Bulgarian analysts propose measures to tighten arms export controls BBC - 2004/4/6
Despite the evolution of Bulgaria's arms export controls and its relatively clean record, compared to most of the 1990s, there is still room for improvement, according to analysts who have put together a report entitled "Weapons under Scrutiny", unveiled at a news conference at Sofia's Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) Monday [5 April].

The best approach to tackling all the existing issues is through stricter implementation of the new export control mechanism adopted in 2002, the report concludes.

The report is based on a story looking into the implementation of arms export controls and the measures combating the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Bulgaria. It has been conducted by CSD in cooperation with the international UK-based nongovernmental organization Saferworld, on funding from the UK government.

Three-level export control system

The current export control system in Bulgaria has a three-level structure. On the first level, companies are required to obtain a licence to trade in arms and dual-use goods, from an Interdepartmental Council on the Military Industrial Complex and Mobilization Preparedness which operates under the government.

On the second level, the companies need to obtain a permit for every transaction that entails export, import, transit, and re-export of arms or dual-use goods. The permit is issued by an Interdepartmental Commission on Export Control and Nonproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

On the third level, the companies are subject to a number of additional controls and permits that include an inspection by the Customs Agency and National Security Service at specific border crossings. Also, defence and arms trade companies under the Defence Ministry are required to obtain personal approval for all transactions from the minister of defence.

In addition to its national controls, Bulgaria is also committed to arms sale restraint in the context of regional and international control regimes, including the EU Code of Conduct on arms Exports, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Social ramifications

According to the report authors, some areas in the implementation and enforcement of arms controls continue to present Bulgaria with serious challenges.

On the social front, for example, the government commitment to tighten arms trade controls faces serious obstacles, especially in towns and regions where defence companies still provide the majority of jobs, and where greater restraint in arms exports would cause production cuts and significant job losses in regions that are already economically depressed.

Furthermore, while adequate enforcement of arms export controls requires significant financial resources and well qualified civil servants, the low pay of the government administration and the lack of personnel development policies in most government institutions often result in a brain drain towards the private sector, which further contributes to the failure to adequately strengthen arms export control.

Smuggling and illicit arms workshops

Illicit trade is another challenge, according to the CSD analysts. The past two years have seen no cases of significant illicit trade in SALW but it is increasingly common for small quantities of SALW to be smuggled by individuals across state borders. Such individuals utilize routes [are] already established for smuggling drugs, human beings, cigarettes, etc.

Strong controls have brought about the emergence of small illegal arms production shops. No organized criminal groups who specialize in illicit arms trafficking have been identified. According to the CSD, border and customs corruption is the biggest obstacles to tackling smuggling activities.

Improving controls and implementation

Any steps to face the challenges should focus on improving the enforcement practices and strengthening the capacity of Bulgarian governmental agencies by ensuring that they have the specialization and the resources to implement the new legislation.

The CSD analysts call on the government to improve the implementation of the current export control system, particularly the organization and work of the Interdepartmental Commission, or establish an autonomous National Agency responsible for control over domestic distribution, import and export of arms, including small arms and light weapons (SALW).

The agency's activities would include - but not be limited to - coordinating background checks and inspections; end-user verification; records of foreign and domestic transactions with information about all key participants; training of law enforcement, civil service and defence company officials.

CSD also urges more rigorous controls on domestic trade in arms and dual-use goods and technologies, including improvements in the information systems for tracking the sale and movement of weapons, and the acquisition of weapons by criminals.

They believe that the government should pursue the systematic availability of information on arms brokers, in concerted cooperation with the authorities in countries where they are registered or have permanent residence.


The government should also complete the privatization of the defence industry and seek to attract foreign investors and promote joint ventures. Conversion to other types of production should be encouraged with the aim of reducing dependency on SALW exports. Among other things, the government should offer tax incentives for the shift from SALW to civilian production.

In the long term, arms export controls will be politically supported, implemented and strengthened only if the defence industry and the livelihoods of its 25,000 workers are not jeopardized but given prosperous alternatives, the report concludes.

The effective implementation of Bulgaria's export controls would boost its credibility as a reliable producer and exporter of arms while seeking membership of the European Union.

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