Advanced technologies bring enormous benefits. Microchips run appliances and guide space exploration, and nuclear power plants provide electricity for millions of people.
Yet in the wrong hands, advanced and sensitive technologies can pose serious security risks. Computer chips also guide missiles. Rogue regimes may use nuclear material for weapons.
That is why the United States and many international partners participate in multilateral regimes that help countries share the benefits of innovation while keeping potentially dangerous goods and technology away from weapons proliferators, terrorists and other bad actors.
These multilateral regimes establish trust among members and help them set policies and practices to responsibly control technology and equipment. They identify goods and dual-use technologies, which can serve both civil and military purposes, and help countries establish export controls to prevent potentially dangerous technology from falling into the wrong hands.
Effectively implemented, export controls make legitimate trade possible by giving companies and research institutions confidence that they are not contributing to weapons proliferation and harming international security.
The four international nonproliferation regimes that establish export controls for these goods and technologies are:
- Australia Group: Established in 1985, the Australia Group consists of 42 nations that collaborate on policies to ensure that exports do not support chemical or biological weapons programs.
- Missile Technology Control Regime: The MTCR, established in 1987, has 35 members who work together to control equipment, materials, software and technology for missile development, production and operation.
- Nuclear Suppliers Group: Established in 1975 and consisting of 48 participants, the NSG develops guidelines for the export of material, equipment and technology to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation.
- Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies: Established in 1996 and consisting of 42 members, the Wassenaar Arrangement develops guidelines for the export of weapons, surveillance and conventional arms–related dual-use goods and technologies.
While these partnerships limit proliferation risks, threats remain to international peace and security.
For example, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) exploits its global relationships to acquire goods and technologies for military use. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned in April that the PRC uses a variety of means, from legitimate acquisitions to espionage and theft, to advance its technological capabilities.
Through its Military Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy and its National Intelligence Law, the PRC compels and offers incentives to Chinese companies and experts to share technology with its military, regardless of assurances that technology will be used for peaceful ends.
MCF reorients the PRC’s entire system so that advanced and sensitive technologies drive both economic and military modernization.
In August 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce added four nuclear power firms in China to its Entity List, after the companies sought to acquire U.S. civil nuclear technology for the PRC military. The Entity List blocks companies from receiving U.S. software, technology or other goods without special approval.
Speaking at the U.N. November 2, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged countries to adhere to multilateral regimes that limit weapons proliferation. She backed export controls as essential to fostering global trade.
“Every country wants to take advantage of these technologies — and minimize the ways they may harm health, safety, human rights, and international security by falling into the hands of terrorists and malign actors,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “We need to work together to wrestle with these challenges.”