Weapons of Mass Destruction:

Assessing U.S. Policy Tools for Combating Proliferation

GAO-02-226T: Published: Nov 7, 2001. Publicly Released: Nov 7, 2001.

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The attacks of September 11 and the recent anthrax cases have heightened long-standing concerns about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The United States and the international community have undertaken several efforts over the years to secure these weapons and prevent their spread. Today, there is renewed need to maintain strong international controls over such weapons and related technologies, and to reevaluate the effectiveness of the controls. The United States has used the following four key policy instruments to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: (1) international treaties, (2) multilateral export control arrangements, (3) U.S. export controls, and (4) security assistance to other countries. Each instrument is important to preventing the transfer of weapons of mass destruction and associated technologies to terrorists or rogue states, but each has limitations. International treaties restrict transfers of weapons of mass destruction technologies, but their effectiveness depends on whether treaties can be verified and enforced and whether all countries of concern are members. Multilateral export control arrangements are voluntary, nonbinding agreements under which countries that produce the technologies used to develop weapons of mass destruction agree to restrict the transfer of these technologies. U.S. export controls set the legal and regulatory conditions under which goods and technologies can be exported. Security assistance to other countries helps control or eliminate nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and otherwise stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

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