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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Proliferation Control Regimes: Background and Status

Mary Beth Nikitin, Coordinator
Analyst in Nonproliferation 

Paul K. Kerr
Analyst in Nonproliferation 

Steven A. Hildreth
Specialist in Missile Defense  

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD), especially in the hands of radical states and terrorists, represent a major threat to U.S. national security interests. Multilateral regimes were established to restrict trade in nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and missile technologies, and to monitor their civil applications. Congress may consider the efficacy of these regimes in considering the potential renewal of the Export Administration Act, as well as other proliferationspecific legislation in the 111th Congress. This report provides background and current status information on the regimes.

The nuclear nonproliferation regime encompasses several treaties, extensive multilateral and bilateral diplomatic agreements, multilateral organizations and domestic agencies, and the domestic laws of participating countries. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, U.S. leadership has been crucial in developing the regime. While there is almost universal international agreement opposing the further spread of nuclear weapons, several challenges to the regime have arisen in recent years: India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003 and tested a nuclear explosive device in 2006 and 2009, Libya gave up a clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2004, and Iran was found to be in non-compliance with its treaty obligations in 2005. The discovery of the nuclear black market network run by A.Q. Khan spurred new thinking about how to strengthen the regime, including greater restrictions on sensitive technology. However, the extension of civil nuclear cooperation by the United States and other countries to India, a non-party to the NPT with nuclear weapons, has raised questions about what benefits still exist for non-nuclear-weapons states that remain in the treaty regime.

The chemical and biological weapons (CBW) nonproliferation regimes contain three elements: the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), and the Australia Group. The informal Australia Group coordinates export controls on CBW-related materials and technology. After 25 years of negotiations, the CWC entered into force in April 1997. It prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons, and mandates the destruction of existing chemical weapon arsenals. Since its 1972 inception, BWC state parties have failed to agree on a verification mechanism.

The missile nonproliferation regime is founded not on a treaty, but an informal agreement created in 1987, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The MTCR’s goal is to limit the spread of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Thirty-four countries now adhere to the guidelines, which have been modified over time to include missile systems designed for the delivery of chemical and biological weapons. The regime, which has no enforcement organization, is thought to have been instrumental in blocking several missile programs, but it has been unable to stop North Korean missile development, production, and exports, or to win the full cooperation of Russian and Chinese entities.

Date of Report: October 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 49
Order Number: RL31559
Price: $29.95

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