In the midst of a partial government shutdown stalemate over a border wall, the State Department has had to cancel, for now, an international conference focused on border security -- due to that very shutdown.
The 16th International Export Control and Border Security Conference was scheduled to take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, in mid-February, with a goal of preventing the proliferation and transfer of weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons across borders.
However, it has been postponed "due to uncertainty associated with the continuing partial U.S. federal government shutdown," according to a letter obtained by CNN, signed by Kathryn Insley, the director of the Office of Export Control Cooperation. In the letter, dated January 16, Insley wrote that they "are working to identify alternative dates" and would be in contact with participants "as soon as we are operational again."
The letter was sent to at least 55 US embassies and missions worldwide who were helping to facilitate travel by expected attendees to the conference. The missions were asked to convey the information "to the appropriate host government officials who have been nominated to attend the Conference."
A State Department spokesperson confirmed that the conference was off.
"This conference brings together approximately 270 export control and border security practitioners from 85 partner countries involved in dual-use and conventional arms policy, licensing, and enforcement to promote the development of effective strategic trade management and counter proliferation measures," the spokesperson said. "In light of the very limited funding available during the lapse in appropriations, the Department will exercise judicious use of limited, remaining resources. Travel, hiring, contracting, public affairs, and other activities will continue to operate in a constrained manner."
According to the State Department, the Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program "seeks to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and destabilizing accumulations and irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons by building effective national strategic trade control systems in countries that possess, produce, or supply strategic items, as well as in countries through which such items are most likely to transit."
"In developing and improving these trade and border control systems, we work to ensure conformity with international standards for regulating trade in items on the control lists of the multilateral export control regimes, to prevent the authorization of transfers to end-uses and end-users of proliferation concern, and to detect and interdict illicit transfers at the border," the State Department says on its website.
The EXBS events, including the conference, are meant "to bring national policymakers and technical experts together to share information about proliferation challenges and the latest developments in the multilateral nonproliferation regimes, to compare experiences, and to facilitate information-sharing and networking," according to a State Department website about the program.
The Office of Export Control Cooperation is tasked by the White House with coordinating US government assistance "in the area of export and related border control assistance, and does this primarily through its chairing of the Interagency Working Group on Nonproliferation Export and Border Control Assistance." This interagency effort includes programs from the Defense Department and the Department of Energy. EXBS also partners with the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and Homeland Security.