By: Scott Gearity
While most college-age Australians have nothing more to remember their birthdays than hangovers and bad sunburns, a rather more sober Australian twenty-year-old recently celebrated its first twenty years stemming the spread of chemical and biological weapons. I am speaking of course of the Australia Group, the informal multilateral export control regime which returned to its place of birth earlier this year for its twentieth annual plenary session. Speaking at the plenary, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer recounted a bit of the organization’s history:
It is 20 years since Australia convened the first meeting of 15 like-minded countries in 1985 in Brussels.
That meeting was a response to the findings of a UN investigation, led by an Australian – Dr Peter Dunn, that Iraq had used chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. It posed the question of how to prevent Iraq from acquiring materials for the production of chemical weapons through otherwise legitimate commercial trade.
The response – a proposal to harmonize national export controls – was endorsed by all present at that meeting, and the Australia Group was born.
But the plenary wasn’t all talk with the AG participants agreeing on three control list changes to refine limits on illegitimate trade in items with chemical or biological weapons end uses:
- Simplification of the types of pumps subject to controls due to their usefulness in manufacturing chemical weapons (the US controls such equipment under ECCN 2B350.i).
- New controls on spraying or fogging systems designed for use with aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and capable of delivering droplets of less than 50 m in diameter at a rate of greater than 2 liters per minute (ECCN 2B352).
- A revision to the technical note clarifying that the controls applicable to genetic elements and genetically-modified organisms also cover nucleic acid sequences that represent a significant hazard to human, animal or plant health or enhance the ability of AG-controlled or other microorganisms to cause harm. (This change in particular has potentially significant implications for firms and universities involved in biotechnology research. The revised technical note can be found under ECCN 1C353).
It may have taken nearly four months, but the US Bureau of Industry and Security did finally turn up with a gift in honor of the AG’s first twenty years on August 5 – a regulation implementing the group’s new rules. In addition to the control list and technical note revisions explained above, the BIS rule updates the Export Administration Regulations to reflect a new AG participant (Ukraine), the fact that the tiny Pacific island nation of Niue has acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and a new name for the largest part of the former Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).