Belarus Sanctioned under the US Non-Proliferation Act

Belarus and sanctions tend to go together in the headlines. In its short twenty-year history, the country has been sanctioned for rigging elections, squashing the opposition, violating human rights, and chocking independent media.

Minsk not only sees nothing wrong with such behavior, but also supports similar violations by other states by providing them with arms and helping them skirt Western embargoes. Though back in the 1990s Belarus was proud of giving up the Soviet nuclear weapons, today it is selling sensitive equipment and technology to states suspected of building nuclear programs.

This week, the United States imposed sanctions on the Belarusian Optical Mechanical Association (BelOMO) and BelTechExport of Belarus for violating the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act. Other violators sanctions were all well-known for illicit trading in missile and weapons of mass destruction technology.

Belarus entities were first sanctioned under the Iran, North Korea, Syria Non-Proliferation Act in 2004. In April and September of that year the United States imposed  sanctions on Belvneshpromservice, one of four Belarusian state companies engaged in sales of arms and equipment, for conducting business with Iran since January 1999. In March 2011, the United States imposed sanctions on Belorusneft company for concluding a  $500 million contract with the Iranian company NaftIran Intertrade in 2007. The sanction threshold for such contracts is set to a mere $20 million.

Washington has frowned upon Belarus’ weapon sales for a long time. In 2009, Belarus Arms Transfers Accountability Act was be enacted directing the US Department of State to regularly update the Congress  on the country’s arms exports. According to the official records alone, Belarus arms sales amounted to $1,000,000,000 between 1999 and 2006, which makes the 10-million-people state the eleventh largest weapons exporter in the world. The under-the-table amounts of arms exports are considerably larger, however. 

What effect will these sanctions have on the guilty Belarusian companies? The sanctioned firms and individuals are prohibited from concluding any US government contracts. They are also denied US assistance and US defense technology exports. In short, they are cut off from doing business with Washington. While these measures may sound harsh, they are unlikely to change the behavior of the Belarusian companies, given that virtually no business deals have been signed between the United States and Belarus since the country’s international isolation.

Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that Belarus authorities stop selling arms to rogue states and skirting arms embargoes: after all, they have almost nothing to lose.


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