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Asian and Pacific Leaders Pledge to Control Shoulder-Fired Missiles

Leaders of countries from Asia to the Western Hemisphere pledged Oct. 21 to better control the international trade in shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that could be used by terrorists against civilian and commercial aircraft.

Promoted by the United States, the nonbinding pledge came at the end of a two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok, Thailand. APEC’s 21 members include China, Japan, and Russia, all three of which produce shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, collectively referred to as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS). The United States also manufactures and exports MANPADS.

APEC members stated they would strengthen national controls on producing and exporting MANPADS and better protect their stockpiles against theft. They further agreed not to sell these types of missiles to nonstate actors.

The Group of Eight (G-8) issued a similar statement this past June and the 33-member Wassenaar Arrangement adopted criteria to guide MANPADS controls and exports in December 2000. Wassenaar members, which include most major arms suppliers, agreed to sell MANPADS only to governments or their licensed agents. China is not a member of either the G-8 or the Wassenaar Arrangement.

The threat posed by MANPADS has gained greater prominence following a failed November 2002 attempt in Kenya to shoot down an Israeli commercial airliner and a high-profile sting operation this past August to arrest an arms dealer selling a Russian-made shoulder-fired missile in New York City.

Washington has been trying to draw attention to the problem for several years. In June 1998, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called for the negotiation of an international agreement to “place tighter controls on the export of these portable, easily concealed weapons.” At that time, the Department of State reported that “more than 115 countries and dozens of subnational groups” possessed MANPADS.