Understanding the Wassenaar Arrangement

The Wassenaar Arrangement, from its original name Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, actually designates an elitist club of countries (thirty-three at the base and today numbering more than forty) having subscribes to a multilateral export control regime. Established on May 12, 1996 in Wassenaar in the Netherlands, it is today one of the four international export control regimes, but the only one not to focus only on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of their vector systems.

Its main objective is to coordinate export policies in terms of armaments but also dual-use goods and technologies. It succeeds the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls signed in 1949 (COCOM) and which, during the Cold War, controlled the flow of weapons and technology destined for the Soviet Union. A secretariat has now been set up in Vienna, in which at least one meeting takes place a year in December.

The forty-two States participating in this Wassenaar Arrangement are as follows: South Africa, Germany, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, South Korea, Croatia, Denmark, Spain, Estonia, the United States of America, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg , Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Roumania, the United Kingdom, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and finally Ukraine.

Every six months member countries exchange information on deliveries of conventional arms to non-Wassenaar members that fall under eight broad weapons categories: battle tanks, armored fighting vehicles (AFVs), large-caliber artillery, military aircraft, military helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems, and small arms and light weapons.

The structure of the Wassenaar Arrangement

Three main groups govern the work of the Wassenaar Arrangement. It should be noted that since June 4, 2011, it is Philip Wallace Griffiths who assumes the position of head of the Secretariat. There is the general working group (WA-GWG), studying political questions and meeting twice a year. The Plenary Assembly (WA-PLM), taking the decisions proposed by the other groups. It meets at the end of the year. While in 2017 France assumed the presidency of the Assembly, it was Greece that won this honor in 2019. And finally, the expert group called WA-EG, proposing the annual updating of the checklists, which meets twice a year for sessions of fifteen days on average.

Certain occasional groups also meet for specific missions: the group of officials responsible for carrying out checks, the group of Viennese contact points, preparing the administrative and budgetary questions to be discussed and the awareness group, preparing questions related to the dissemination of good accreditation practices.

Implicit State commitment

There are two notable differences between COCOM (established by the Western Bloc in the first five years after the end of World War II, during the Cold War, to put an embargo on COCOM countries; it ceased to function on March 31, 1994) and the Wassenaar Arrangement. First, the International Industrial List disappears and is replaced upon signature of the Arrangement. No Member State now has the right to veto the decision to include or not include a potential new technology on the list.

Today, the Wassenaar Arrangement has two categories of lists: the first deals with ammunition, covers technologies and goods with a purely military objective. As for the second, it includes a set of so-called dual-use goods and technologies: the latter term includes any product or technology that can be used for both civilian and military purposes: we are thinking in particular of nuclear, chemical or even conventional armaments (weapons of war in accordance with international conventions and governing wars). Due to the risk of diversion surrounding these categories of goods, many countries have also developed a nuclear program, both civil and military, in order to minimise the risks.

Thus, each exporter must obtain a transfer license from the competent national authority for a good that would be listed. The political agreements of the Member States are recorded in the basic documents, called Basic Documents, in the form of initial elements (Initial Elements), good practices (Best Practices) and the memorandum (Statement of Understanding).

Verification and compliance are two watchwords today: since there is no treaty, and therefore no formal mechanism to ensure the implementation of the recommended measures. There is no legal constraint, and this is also the reason why the Member States joined in December 2000 during the sixth Plenary Assembly in Bratislava, on the implementation of non-binding practices, called “non-binding best practices”. The arrangement is therefore entirely based on the willingness of Member States to incorporate the principles set out in their legislation.

The regulation of the goods on the list is therefore done through increased control of exports and imports. The main objective is to contribute to international security by highlighting the transparency of exchanges and transfers of conventional weapons and dual-use technologies. The signatory countries must therefore ensure that the operations they carry out do not in any way harm international security and stability.

However, in addition to their participation in the annual updating of the export control lists of conventional weapons and dual-use goods and technologies, the members of the Arrangement implicitly commit themselves after the signature, or at least are strongly encouraged: to follow the directives, elements and practices adopted, to control in accordance with internal legislation the export of goods appearing on the military list and the list of dual-use goods, to report on transfers of conventional armaments and dual-use items considered to be sensitive, and of refusals to transfer dual-use items in general, and finally to exchange information on exports of highly sensitive dual-use goods and technologies.

Finally, and since the regulation of June 22, 2000, the principles of export control and the list of controlled dual-use goods and technologies, as defined by the Wassenaar Arrangement, apply to any Member State of the European Union.

India, for example, is one of the last nations to join the Wassenaar Arrangement in 2018. Unanimously decided at a meeting in Vienna under a French presidency, close cooperation is now underway between the two nations for international security.

This article was written by Yanis Saint-Julien (Paris-Saclay).