Clinton Administration Eases Arms Export Process for Allies

Article excerpt

CLAIMING THE GOAL of bolstering

U.S. defense trade, interoperability, and cooperation with foreign allies, the Clinton administration unveiled 17 initiatives on May 24 that will make it easier to ship U.S. weapons and technology to NATO members, Japan, and Australia. Collectively referred to as the Defense Trade Security Initiative, the agreed proposals expedite arms export decisions, relax or waive export licensing requirements, and reduce the number of U.S. government-approved licenses needed for exporting weapons.

Spurred, in part, by U.S. arms industry and foreign arms customer complaints that U.S. export control procedures were too burdensome, the Defense Department moved to speed up and simplify the export process in early 1999. The Pentagon effort gathered momentum after NATO's 78-day air war against Yugoslavia revealed a growing capability gap between the U.S. and European militaries and procedural barriers to their timely sharing of weapons and technology.

Additional industry and Pentagon concerns that European countries may increasingly rely on domestic suppliers, thereby cutting U.S. companies out of the European market, also helped drive the Pentagon initiative. The European Union's December 1999 decision to create an autonomous military force separable from NATO and Britain's May 16 decision to buy a European-built air-to-air missile rather than a similar U.S. model, despite intense lobbying by President Bill Clinton, appeared to confirm these fears to some.

An initially reluctant State Department, which has final authority in arms export decisions, endorsed the Pentagon initiative following months of interdepartmental negotiations. Clinton approved the completed package just two days before Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced it on May 24 at the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Florence, Italy.

Most of the 17 initiatives will apply solely to direct commercial sales by private U.S. companies to foreign firms and governments. The U.S. government authorizes some $20 billion in commercial sales a year in addition to its Pentagon arms sales, which totaled more than $12 billion in fiscal year 1999.

Easing Exports

Washington created four new types of "blanket" licenses. Rather than licensing each component or company that is party to an arms export deal, the U.S. government may now issue one license to cover an entire program or project. For example, in the case of a so-called major project authorization, a single license could cover a fighter jet, including its engine, avionics, and weapons systems. Previously individual licenses would have been required for the separate components.

The State Department annually reviews some 45,000 cases, of which 12,000 are referred to the Pentagon for its input. In a May 23 briefing, senior administration officials argued that by reducing export licenses involving trusted customers, limited staff will be freed to devote more attention to higherrisk exports. Both the Defense Department and the State Department have pledged 50 percent increases in their licensing staffs. …