Help! The Stimson Connector Initiative Pilot Project On Trade Controls

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Can civil society be engaged to help address international security issues? Governmental organizations have insufficient resources in funding and skills to address today’s complex problems; people and institutions want to help, if they can be well directed. That belief led to the Strategic Trade Controls Pilot Project that sought over the past year to engage lawyers, law school students, and graduate university students in helping to address a specific issue:  stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism through better trade controls.

For this project, much of the work was targeted to helping Caribbean Basin countries develop appropriate laws and systems to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) on Weapons of Mass Destruction and their means of delivery. The 1540 Committee matrix details over 200 obligations and recommended measures for compliance with the resolution.

As one Caribbean official explained, “You have to understand, these countries have only one or two parliamentary drafters and other very pressing priorities. They are well intended and want to comply, but they just don’t have the resources.”

From an international perspective, stopping potential illicit trafficking in nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and related dual-use materials is a big issue.  From a U.S. perspective it is also important, as the Caribbean is considered the United States’ “third border” and transshipment is expected to greatly expand in that area.

In the limited 10-month pilot project, Stimson was able to make several significant matches that will help Caribbean countries move closer to implementing better trade controls that hopefully will help them as well as international security:


  • One Harvard graduate student for her capstone master’s degree project developed a risk framework for strategic trade controls in the Caribbean of significance to implementation of the UNSCR 1540. Under the guidance of Harvard Belfer Center advisors, she worked with Caribbean officials to take an initial look at areas that should of particular concern in the Caribbean.  This was in support of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs’ Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNLIREC).
  • A group of Georgetown University law students developed draft model legislation for Caribbean countries to adopt that would satisfy some of the imperatives of UNSCR 1540 and related treaty requirements. They worked with their Georgetown professors and some trade lawyers and received feedback from Stimson, a State Department specialist and others on their work to support CARICOM.
  • The law firm Wilmer Hale had a partner and a senior associate work pro bono with UNLIREC to provide insights to Caribbean countries on the importance of trade controls and industry engagement at a meeting in Lima, Peru.


In addition to moving countries along in their process of compliance, the project also educated students on important aspects of international security that are not often considered. No one had to start from scratch. Stimson had gathered background information including prior best-practices work so that those supporting the project, as well as the U.N. and countries involved, could have a large body of knowledge at the start of their own efforts.

Country representatives told the Stimson Center it was important to have a think tank like Stimson involved in this work. An NGO can say things that country officials cannot — which led to some targeted Stimson publications in the Caribbean and the United States that country representatives could then use to bolster support for smart, targeted trade controls with leaders across their governments.

Stimson is now hoping to refine and expand this collaborative effort, working to engage with more schools internationally, including in countries receiving support. A number of major law firms have expressed interest in helping individual countries in a sustained way over a period of time. Once the Strategic Trade Controls project is institutionalized, the Stimson Center will explore other opportunities to leverage civil society in support of international security.

The global governance system has generated agreements for cooperation that transcend national interests, and reflect an evolving global consensus on how to increase security in a complex world. Our Strategic Trade Controls Pilot Project seeks to leverage the skills and knowledge of civil society to advance one of the issues where consensus exists but sustained attention is lacking. It is another example of our effort to assist governments of the Global South to build “dual benefit” capacities that not only address their international nonproliferation obligations but also help service higher-order priorities: public health, border security, counter-corruption efforts, economic development and trade.

Follow Stimson’s Managing Across Boundaries Initiative and Stimson on Twitter.

Photo credit: Eric Fischer via flicker

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