Nonproliferation:

Strategy Needed to Strengthen Multilateral Export Control Regimes

GAO-03-43: Published: Oct 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 2002.

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Multilateral export control regimes are consensus-based, voluntary arrangements of supplier countries that produce technologies useful in developing weapons of mass destruction or conventional weapons. The regimes aim to restrict trade in these technologies to keep them from proliferating states or terrorists. The United States seeks to improve the effectiveness of these regimes. GAO was asked to (1) assess weaknesses of the four regimes and (2) identify obstacles faced in trying to strengthen them.

GAO found weaknesses that impede the ability of the multilateral export control regimes to achieve their nonproliferation goals. A key function of each regime is to share information related to proliferation. Yet the regimes often lack even basic information that would allow them to assess whether their actions are having their intended results. The regimes cannot effectively limit or monitor efforts by countries of concern to acquire sensitive technology without more complete and timely reporting of licensing information and without information on when and how members adopt and implement agreed-upon export controls. For example, GAO confirmed that at least one member, the United States, has not reported its denial of 27 export licenses for items controlled by the Australia Group. Several obstacles limit the options available to the United States in strengthening the effectiveness of multilateral export control regimes. The requirement to achieve consensus in each regime allows even one member to block action in adopting needed reforms. Because the regimes are voluntary in nature, they cannot enforce members' compliance with regime commitments. For example, Russia exported nuclear fuel to India in a clear violation of its commitments, threatening the viability of one regime. The regimes have adapted to changing threats in the past. Their continued ability to do so will determine whether they remain viable in curbing proliferation in the future.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help multilateral export control regimes achieve their stated goals and objectives, the Secretary of State should establish a strategy to work with other regime members to enhance the effectiveness of the multilateral export control regimes. This strategy should identify steps regime members should take to (1) improve information-sharing by establishing clearly defined standards for reporting export denials on a more complete and timely basis, sharing greater and more detailed information on approved exports of sensitive transfers to nonmember countries, and adopting automated information-sharing systems in the Missile Technology Control Regime and Australia Group to facilitate more timely information exchanges; (2) adopt and implement agreed-upon regime changes to export controls more consistently by setting guidelines for when each regime member should adopt control list changes into national laws and regulations and making this information available to all members, tracking when members adopt regime changes into national law and regulations and making information on the timing and content of these changes available to the membership, establishing minimal standards for an effective national export control system, and periodically assessing each member's national export control system against these standards and reporting the results of these assessments to the regime; and (3) identify potential changes in policies and procedures by assessing alternative processes for reaching decisions, evaluating means for encouraging greater adherence to regime commitments, and conducting an annual self-assessment of regime effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State provided a copy of its 31 USC 720 response. State had continued to say that the National Security Council was studying the issues in the report, a process that began in 2002. State's Office Director for Chemical, Biological, and Missile Proliferation confirmed that the NSC study was never completed. No further action on this recommendation is anticipated.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the United States is reporting all relevant information to the multilateral export control regimes, as expected, the Secretary of State should report U.S. denials of all export licenses for items controlled by a multilateral export control regime at the time the exporter is informed of the U.S. government's intent to deny an export license.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State provided a copy of its 31 USC 720 response. State had continued to say that the National Security Council was studying the issues in the report, a process that began in 2002. State's Office Director for Chemical, Biological, and Missile Proliferation confirmed that the NSC study was never completed. No further action on this recommendation is anticipated.

    Recommendation: To enable the U.S. government to better implement its policy of strengthening the effectiveness of the multilateral export control regimes, the Secretary of State should establish criteria to assess the effectiveness of the multilateral export control regimes.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State provided a copy of its 31 USC 720 response. State had continued to say that the National Security Council was studying the issues in the report, a process that began in 2002. State's Office Director for Chemical, Biological, and Missile Proliferation confirmed that this study was never completed. No further action is anticipated.

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