What Is the Wassenaar Agreement?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2019
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The Wassenaar agreement — more accurately known as the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies — is an international export control agreement regarding the sale and transfer of munitions as well as dual-use goods that could have peaceful or military purposes. Under the terms of the agreement, the member nations — 40 as of 2011 — agree to control the movement of these items to prevent proliferation of potentially dangerous materials. This and other arrangements are used to create a comprehensive framework to limit dangerous buildups of munitions and military supplies with the goal of maintaining global stability. Copies of the Wassenaar agreement are available for review for members of the public who are curious to read the document in full.

This arrangement contains two separate lists of items of concern. One is munitions, all items with a clear military purpose, like tanks and missiles. The other contains dual-use goods like electronics that could have a military purpose, but may also have other applications. Computer processors, for example, can run weapons systems, but they can also be used for personal computers or in the business sector. Member nations have agreed on the contents of the lists and may periodically update them.


Within six months or less of sales of items on these lists to non-members, member nations must disclose the details of the sale or transfer. Under the Wassenaar agreement, it is more difficult to build up stockpiles of military materiel through legitimate sales and transfers because these activities are monitored. Member nations aware of a previous sales history can consider this before making transfers of their own. All members can also be made aware of the military capability of various nations, on the basis of recent sales and transfer activity.

Each member nation is responsible for upholding its part of the Wassenaar agreement through designated agents. Signatories to the Arrangement also participate in meetings to amend or alter it in response to changing global security conditions; meetings of the main governing body, the WA Plenary, are usually held yearly. In addition, subsidiary groups meeting periodically to come up with recommendations for the Plenary.

Black market trades are not part of the Wassenaar agreement. Adequate control of the flow of military supplies also necessitates monitoring and interdicting black market shipments of military supplies and other restricted items. Nations may cooperate on this task as well to make it easier to find and track suppliers of illegal weapons, although it is not mentioned in the Arrangement. Such activity may require the formation of joint task forces that include representatives of military and intelligence services from multiple nations.


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