In early 1984, a United Nations investigation team found that Iraq had used chemical weapons (CW) in the Iran-Iraq war in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, and that at least some of the precursor chemicals and materials for its CW program had been sourced through legitimate trade channels. In response, several countries introduced export controls on certain chemicals that could be used to manufacture CW.
These controls suffered from a lack of uniformity, and it soon became apparent that attempts were being made to circumvent them. This led Australia to propose a meeting of the countries with export controls with the aim of harmonising their national licensing measures and enhancing cooperation. The first meeting of what subsequently became known as the Australia Group took place in Brussels in June 1985. At that meeting, the 15 participating countries and the European Commission agreed that there was value in exploring how existing export controls might be made more effective to prevent the spread of CW.
The Group has met regularly since then, and annual meetings are now held in Paris. The scope of the export controls discussed by the Group has evolved to address emerging threats and challenges. Evidence of the diversion of dual-use materials to biological weapons programs in the early 1990s led to participants’ adoption of export controls on specific biological agents. The control lists developed by the Group have also expanded to include technologies and equipment which can be used in the manufacturing or disposal of chemical and biological weapons.
The number of countries participating in the Australia Group has grown from 15 in 1985 to 42 plus the European Union.