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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

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

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

Authored by Dr. Scott A. Jones.

October 2004

41 Pages


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.

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