During 30 November – 1 December 2022, the twenty-sixth Plenary meeting of the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) was held in Vienna, for the first time since 2019 because of the pandemic constraints. Ambassador Eoin O’Leary of Ireland who chaired the Plenary for 2022 handed over the chairmanship to India’s permanent representative to the UN Ambassador Jaideep Mazumdar. This year, the General Working Group (GWG) will be chaired by Argentina, and the Experts Group (EG) by Mexico and Switzerland will continue to be the chair of the Licensing and Enforcement Officers Meeting starting from 01 January 2023.
During 2022, WA adopted new export controls in several areas, such as supersonic flight technology and rim-driven motors for submarine propulsion, and validated previously agreed controls on sub-orbital craft, legal interception, and investigation tools. Previous to this, in 2019, the Plenary focused on the risks of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SLAWS)
The Wassenaar Arrangement was established in July 1996 as a voluntary export control regime for promoting transparency, monitoring, and “greater responsibility” on the transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies to prevent destabilizing accumulations in regional and international security and system. WA is the successor to the unequal institutional regime – Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom), which was formed during the Cold War in 1949 by the Western bloc led by the US era to restrict and contain exports to the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc in order to limit its technological and industrial base and capabilities. CoCom also granted its member countries a veto power to refuse other member’s export request approval from WA. , WA is not targeted against “any state or group of states” and does not obstruct legitimate civil transactions, in contrast to CoCom. This declaration demonstrates the Arrangement’s first explicit acceptance that a balance must be reached between dual-use technologies’ security and commercial concerns. The Arrangement has 42 voluntary states, including Russia and India. However, it excludes significant defense export countries like China, Belarus, and North Korea who are perceived as apprehensive to the international security.
Structure and Functions of the Arrangement
The Wassenaar Arrangement Plenary is the decision-making body composed of all participating states’ representatives and meets annually in December. The Plenary Chair calls for periodic meetings under Vienna Points of Contact to raise critical issues or concerns and facilitate interseasonal information flow. The Vienna Points of Contact consists of representatvies from the respective State’s Embassy or Mission in Vienna who meet the Secretariat to undertake the administrative role of Arrangement such as budgeting and communications. The Plenary creates ancillary bodies for the formation of recommendations for Plenary decisions and calls for ad hoc meetings for consultations. The ancillary bodies include the General Working Group (GWG) and the Experts Group (EG), which deals with policy and addresses issues related to the lists of controlled items. The EG does most of the negotiation for the amendments made to the Munitions List and Dual-Use List.
In 1996 the Plenary adopted the WA Initial Elements, which delineated the functions of the Arrangement and the responsibilities of Participating States. The participating states have agreed to implement national legislations to maintain national export controls on items in the WA Control lists and are guided by the Best Practices, Guidelines, or Elements in the WA Initial Elements agreement.
The WA Control Lists
The Arrangement has two primary lists: the Dual-Use List and the Munitions List. Under Dual-use List, there are two subsets: the Sensitive List and the Very Sensitive List.
For the Munitions List, once a year, members of Wassenaar exchange data on the consignments of conventional weapons to non-members that fall into one of eight broad categories: warships, missiles or missile systems, small arms and light weapons, battle tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, military aircraft/unmanned aerial vehicles, military and attack helicopters, and small arms and light weapons.
Members of the Dual-Use Goods and Technologies List exchange information on all export licenses denied on proposed transfers to non-Wassenaar members. Under the Sensitive Items and Very Sensitive Items, list members are supposed to notify the Secretariat of any denial of export licenses within 60 days. In the Very Sensitive items list, which may contain stealth technology materials and advanced radar, “extreme vigilance” is instructed on exports.
India and the Wassenaar Arrangement: Significance and Challenges
Along with improving India’s reputation as a responsible power, joining these regimes will provide it more flexibility in the global regulation of these technologies. Now that India holds the Chair of WA Plenary in 2023, a position to steer discussions and forums on its immediate concerns and issues in the region. It is time to reap the benefits of joining the control regime.
India is becoming more powerful and capable of producing many goods under the Wassenaar Arrangement’s Control lists. As a chair of the Plenary, New Delhi will not only be able to identify those goods whose exports should be restricted due to their sensitivity to international security, but also define these goods in a way that would best advance the WA’s goals and possibly protect them from unintended consequences. This would also enhance India’s non-proliferation credentials despite not being part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It can further democratise access to technologies and processes for its nascent and growing private/startup industries in the space sector.
New Scope of Export Controls
India will be tested by adopting new export controls agreed upon in 2022 on flight technology, interception, and surveillance technologies. India is the only South Asian country in the Arrangement. Therefore, its attempt to strengthen the licensing and enforcement practices can build a potential anti-proliferation framework for the region.
The WA is also based on a method from the 1980s centered on managing hardware and only considered software when it was connected to the hardware. A new approach has to do more than updating performance thresholds and increase software controls. The importance of research and “intangible” assets for limiting the spread of the manufacturing base of strategic dual-use technologies has increased. Intangible goods is defined as the specific information necessary for the development or use of the controlled goods or software. This may include blueprints, diagrams, formulae and instructions. The WA must also cope with new technology like Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing more effectively, but aims and procedures must be restated and delineated for adequate control. A good case for a new mechanism can be built around China’s predatory trade practice and illegal appropriation of intellectual property.
Restraining Russia and China: Indications of a new export control regime
The Cocom was created to contain the Soviet Union’s import of technologies for conventional weapons. After its disintegration, CoCom lost relevance and gave birth to WA. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the West imposed Moscow with extensive economic sanctions and export controls on semiconductors critical to advanced weapon systems which were developed outside the WA. Against this backdrop, Russia is not likely to support any new consensus on changing the Wassenaar Agreement’s List of restricted goods. This will lead to more division within the Arrangement and diminish its relevance. Furthermore, the US announcing new export control regulations intended to limit China’s ability to obtain, design, and manufacture high-end semiconductor devices used in artificial intelligence (AI), supercomputing, and related defense applications, reflect the intensifying strategic competition between the US and China. These containment measures would lead to a new export control regime similar to the CoCom. Wolf and Weinstein call for a new ever less inclusive control regime which would consist only of US aligned and like minded “techno-democracies”. The informal arrangement formed as a result of coordinating actions of allied countries against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine can evolve into a plurilateral and structured control regime.