Combatting Proliferant States' Use of Virtual Assets: A Transnational Approach to Regulation

Jesse Thomas - Texas A&M University
Abstract: Increasingly, proliferant states have sought to leverage virtual assets to evade sanctions and finance their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. Based on block chain technology, virtual assets are a value transfer system which allow for proof-based transactions between parties. Because they are transferred over a network instantaneously and do not require third-party financial institutions, virtual assets are more efficient and less costly than traditional finance and thus are increasingly popular among users and businesses operating on the margins or with timeliness goals. As a novel financial technology, there is currently no consistent or effective method of regulation to prevent high consequence malicious actors, such as proliferant states, from taking advantage of virtual assets’ normative decentralized and pseudo-anonymous culture. The increased use of virtual assets to facilitate nuclear proliferation, coupled with the transnational nature of virtual asset activity, has obligated a diverse set of actors at the local, domestic, and international levels to collaborate in establishing and enforcing anti-money laundering regulation. While many states have struggled to strike a balance between security and economic growth in establishing and enforcing virtual asset regulation, a transnational approach can illuminate a potential solution space by identifying a confluence of interests between regulatory stakeholders. This paper builds on existing literature by approaching virtual asset activity and regulation through a transnational lens. Using case study examples from South and Southeast Asia, a region that has emerged as a regulatory incubator, this paper will 1) demonstrate how virtual asset regulation is established and how it evolves over time, 2) identify which regulatory mechanisms have proved most effective at combatting illicit activity using virtual assets, and 3) evaluate what role (if any) collaboration between international, domestic, and local stakeholders has in the success of regulatory measures. Paper Significance: Using a transnational approach to analyze virtual asset activity and regulation, this paper will evaluate proliferation financing activity in a manner that explicates the roles and responsibilities of a diverse set of actors at the local, domestic, and international levels to combat this multi-jurisdictional illicit activity.