Malaysia Finally Adopts National Export Controls

by David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Christina Walrond

April 9, 2010

After years of serving as an unregulated transshipment point for nuclear smugglers, Malaysia finally adopted a national export control law on April 5, 2010 aimed at thwarting illicit nuclear trade by Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea. The Malaysian Prime Minister, scheduled to attend the Nuclear Security Summit on April 12-13, likely did not want to show up in Washington empty-handed at a conference that aims in part to end nuclear smuggling and reduce the likelihood of nuclear proliferation.

Malaysia’s action seeks to end the practice of those who would exploit Malaysia as a channel to obtain goods for secret nuclear programs. It is also another step toward achieving universal compliance with UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540. This resolution requires states to take and enforce effective measures against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their means of delivery and related materials with the goal off helping ensure that no state or non-state actor is a source or beneficiary of WMD proliferation. 1

In addition to focusing on better securing nuclear explosive materials plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the Nuclear Security Summit on April 12th and 13th is likely to seek more effective ways to stop both states and terrorists from illegally purchasing equipment, materials, and know-how that would enable them to produce nuclear explosive materials or nuclear weapons. For over three decades, countries covertly pursuing nuclear weapons have used the pathway of illicit nuclear trade. They have created smuggling networks and relied on transnational proliferation rings like the one created by A.Q. Khan or proliferating states such as North Korea. If terrorists obtain nuclear weapons, they will likely do so through smuggling both the nuclear explosive materials and the technical means to fashion a nuclear weapon.

The new Malaysian law, called Strategic Bill 2010, contains a provision on the control of exports, transferring, transiting and brokering of strategic goods 2, including arms and related materials as well as other activities that could facilitate the design, development or production of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery and other related uses. It mandates prison sentences of no less than five years and severe fines for people who violate the law. The law also indicates that violators whose actions result in casualties can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

Malaysia first gained notoriety in 2003 and 2004 after authorities intercepted a large shipment of gas centrifuge parts that the A.Q. Khan network shipped to Libya. The shipping containers holding the components bore the label of a Malaysian company. Since then, many criminal cases of smugglers have involved Malaysia as a transshipment point.

By passing this law, Malaysia avoids embarrassment at the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit. Government minister Nazri Abdul Aziz indicated that he hoped the law would both protect Malaysian exporters from exploitation and reaffirm Malaysia’s commitment to the global nonproliferation regime.

For more information on illicit nuclear trade, see ISIS publications on illicit trade and Peddling Peril, a new book by David Albright published by Free Press.

1 UNSCR 1540, if fully implemented, can help ensure that no state or non-state actor is a source or beneficiary of WMD proliferation. All states have three primary obligations under UNSCR 1540 relating to such items: to prohibit support to non-State actors seeking such items; to adopt and enforce effective laws prohibiting the proliferation of such items to non-State actors, and prohibiting assisting or financing such proliferation; and to take and enforce effective measures to control these items, in order to prevent their proliferation, as well as to control the provision of funds and services that contribute to proliferation. If implemented successfully, each state’s actions will significantly strengthen the international standards relating to the export of sensitive items and support for proliferators (including financing) and ensure that non-state actors, including terrorist and black-market networks, do not gain access to chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, their means of delivery or related materials. Source: U.S. State Deparment. 2 Strategic goods refers to goods and technology that can be used in the production of arms and related materials.

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