Arms embargo

UN arms embargoes prohibit the import, and sometimes also the export of conventional or unconventional arms. Both measures apply to the sanctions regimes on Iran and the DPRK. The implementation of embargoes operate on two dimensions:

  1. Defining items under embargo
  2. Obligating the sender to ensure items will not be used to contravene sanctions

Embargoes against conventional arms are usually assumed to be self-evident and do not include detailed definitions. However, embargoes against unconventional arms, or certain types of WMDs, require detailed technical explanation. Additionally, many related materials or dual-use items, as well as related technical assistance, training, and pertinent information, are also considered to be under embargo.

Definition: dual-use items

Goods, software and technology intended for civilian uses that can also serve in a military application. The Wassenaar Arrangement on export controls for conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies lists and provides guidelines for which items may fall under the term.


Definition: catch-all provision

Suppliers have a regulatory and legal requirement to obtain an export license from their export control authorities if they identify in their due diligence prior to releasing goods and components that a reasonable possibility exists for their end-use to contribute towards WMD proliferation. This also applies to “intangibles”, such as information, and their conveyance, for example, via electronic means.

A complex sanctions compliance problem arises with what is widely perceived to be ambiguous terms for situations in which catch-all provisions may apply. Some sanctions committees have recently agreed on minimal definitional language. Corresponding implementation assistance notices were recorded and approved to be circulated among Member States.

Definition: end-user or end-use certificate

A certificate with which importing/buying states declare themselves to be the ultimate user of the consignment of arms. No globally binding standards regulate format, content, or nomenclature for the transferred arms.

Many states have committed to standards through their membership in regional and sub-regional organizations such as the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies.

Despite these complexities, Member States and companies have an obligation to ascertain what is covered under an arms embargo. They also must ensure who will be the recipient and ultimate end user of military material. For this purpose the existence and verification of end-user or end-use certification for all items considered for export are critical elements in the implementation of a UN arms embargoes.