The independent resource on global security

10. Dual-use and arms trade controls



  • Overview [PDF]
  • I. Arms trade treaty negotiations [PDF]
  • II. Multilateral arms embargoes [PDF]
  • III. Financial sanctions and other restrictive measures [PDF]
  • IV. Export control regimes [PDF]
  • V. Export control developments in the European Union [PDF]



Governments are increasingly aware that controlling flows of conventional arms and items that can be used for both civilian and military purposes—dual-use items—is a complex process involving regulation of exports and associated brokering, transit, trans-shipment and financing activities. This complexity requires effort and cooperation from countries around the world. States, therefore, engage in various multilateral mechanisms and continually create or adapt instruments to address these challenges.


Arms trade treaty negotiations

The July 2012 United Nations conference on an arms trade treaty (ATT) concluded without agreement on a draft treaty text. Several states, in particular Russia and the United States, called for more time for UN member states to discuss these issues.


Two issues proved particularly challenging for ATT negotiators in 2012: finding an agreeable compromise on how to incorporate respect for obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law alongside state security prerogatives for arms transfers; and defining the scope of items to be subject to transfer controls.


The final conference on the ATT took place in March 2013, with UN member states given a final chance to achieve consensus on an international treaty to establish the ‘highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms’.


Arms embargoes, financial sanctions and other restrictive measures

During 2012, 13 UN arms embargoes, 19 European Union (EU) arms embargoes, and 1 League of Arab States arms embargo were in force. No new arms embargo was imposed or lifted in 2012. The UN Security Council failed to agree an arms embargo against Syria.


A variety of other restrictive measures have been used to prevent proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and missile systems for their delivery. These measures include restrictions on trade, financial sanctions and restrictions on travel. Restrictions on trade can be either general or targeting particular goods.


Financial sanctions can include, for example, the freezing of funds or economic resources, prohibitions on financial transactions or requirements for prior approval before entering into such transactions, and restrictions on the provision of export credits or investment funds. Examples of restrictions on travel include flight bans and restrictions on the admission of named individuals.


In 2012 an important understanding was reached among the states that play a central role in managing the international financial system on how to use financial sanctions to support non-proliferation. In addition, new and expanded measures were adopted to attempt to bring about a change in the national nuclear policy of Iran.


Multilateral arms embargoes in force, 2012

United Nations (13 embargoes)
• Al-Qaeda and associated individuals and entities • Democratic Republic of the Congo (NGF) • Côte d’Ivoire • Eritrea • Iran • Iraq (NGF) • North Korea • Lebanon (NGF) • Liberia (NGF) • Libya (NGF) • Somalia • Sudan (Darfur) • Taliban

European Union (19 embargoes)
Implementations of UN embargoes (9): • Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated individuals and entities • Democratic Republic of the Congo (NGF) • Côte d’Ivoire • Eritrea • Iraq (NGF) • Lebanon (NGF) • Liberia (NGF) • Libya (NGF) • Somalia (NGF)

Adaptations of UN embargoes (3): • Iran • North Korea • Sudan

Embargoes with no UN counterpart (7): • Belarus • China • Guinea • Myanmar • South Sudan • Syria • Zimbabwe

ECOWAS (1 embargo)
• Guinea

Arab League (1 embargo)
• Syria 

NGF = non-governmental forces.


Export control regimes

Four informal, consensus-based export control regimes—the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-use Goods and Technologies—work within their specific fields to strengthen trade control cooperation.


One cross-regime trend throughout 2012 involved ongoing efforts to expand the scope of discussions and guidelines about activities and items to be subject to controls, in particular regarding brokering, transit and trans-shipment, intangible transfers of technology, and proliferation financing. Although export controls remain the regimes’ main organizing principle, associated trade activities are increasingly becoming the focus of control efforts.


Export control developments in the European Union

During 2012 the ongoing review of the EU Common Position defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment led to no major developments regarding EU-wide rules for the control of arms exports, brokering, trans-shipment and transit. However, EU member states implementated a new regulation governing intra-community trade in defence goods.


The range of dual-use items subject to control was expanded in line with agreements in the multilateral control regimes, albeit with a substantial delay due to the new requirement to involve the European Parliament. The Parliament’s efforts to expand the coverage of EU controls on dual-use items to include transfers of surveillance technology formed part of a range of initiatives in this area in the wake of the events of the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012. The Parliament is thus emerging as a new actor shaping dual-use trade controls in the EU.

Dr Sibylle Bauer, Paul Holtom, Dr Mark Bromley, Pieter D. Wezeman and Dr Ian Anthony