Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 01/2009

The Impact on Domestic Policy of the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports The Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Spain

Mark Bromley

August 2008

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute


In June 2008 the European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports will mark its 10th anniversary. During this period, the EU Code of Conduct has had an eventful and, at times, controversial history. While participation has expanded from 15 to 27 as EU membership has increased and big advances have been made in the field of information exchange, some have said that the Code’s impact has been either too weak or too inconsistent. On the one hand, non-governmental organizations and parliamentarians have contested that the mechanism has done little to prevent transfers to human rights abusers and conflict hotspots. On the other, defence companies have complained that their respective national government is interpreting the Code more restrictively than others, and so placing them at a commercial disadvantage.

This Policy Paper examines the impact of the EU Code over its first 10 years via a close examination of three middle-ranking arms exporters: the Czech Republic, Spain and the Netherlands. The analysis therefore looks beyond the three biggest European arms exporters—France, Germany and the United Kingdom—which have been the main subjects of research in this area. The choice of countries allows examinations of the role of middle-ranking arms exporters in the evolution of the EU Code and of the consequent effect of the Code on these states’ decisions to issue or deny arms export licences. The picture that emerges is of a dynamic agreement in which smaller member states have had a strong hand in pushing developments forward.