The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
They provide guidance to states participating in the 1995 Wassenaar Arrangement for the export of surface-to-air missile systems.
US efforts to address the terrorist threat from Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) date back at least to 1972, but for decades these efforts were largely reactive, modest, and ad hoc. M. Schroeder, ‘Countering the MANPADS threat: strategies for success’, Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, September 2007. That started to change in the late 1990s.
In a June 1998 speech, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first called for tighter controls on shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, formally referred to as Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS), emphasising the threat the missiles pose to civil aviation. W. Boese, ‘Wassenaar Arrangement agrees on MANPADS export criteria’, Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, January/February 2001.
It would take two years of negotiations. In 1999, a proposal to add ground-to-air missiles with ranges of less than 25 kilometres, which would include MANPADS, to the missiles category failed—the missile category excludes ground-to-air missiles. Arms Control Association, ‘Wassenaar members remain divided over Arrangement’s scope’, Arms Control Today, December 1999. Members, however, pledged to continue discussions for the ‘possible development of guidelines’ for exporting MANPADS. At their 2000 plenary meeting, held on 30 November and 1 December in Bratislava, participating states eventually agreed to non-binding criteria to guide exports of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. W. Boese, ‘Wassenaar Arrangement agrees on MANPADS export criteria’, Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, January/February 2001. The document can be found here. By adopting the Elements for Export Controls of MANPADS, they pledged to limit exports of MANPADS to other governments and require recipient governments to, inter alia, establish adequate physical security and stockpile management practices and seek permission before retransferring imported MANPADS.
This first version of the Elements for Export Controls of MANPADS was a step in the right direction, but it was not yet satisfactory for the USA. Two years later, in November 2002, the Mombasa attack gave renewed impetus to the discussions. Arms Control Association, ‘MANPADS at a glance’. The unsuccessful attempt by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists to shoot down an Israeli airliner as it was departing from an airport in Kenya transformed a limited, largely diplomatic initiative into a full-fledged campaign. In the UN, governments added MANPADS exports and imports to the list of weapons transactions that should be volunteered annually by states to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Within the Wassenaar Arrangement too, states agreed at the December 2002 plenary to revisit their existing policy.
The revised Elements were adopted at the December 2003 plenary. W. Boese, ‘Wassenaar endorses steps to deny terrorists arms’. Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, January/February 2004. In 2007, the Elements were again updated to cover MANPADS production technologies.
The Elements call for members to export MANPADS only to foreign governments or their authorised agents and to weigh the possibility of whether the missiles will be diverted or misused by the recipient government. Exporters are called upon to assure themselves that importing governments will not re-export the MANPADS without prior consent.
Wassenaar missile exporters are also to assess whether the importing government can safely store and handle the missiles to prevent unauthorized access and use. For example, the criteria call for the missiles and firing mechanisms to be stored and transported separately as a ‘minimum’ safety measure, and that only individuals with appropriate security clearance and need will be allowed to access information relating to the weapons, including training and operation manuals, and if possible only orally. At least once a month, recipient countries should also take a physical inventory of all their MANPADS.
The Elements also encourage and provide guidance on destruction of excess stockpiles, and buy-back of previously exported weapons.
Support for developing legislation and improving physical security, stockpile management, and control of transportation of MANPADS will also be extended to non-participating states upon request.
Last updated on: 08 August 2017