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The Wassenaar Arrangement is an arms suppliers' club whose 41 members voluntarily agree to prevent, through their national export control policies, the destabilizing accumulation of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies. In addition to its foundational Initial Elements, participating states adopted a number of specific commitments or guidelines on small arms and light weapons, man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS), or arms brokering, to name a few.
It complements and reinforces existing regimes for non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, such as the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Zangger Committee, and the Nuclear Supplier Group. Its foundations are established by the 1996 Initial Elements.
The Wassenaar Arrangement was established in the wake of the Cold War to replace the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM). J. A. Lewis, ‘Looking Back: Multilateral Arms Transfer Restraint: the Limits of Cooperation’, Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, November 2005.
Established in the 1950s, COCOM blocked technology transfers to the Soviet Union and its allies. Applying only to Warsaw Pact countries, it was not a non-proliferation regime. Its procedures required the review and consent of all its members before exports were authorised, effectively giving the United States a veto power over such transfers. This made COCOM unpopular with many US allies. With the Soviet collapse, there was an immediate pressure to end it, particularly from Germany and France. The Persian Gulf War in 1991 further demonstrated the limits of COCOM, which had not prevented Iraq from acquiring weapons from many Western states.
Two initiatives were launched by the US in 1991 to remedy the problem. On the one hand, the US administration sought agreement from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5) to restrain arms transfers to the Middle East; on the other, they sought agreement from the Group of Seven (G-7) on exports of sensitive industrial and civil goods to Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea. In parallel, UK Prime Minister John Major sought to create a UN Register of Conventional Arms.
The arms transfer component of the Middle East initiative became, at the UK's suggestion, a proposal for a regime with global scope to prevent destabilising arms transfers. At its core was a commitment by the P-5 to observe a common set of guidelines for major weapons exports. This would form the basis for the UN Register of Conventional Arms, the European Code of Conduct, and the Wassenaar Arrangement. But discussions among the P-5 also revolved around transparency measures to reinforce the guidelines, and particularly a system of advance notification of arms transfers. This was not a problem for the United States, whose Arms Export Control Act already required it to notify Congress of proposed transfers, but it was strongly opposed by France and China. In 1992, talks collapsed when China withdrew following a decision by the USA to sell war planes to Taiwan.
The G-7 proposal faced similar difficulties when in April 1993, US President Bill Clinton met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin at a summit in Vancouver. The talks resulted in the idea to replace COCOM with a new regime that would merge both the P-5 and G-7 proposals. In exchange for stopping arms sales to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea, Russia would be able to participate in the regime. The US on its part assumed that the new regime would adopt the same procedures as COCOM, including common decisions for exports.
In July 1993, the US presented this idea to counterparts from France, Germany, and the UK. Unexpectedly, Germany and the UK advocated for a termination of COCOM without replacement, arguing that existing non-proliferation regimes were sufficient with the end of the Cold War. Only France felt it would be premature to abruptly terminate COCOM, so the proposal was presented again at a NATO summit in Bonn in September 1993.
At the NATO summit, states rejected a new regime that would inherit COCOM's procedures. They gave themselves three months to draft a new agreement; negotiations would continue for three years. The issue of prior review was deemed essential for the US, and was supported by Norway, the Netherlands, and Japan. However, most other countries strongly rejected it, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, and even more so Russia when it finally joined the negotiations in September 1995. In cause was the US insistence that states deny exports to Iran, when it would not question its own exports to states such as Israel or Saudi Arabia. But above all, divergences persisted over China: while Europeans were keen to include it into the regime, the US would agree to it only if China was prepared to submit its arms transfers to US approval. Overall the difficult negotiations revealed the absence of common foreign and security policies in the West after the Cold War.
Meanwhile COCOM was terminated following agreement at a high-level meeting of member states on 16 November 1993 in The Hague. It was replaced by a new multilateral arrangement temporarily known as the ‘New Forum’. COCOM ceased to exist on 31 March 1994.
The US attempted to move the discussions out of Wassenaar and into a smaller group of major arms producers including France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, and the US. This placated Italy and Germany, who had been excluded from P-5 discussions, but it also isolated the US from its only supporters. The weakness of the Wassenaar Arrangement reflects these tensions, but also the perceived decrease of the threat of conventional warfare after the Cold War, replaced by new asymmetric threats.
The 33 co-founding states met in Wassenaar, Netherlands on 19 December 1995, and issued a declaration at the Peace Palace in The Hague. 1995 Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, Final Declaration.Consensus on the Initial Elements was still not found, however, when the Arrangement held its inaugural meeting in April 1996. It received final approval in July 1996, and began operations in September 1996. The new Control Lists and information exchange mechanism began in November 1996.
Participants in the Wassenaar Arrangement undertake to ensure through national policies that transfers of arms do not create destabilizing accumulations of weapons. Two lists of items designed for military use are included and regularly updated: the Dual Use List and the Munitions List (conventional weapons). 1995 Wassenaar Arrangement Control Lists. The decision to deny a transfer rests solely with each participating state, but a set of criteria is provided to review such decisions. In addition, Wassenaar Arrangement signatories agree to report semi-annually on all transfers and denials of a sub-set of items originally corresponding to the UN Register of Conventional Arms.
The Wassenaar Arrangement consists of the following documents:
In addition, participating states adopted a number of public documents:
Last updated on: 07 August 2017