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Current and Future Challenges for Asian Nonproliferation Export Controls: A Regional Response

Authored by Dr. Scott A. Jones. | October 2004

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SUMMARY

As recent investigations into the vast nuclear network fronted by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan have made clear, the black market in nuclear supplies operated with ease and impunity. Much of this network was located and operated in Malaysia, a country with, at best, a rudimentary export control system. Through normal trade channels, the constituent components of nuclear weapons originated in and transited through this Asian nation, serving to draw further attention to how states in this economically dynamic region oversee the trade in strategic goods and technologies.

Export controls represent one of the key elements of a comprehensive nonproliferation strategy. They include procedures adopted by countries to regulate and monitor trade in weaponry and weapons-related (dual-use) technologies. However, the effectiveness of export control as a tool for limiting the spread of sensitive technologies and weaponry has been compromised by globalization and a complex array of international developments. The distinction between military and commercial products, for example, has become less clear. Therefore, it is likely that export control policies and institutions need to be continually adjusted if they are to serve international security objectives.

Regional export control standards are quite varied. For example, over the past 2 years, China passed legislation related to nuclear, chemical and biological, missile, and military exports. Taiwan updated its export regulations with regards to Mainland trade. South Korea implemented a catch-all regulation. And Singapore passed legislation strengthening state control over the export of strategic goods, including munitions and related dual-use goods. Other states, such as Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysia, have made only minor, primarily legislative, changes, most of which are superficial. For example, despite U.S. efforts to persuade Malaysia to adopt more stringent nuclear export controls, its foreign minister said that he did not currently ?see any necessity? to sign the Additional Protocol to Malaysia?s nuclear safeguards agreement. Recent disclosures about Libya?s nuclear program revealed that a Malaysian firm manufactured some of Tripoli?s nuclear equipment.

How countries in the Asia region respond to the relentlessly changing nature of the proliferation challenge will affect profoundly the shape of global security for many years. In many instances, the countries of the region are major transshipment and assembly points for critical strategic dual-use goods and technologies. Some of these countries are already major producers of strategic items, while others are or have potential to become suppliers. Yet, national export control systems in the region, with a few exceptions, remain rudimentary and resource-poor.

As Asia develops into a clearly demarcated economic ?region,? it is confronted by similar export control challenges as those faced in Europe with the advent of the Common Market. As such, a regional system of export control standards and practices emerged as a means to ensure not only economic parity, but regional and international security as well. While not necessarily as advanced in terms of regional identity as the European free trade area, the states of Asia could benefit profitably from a regional approach to export control development and coordination.

In addition, the states of Asia could also gain from increased export control cooperation with the United States. As a global leader in nonproliferation, the United States can provide critical assistance to export control development efforts through training and the allocation of other resources. Likewise, the United States should focus its export control outreach efforts to the less developed export control systems in Asia, especially the transshipment countries.

The intersection of trade and security cuts to the heart of the matter in Asia, where national economies profoundly depend on trade, as they do on regional and international security. The internal challenge for countries of the Asia region is to develop systems compatible with their political, economic, and security needs, while addressing the overall threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

INTRODUCTION

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and advanced conventional arms remains one of the gravest threats to the security of the international community. Countries of concern continue to pursue WMD by purchasing related technologies and components from foreign suppliers. Recent disclosures regarding the extent of Pakistan?s involvement in nuclear proliferation suggest the security ramifications of international trade remain vital concerns. Of increasing alarm, too, is the tangible threat posed by terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda that are seeking to inflict mass casualties, a fact in keeping with the increasing lethality of international terrorism.1 Furthermore, unregulated arms transfers can introduce instability and conflict into countries and regions, making them breeding grounds for terrorism.

A great deal of policy attention and resources has been directed towards addressing this proliferation threat, as well as towards securing nuclear materials from possible theft or sabotage. Nevertheless, policymakers should not overlook that most countries and terrorists seek to purchase the components they need for developing WMD.2 Consequently, greater attention and resources need to be devoted to strengthening export controls, with consideration for the needs of legitimate trade.

Export controls represent one of the key elements of a comprehensive nonproliferation strategy. They include procedures adopted by countries to regulate and monitor trade in weaponry and weapons-related (dual-use) technologies. However, the effectiveness of export control as a tool for limiting the spread of sensitive technologies and weaponry has been compromised by globalization and a complex array of international developments. The distinction between military and commercial products, for example, has become less clear.3 Therefore, it is likely that export control policies and institutions need to be adjusted continually if they are to serve international security objectives.

How countries in the Asia region respond to the relentlessly changing nature of the proliferation challenge will affect profoundly the shape of global security for many years.4 In many instances, the countries of the region are major transshipment and assembly points for critical strategic dual-use goods and technologies.5 Some of these countries are already major producers of strategic items, while others are or have potential to become suppliers.6 Yet, national export control systems in the region, with a few exceptions, remain rudimentary and resource-poor.7

This monograph examines the current state of export control system development in the greater Asia region, with particular emphasis on the economic and security environment in which these systems operate. Identification is then made of the gains and remaining deficiencies in export control development. The author concludes by examining the applicability of the European Union?s effort to coordinate export controls to the regional forces shaping the trade and security dynamics in Asia.

CONCLUSION

When compared with supplier state export control systems such as the United States and Japan, most states in the region have only the most rudimentary of control systems. That being said, however, regional governments have been making progress on addressing systematic deficiencies on a voluntary and, more importantly, a cooperative basis. To sustain this progress, participating states must understand that export controls are not impediments to trade. On the contrary, they are the prerequisites for ensuring the necessary international and regional stability and technology transfer on which economic development and growth depend.

As Asia develops into a clearly demarcated economic ?region,? it is confronted by similar export control challenges as those faced in Europe with the advent of the Common Market. As such, a regional system of export control standards and practices emerged as a means to ensure not only economic parity, but also regional and international security. While not necessarily as advanced in terms of regional identity as the European free trade area, the states of Asia could profitably benefit from a regional approach to export control development and coordination.

To help facilitate export control developments in Asia, U.S. leadership and resources are essential. To meet this objective, the United States should pursue the following:

  • Provide export control resources and training. Since the early 1990s, the U.S. Government has provided these for the countries of the former Soviet Union. Such assistance is now required in the Asia region. Bilateral export control cooperative programs are now in the offing with countries like Singapore and China. Working with regional nonproliferation leaders like Japan, the United States must expand the scope of its export control programs to include countries with fledgling trade control systems, such as Malaysia.
  • Hold China to its nonproliferation commitments. In May 2004, China joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group, thereafter seeking entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). China?s recent domestic and international export control developments must be matched against a marked change in behavior. The United States must serve as guarantor that Beijing will adhere to its growing battery of nonproliferation commitments, as Chinese inaction could undermine export control developments made elsewhere in the region.
  • Expand Asian involvement in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and Container Security Initiative (CSI). PSI and CSI are responses to the growing challenge posed by the proliferation of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials worldwide. Greater Asian participation in both programs is necessary for their collective success.
  • Foster and sustain political support. As countries in the region further develop their respective export control capacities?especially China?on-going U.S. support will be critical to achieving this end. While financial and intellectual support is fundamental to this task, political and diplomatic support will be required to ensure that domestic political endorsement for these undertakings remains high.Above all, the abiding export control challenge for any government is identifying, then striking, the proper balance between trade and security. In this respect, it is critical that export controls are not viewed as impediments to trade. The nexus of trade and security cuts to the heart of the matter in Asia, where national economies depend greatly on trade, as they do on regional and international security. The internal challenge for countries of the Asia region is to develop systems compatible with their political, economic, and security needs while addressing the overall threat posed by the proliferation of WMD.

ENDNOTES

1. Al-Qaeda is alleged to have experimented with procedures for making blister, mustard, nerve, sarin, and VX chemical agents. Furthermore, while some observers point optimistically to the decline in the number of international terrorist incidents during the 1990s as an especially noteworthy and salutary development in the struggle against terrorism, at the same time the proportion of persons killed in terrorist incidents has paradoxically increased. See Bruce Hoffman, ?Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Analysis of Trends and Motivations,? RAND Document P-8039, 1999, pp. 44-50. See also John Parachini, ?Putting WMD Terrorism into Perspective,? The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, Autumn 2003.

2. As post-Gulf War national and international investigations revealed, Iraq purchased?eitherdirectly or through front companies?the majority of materials and technologies needed for its various weapons programs. U.S. officials maintained that Iraq, prior to March 2003, accelerated its quest for nuclear weapons and had embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb. Iraq sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. See Michael Gordon and Judith Miller, ?U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts,? The New York Times, September 8, 2002. Preliminary reports on Pakistan?s role in a worldwide nuclear proliferation network indicate that a wide array of legitimate commercial channels was employed to transfer sensitive goods and technologies. See Kamran Khan, ?Pakistanis Exploited Nuclear Network: Iran, Libya Aided Via Black Market, Investigation Finds,? The Washington Post, January 28, 2004; and David E. Sanger and Raymond Bonner, ?A Tale of Nuclear Proliferation: How A Pakistani Built His Network,? The New York Times, February 12, 2004.

3. Technology and Security in the 21st Century: U.S. Military Export Control Reform, Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 2001; Study Group on Enhancing Multilateral Export Controls For U.S. National Security: Final Report, April 2001; The Henry L. Stimson Center and Defense Science Board Task Force on Globalization and Security, Final Report, Washington, DC: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, December 1999.

4. For the purposes of this monograph, ?Asia region? is defined as Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, People?s Republic of China, Democratic People?s Republic of Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. India and Pakistan were not included as most scholarship on Asian regionalization does not treat them. Generally, they are treated, in security terms, as a relatively unique dyad. For export control studies on Indian and Pakistan, see Seema Galhaut and Anupam Srivastava, ?Curbing Proliferation from Emerging Suppliers: Export Controls in India and Pakistan,? Arms Control Today, September 2003; and Seema Galhaut, ?India,? in Michael Beck, Richard Cupitt, Seema Gahlaut, and Scott Jones, eds., To Supply or To Deny: Nonproliferation Export Controls in Five Key Countries, New York: Kluwer, 2003.

5. Asian countries are frequently targets of proliferation acquisition activities. For example, see ?Iran Denies Seeking to Buy Missile Technology from Japanese Firm,? Agence France Presse, June 16, 2003.

6. See Richard Cupitt, ?Nonproliferation Export Controls in East Asia,? The Journal of East Asian Affairs, Vol. 11, No. 2, Summer/Fall 1997, pp. 452-480.

7. See Scott A. Jones, ?Current and Future Challenges for Asian Nonproliferation Export Controls,? East Asian Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 2003.