25 Years In, Wassenaar Arrangement’s Mission Remains Critical

During World War I and World War II, technology in wind-up toys was used to engineer self-detonating bombs. In the generations since, technologies have become exponentially more sophisticated. So, too, have their applications. Today, what’s to stop advanced imaging capabilities in a PlayStation from being appropriated for a missile guidance system?

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Duel-Use Goods was founded in 1996 to help answer those kinds of questions. As the now-42-nation member pact approaches its 25th anniversary, its work to prevent the misappropriation of “duel-use” technologies—items that can be found in commercial goods but applied for military purposes—is more pertinent than ever.

More than 1,000 technologies are subject to export controls under the Wassenaar Arrangement. The process for identifying controlled items is tedious, and the rules are enforced individually by member nations. But the multilateral approach is more effective than country’s going it alone, and the stability, peace and certainty it creates is good for businesses.

As I explain in my latest Forbes column, strategic trade control does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it alone stop proliferation. It does build trust, security, and stability among partners; reduce costs; and limit damages without impeding legitimate trade.

The United States has adopted many such export control laws dating back to World War II. As recently as this year it has issued rules based on the guidance of the Wassenaar Arrangement.

As duel-use technologies become more complex and commonplace, multilateral, bottom-up export controls are becoming increasingly critical to global national security. The Wassenaar Arrangement’s mission, and countries’ participation, is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.