The Origins of COCOM: Lessons for Contemporary Proliferation Control Regimes

in Program

Stimson Report 7

John H. Henshaw

The United States faces increasing dangers due to the proliferation of sensitive military technologies. However, efforts to control these technologies have been inconsistent and, at times, ineffectual. The shortcomings apparent in multilateral export controls threaten the ability of the United States to utilize its own military capabilities in regions of instability, while making such interventions more likely. The inconsistent application of controls also threatens the competitiveness of American business.

Given the past experience of the US there appear to be at least four key elements for effective multilateral export control policy. First, creative US leadership is key to successful controls, but must also take into account the likely actions of the affected parties. Second, the goals of export control policies must be highly specific, clear, and agreed upon by the parties involved. Third, the internal political environment of the implementing parties must also be accounted for so that realistic goals are set, neither beyond what might reasonably be expected, nor too limited as to be insignificant. Finally, export controls need to be implemented consistently. Member states must ensure that their implementing apparatus will act consistently, and that the parties to a multilateral export control regime will act in a coordinated and concerted manner.

For the short term, the United States will need to rely on supplier organizations like the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), as well as bilateral contacts with non-adherents, to stem the flow of technology that contributes to proliferation concerns. The US should also acknowledge that interest in the acquisition of advanced military technologies can derive from legitimate security concerns.  Until these concerns are mitigated, it is in the interest of the United States to encourage states to choose less destabilizing means for guaranteeing their security. In the longer term, the US needs to encourage states to resolve the underlying political problems that create the threats to their security where possible.

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