The Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) was created in 1949 for the purpose of preventing Western companies and countries from selling strategic goods and services to the Eastern bloc countries behind the "iron curtain." The founding members of COCOM were the United States, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom. Countries joining COCOM at later dates were Spain, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Japan, and Turkey.

Following World War II it became apparent to the West that any strategic advantage it held over the Soviet bloc countries was greatly dependent upon its technological superiority. Headquartered in an annex to the American embassy in Paris, COCOM was a small and secretive organization. One veteran diplomatic correspondent went so far as to refer to it as a "secret annex to the Marshall Plan." Member states would meet to update three lists of controlled items: the International Munitions list; the International Atomic Energy list; and the third and most controversial, the International (Industrial) list. It was felt that items appearing on these lists, if acquired by the Soviets and their allies, would greatly enhance the strategic military potential of the Warsaw Pact countries.

The International (Industrial) list was controversial because it included what came to be known as "dual use" items. These are, according to Robert Rudney and T. J. Anthony, "goods, services, and technologies that have a known commercial use, as well as a known military use or a known use in weapons of mass destruction." The controversy of "dual use" technology continued into the late 1990s, as evidenced by the imbroglio over U.S. companies sending telecommunication satellites into space atop missiles launched by military agencies of the People's Republic of China.

COCOM's lack of success was due largely to a small overworked staff (14 staff members in the early 1980s) and general negligence on the part of its member countries. Violations were frequent because of poor enforcement, lack of stiff penalties, and because of the high profits involved. The United States, however, always considered its export policies to be in compliance with COCOM regulations. Even though COCOM never officially published a list of its "target countries" they were undoubtedly at one time or another Afghanistan, Albania, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, East Germany, Hungary, Laos, Mongolia, North Korea, the People's Republic of China, Poland, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam.

In the United States exports to other countries are regulated by the U.S. Bureau of Export, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Legislative authority controlling exports includes: The Export Control Act of 1949, which was related to the establishment of COCOM; The Battle Act of 1951, which stopped countries exporting strategic goods to the Eastern bloc from receiving U.S. foreign aid; and the Export Administration Act of 1969, which dealt with the export of "dual use" goods. This act was amended in 1979, 1981, and 1985.

On March 30,1994, the United States announced it would greatly ease the restrictions it had placed on the sale of computer and telecommunications equipment to countries that had comprised the Eastern bloc. With the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and other countries of Eastern Europe, the military and political threat that had fueled the creation of COCOM had largely dissipated. Export controls on certain radio and encryption technologies, however, remained in effect. On March 31,1994, COCOM was formally dissolved.


No sooner had the threat of international communism begun to wane than a new threat emerged, the threat of state-sponsored terrorism. Western governments quickly came to the realization that export restrictions were still needed to prevent "rogue states" from acquiring advanced technology. In a speech in 1996 Lynn E. Davis, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, identified Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Libya as "pariah countries," and the targets of a new agreement on technology export restriction controls.

In December 1995 the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies was established. Named after the town in the Netherlands where negotiations were held, the accord has the following members: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Romania, the Russian Federation, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Headquartered in Vienna, the official purpose of the arrangement is to:

contribute to regional and international security and stability, by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, thus preventing destabilizing accumulations. Participating States will seek, through their national policies, to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine these goals, and are not diverted to support such capabilities.

The Wassenaar Arrangement calls for the maintenance of two control lists based on the COCOM accord. Missing will be the atomic energy list. It was felt by participants that items related to this list were already covered by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. These lists, however, are not binding, and compliance is voluntary. It was felt that such a policy, although weaker than COCOM's, was from a diplomatic standpoint more practical.

[ Michael Knes ]


"America's Domestic and International Role in Protecting the Free World's High Technology." Business America, 18 January 1988, 7-9.

Cupit, Richard T., and Suzette R. Grillot. "COCOM Is Dead, Long Live COCOM: Persistence and Change in Multilateral Security Institutions." British Journal of Political Science 27 (July 1997): 361-89.

Davis, Lynn E. "The Wassenaar Arrangement." Washington: U.S. State Department, 1996. Available from .

"New Technology Transfer Regime Takes Shape." New Statesman, 29 March 1996, 8-9.

Rudney, Robert, and T. J. Anthony. "Beyond COCOM: A Comparative Study of Five National Export Control Systems and Their Implications for a Multilateral Nonproliferation Regime." Comparative Strategy 15 (January/March 1996): 41-57.

Wassenaar Secretariat. "Welcome to the Wassenaar Arrangement." Vienna: Wassenaar Secretariat, 1997. Available from .

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