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10 December 1998
10 December 1998
(State Dept. official reviews regime's Dec. meeting) (670) By Bruce Odessey USIA Staff Writer Washington -- Controlling exports of shoulder-launched missile launchers like Stingers is a test for the effectiveness of the fledgling Wassenaar Arrangement export-control regime, a State Department official says. In June the Clinton administration called for an international agreement on controlling transfers of such missile launchers -- technically called Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) -- to make sure they do not fall into the hands of terrorists. At the December 2-3 Wassenaar meeting in Vienna, the United States proposed draft guidelines essentially the same as its own regulations for transfers of U.S.-made Stingers. While the Wassenaar members reached no agreement on controlling MANPADS exports, they did decide to continue working toward agreement at their next plenary meeting a year from now. "This will be an acid test for the Wassenaar Arrangement, for substance, for effectiveness," the State Department official said in a December 10 interview; he asked not to be identified. "This is the first big project," he said. "It should teach us a lot." The Wassenaar Arrangement was established in July 1996 by 33 countries, including the NATO countries, Russia and a few other ex-Soviet bloc countries, plus others like Argentina, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland. Members agree to control exports of conventional arms and advanced technology like high-performance computers and machine tools to countries of concern -- by unwritten agreement they are Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea -- and to regions of instability like areas of Africa. Clinton administration officials have described Wassenaar as a relatively weak organization that should become stronger and more reliable over time. Enforcement of Wassenaar agreements depends on the national discretion of each member. The State Department official viewed as futile any attempt to compare Wassenaar with the Cold War-era Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), in which any member could veto a proposed sale by another to a Soviet country. "The Wassenaar Arrangement lacks most of the disciplines of COCOM," reflecting a change in attitude since the Cold War, he said. Yet he indicated that Wassenaar's performance is improving incrementally as administration officials predicted. "The trend is positive -- at a velocity that falls far short of our hopes," the official said. Already the administration is preparing for the three-year review of Wassenaar's operations at the 1999 meeting a year from now. "As far as we're concerned, everything's on the table," he said. "And we are presently engaged in determining what we want from Wassenaar and what we can get out of this review process." He said the United States will press in Wassenaar for additional notifications by members of exports they do approve to countries of concern and regions of instability. He said the United States is proposing adding 10 categories of arms to the seven now requiring notification plus categories of machine tools, semiconductor manufacturing equipment and protective coatings. At the recent meeting, Wassenaar members extended for two years its existing agreement on machine tools. They agreed to consider, however, Swiss and German proposals supported by the United States for controlling a broader category of less-precise machine tools. At the recent meeting the United States achieved one major objective, a Wassenaar agreement on encryption controls. The outcome approached existing U.S. policy. The members agreed to control mass-market encryption software above 64-bit strength, making an exception to the regular policy excluding mass-market products from controls. And they agreed to control other software -- like that used in specific sectors such as banking, insurance and health -- at the 56-bit level. The United States will continue controlling mass-market software at the lower, 56-bit level, but the State Department official views the difference as "a relatively narrow window." He said he expects most of the other Wassenaar members to bring their regulations in line with the new agreement relatively soon.