Russia’s war takes advantage of dual-use export loopholes

Russia’s military efforts in Ukraine remain heavily dependent on Western technologies, despite the West’s best efforts to cut off the supply of critical parts. In the face of extensive sanctions, the Russian war machine was still able to acquire the necessary inputs for its advanced weaponry. Additional military aid doesn’t do much for Kyiv unless the West finally gets its hands on the Russian military by reviewing its export control standards for dual-use components.

Export controls have long been a feature of United States and European Union security agendas, with particular focus on them since the early 2000s. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, fear that rogue entities to acquire weapons of mass destruction, also known as WMD, has fueled action by the international community. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 was, in part, adopted not only to formally codify this threat, but also to identify state obligations to prevent the spread of these weapons.

The resolution called on all states to adopt and enforce national controls on WMD, their delivery vehicles and related materials, which in practice meant extensive export controls. As such, Western states have taken great care to improve internal controls over dual-use goods and general exports with military applications. In 2009, the EU codified its efforts by setting up a Community regime for controlling the export, transfer, brokering and transit of dual-use items.

Russia’s military efforts in Ukraine remain heavily dependent on Western technologies, despite the West’s best efforts to cut off the supply of critical parts. In the face of extensive sanctions, the Russian war machine was still able to acquire the necessary inputs for its advanced weaponry. Additional military aid doesn’t do much for Kyiv unless the West finally gets its hands on the Russian military by reviewing its export control standards for dual-use components.

Export controls have long been a feature of United States and European Union security agendas, with particular focus on them since the early 2000s. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, fear that rogue entities to acquire weapons of mass destruction, also known as WMD, has fueled action by the international community. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 was, in part, adopted not only to formally codify this threat, but also to identify state obligations to prevent the spread of these weapons.

The resolution called on all states to adopt and enforce national controls on WMD, their delivery vehicles and related materials, which in practice meant extensive export controls. As such, Western states have taken great care to improve internal controls over dual-use goods and general exports with military applications. In 2009, the EU codified its efforts by setting up a Community regime for controlling the export, transfer, brokering and transit of dual-use items.

The United States has sought to implement these regulations with the same fervor, taking a whole-of-government approach to Resolution 1540 and continually reporting to the United Nations. In 2013, the United States reported that measures were in place to meet all resolution requirements. This trend continued as the EU overhauled its export control law in 2021 to address changes in the security environment and the United States identified stifling proliferation as a security imperative in their 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Directions.

Despite this commitment, the Russian invasion exposed a weakness in existing systems, shifting the focus from non-state actors to the real implications of the threat from state actors.

Recent reports have pointed out that the latest Russian weapons rely heavily on specialized components made abroad. A transport plane alone requires more than 80 components that cannot be reproduced or created in Russia. This trend extends to Russian ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as its drone technologies. If Western economies are suppressing Russian trade, how come these items ended up in Russian hands?

The British Ministry of Defense announced in early May that it would investigate whether British-made components were being deployed to Ukraine via Russian systems. Britain implemented an arms embargo against Russia in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, but did not ban the direct export of dual-use components to Russia until the beginning of march.

This is not a new problem, although the scale of the atrocities committed by Russia has highlighted it. Dual-purpose components are one of the most complicated items in strategic trading. These items have legitimate civilian and military applications, ranging from ball bearings to dental burs. Nuclear technologies that could be used to support a national nuclear energy program could be diverted to a clandestine nuclear program, as was the case in South Africa after it joined the US-sponsored Atoms for Peace program.

A more practical example would be dental burs. Every state would like clean and healthy teeth. However, the gyroscopes from these exercises can also be used in missiles. These goods, listed as controlled by the Bureau of Industry and Security, are a common example of how states like North Korea are trying to avoid sanctions and fill a gap in their weapons programs. . Similar stories regarding civilian goods being used to develop military capabilities include India’s nuclear weapons program, which was listed as a country of concern until 2010, and Iran’s continued search for dual-use goods since. the 1990s. With this long history, it is not surprising that dual-use goods have been a major concern in Western countries for some time.

Historically, the West has viewed these goods as a precursor to the development or deployment of WMD, but the invasion shows the security implications the trade has on conventional conflict. Despite efforts to implement the export control obligations of Resolution 1540, Western states’ export control systems remain bogged down by coordination issues and competing strategic interests. That Russian export ban that the UK put in place in 2014? Inquiries by the House of Commons revealed that more than 200 export licenses continued under the government of then Prime Minister David Cameron, including components for military helicopters, ground-launched rockets and surface-to-surface missiles.

Similarly, little attention was paid to the Dutch contribution to Russian military activity. Despite a long experience in implementing export controls and strong defense support for Ukraine, the Dutch economy is closely tied to Russia. In 2021, Dutch companies exported over €5 billion worth of goods to Russia. The most important commodity for two-thirds of companies involved in this trade is semiconductor components, a class of goods directly related to the Ukrainian battlefield. Germany faces a similar dubious commitment with dual-use goods.

Local media earlier this year said Germany had exported $134 million worth of military equipment between 2014 and 2020 despite the EU export ban. Further investigation linked German components to Russian drones and revealed the German government’s active endorsement of dual-use export licenses despite EU restrictions. The United States also faces problems maintaining control of these goods. In 2015, a Texas-based tech company shipped radiation-hardened microelectronics to Russia via Bulgaria. More recently, the Biden administration uncovered a network that was supplying sensitive military technology to Russia for use in Ukraine.

Export controls are one of the best tools the world has to stifle proliferation, limit the destructive capabilities of terrorist organizations, and inhibit states’ ability to fuel conventional conflict. Effective export controls are complicated and there are risk trade-offs that need to be assessed when engaging in overseas business. But the invasion revealed obvious shortcomings – and they must be filled.