The FAS has obtained, via the Freedom of Information Act, a complete list of “unfavorable determinations” resulting from end-use checks of US arms exports (and export requests) performed by the State Department. The cases underscore the importance of America’s rigorous arms export control system and the danger of relaxing these controls, even on transfers to close allies.
The checks were performed as part of the State Department’s Blue Lantern program, a system of targeted pre- and post-shipment checks on commercial arms exports established in 1990. Through this program, US government officials scrutinize suspicious arms export license requests (pre-license checks) and look into reports of diversion or misuse of exported items (post-shipment checks). Of the 400 – 600 checks performed each year, roughly 50 – 100 result in unfavorable “determinations”, or outcomes. The reasons for unfavorable outcomes vary significantly from case to case, and range from minor infractions of end-use agreements to gray market transfers to embargoed regimes.
The State Department publishes an annual end-use monitoring report that contains good aggregate data and detailed summaries of a few unfavorable determinations, but provides almost no specific information on the other cases. The document obtained by the FAS fills in some of these gaps by identifying the relevant country and commodity category for each determination. It reveals, for example, that seven of the 83 unfavorable cases closed in FY2004 involved Bolivia, and more than half of those cases involved firearms.
The FOIA document – and the annual reports that it supplements – are poignant reminders of the importance of strong arms export controls, including rigorous end-use monitoring. US defense articles and services are sought by terrorists, criminals, and rogue regimes the world over, and too often the only thing that stands between them and the weapons they seek is a vigilant licensing officer. In 2004, for example, a pre-license check on a request to send pistols to violence-racked Central America revealed that the purported end-user was a front company set up by a firearms retailer under investigation for violating local gun laws. The license was denied and both countries were added to the State Department’s watchlist.
The document also speaks to the importance of strong export controls on all transfers, including exports to close allies. As recently as 2004, proponents of arms export control “reform” were calling for a relaxation on controls on exports to certain countries. Congressional opponents balked at these requests, pointing out that even arms exports to America’s closest allies are not exempt from end-use problems. The FOIA document supports these claims. Of the 191 unfavorable determinations identified in the document, 26 involve NATO members and 34 involve the so-called “NATO +3” countries (NATO members + Australia, Japan, and New Zealand). While the document is too vague to determine the exact nature of the problems that led to the determinations, past end-use monitoring reports provide some insight. In 2002, for example, the State Department reported that, “[a]s in previous years, the incidence of Western European-based intermediaries involved in suspicious transactions continues to be notable. In FY 2002, 26% of the 50 unfavorable checks, mostly for the export of aircraft spare parts, involved possible transshipments through allied countries. Possible transshipments through Europe as a whole accounted for 34% of the unfavorable checks.”
Finally, the document raises a lot of questions. What, for example, was the nature of the three unfavorable outcomes involving Pakistan and F-16 fighter jet spare parts in FY03? Are they the result of pre-license checks that detected attempts to illegally export spare parts to Pakistan, or post-shipment checks that confirmed violations of end-use requirements by the Pakistani government? Given Pakistan’s problematic nonproliferation record and the recent, controversial decision to sell 36 F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft, 500 Advanced Medium-range Air-to-Air Missiles (the largest single international sale), and other arms and equipment to the Pakistani government, policymakers might want to take a close look at these cases, if they haven’t done so already.
To view the FOIA response and other documents on US end-use monitoring programs, arms export control “reform,” and the F-16 sale to Pakistan, see:
“U.S. List of Export Violations Feeds Reform Debate,” Defense News, 22 January 2007.
State Department’s End-Use Monitoring Reports for FY 2001-2005
U.S. Arms Export Control “Reforms” (ASMP webpage)
“Freeing Bolts and Gear Knobs,” Armed Forces Journal, January 2007
“Lawmakers Scold Administration Over F-16 Sale to Pakistan,” Strategic Security Blog, 23 July 2006