-suppliers as well as states that differ significantly in their definition of threats and their understanding of the letter and spirit of the requirements imposed by the regimes.

Third, the control regimes do not require their members to fully disclose which exports they have approved and which they have denied; consequently, they lack the kind of transparency that is crucial to prevent one country from supplying an item that was denied by another.

According to the experts multilateral export control regime should be governed by the following principles and objectives:

1. Replace consensus decision-making with majority voting, at least in such areas as admitting new members, identifying violations by existing members, and developing remedies to deal with violations.

2. Specify the commitments and responsibilities of members and formalize the operations of the regime. 

3. Introduce a dispute-resolution mechanism that allows collective discussion about possible violations by a member, gives that member an opportunity to explain its behavior, and requires all members to abide by the collective decision at the end of the process.

4. Establish clear and uniform criteria for membership, possibly including conditions for expulsion.

5. Create a team of international experts to provide export control training to prospective members and countries interested in adhering to the standards upheld by the regime.

6. Strengthen information-sharing requirements to include not only denial notifications, but approvals.


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