The primary objective of the export controls authorized in the Export Control Act then became to prevent or delay improvements in Warsaw Pact (and Chinese) military capabilities that could be accomplished or facilitated through the acquisition of Western technology and end products. This objective derived in large measure from a recognition that, for political and economic reasons, it was neither possible nor even desirable for the West to maintain numerical equality with the mobilized troop strength or fielded conventional weaponry of the Warsaw Pact countries. This recognition led to the "force multiplier" strategy of maintaining technological superiority over potential adversaries. An inevitable outgrowth of this strategy was the control of exports of goods and technology that had commercial, as well as military, applications. Thus, the NATO decision in the early 1950s to rely on force multipliers also locked the alliance into an active policy of controlling the export of militarily significant goods and technology, including arms and so-called dual use* items, which has continued until the present day.

The Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom), was established in 1949 as an informal forum associated with NATO to coordinate national export control policies and review potential exports to the Soviet Union and other proscribed destinations.

U.S. Export Control Policy

The Cold War strategy was translated in the United States into laws governing trade in arms and goods with significant military utility. The Arms Export Control Act (AECA) of 1976, which succeeded the Battle Act of 1954, authorized the President to control the export and import of defense articles and services. Although preventing Cold War adversaries from acquiring military items is a function of export controls on defense articles and services or munitions items, the stated rationale for munitions controls is to further U.S. foreign policy, world peace, and security. The Export Control Act of 1949 was superseded by the Export Administration Act (EAA) of 1969 and 1979. The objectives of the Export Administration Act of 1979, as amended, are threefold:

  • The short supply objective. "To restrict the export of goods where necessary to protect the domestic economy from the excessive drain of scarce materials and to reduce the serious inflationary impact of foreign demand."


A dispute has continued over how to distinguish between exports to be controlled as arms or munitions and exports to be controlled as "dual use," that is, items not inherently military in character.


The CoCom participants currently are Australia, Belgium. Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement