Magazine article National Defense

Export-Control Reforms Stall in Aftermath of Terror Attacks

Magazine article National Defense

Export-Control Reforms Stall in Aftermath of Terror Attacks

Article excerpt

One of the casualties of this fall's terrorist attacks upon the United States may have been the latest effort to reform controls limiting exports of technologies that could provide a military advantage to the nation's potential enemies. The question is: How serious is the wound?

The controls have a wide impact, Kenneth I. Juster, undersecretary of commerce for export administration, said in a speech to the 2001 Export Control and Policy Update Conference in Washington, D.C. "Today, more than 20 percent of the goods produced in the United States are exported, and more than 200,000 U.S. firms are involved in international trade," he said.

Under current regulations, all products that have a defense-related use-even those with both civilian and military applications--must be licensed by the federal government before they can be exported.

Products whose applications are strictly military, such as combat aircraft, tanks or small arms, require licenses from the State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976.

Those with dual uses-including some computer hardware and software, communications equipment and encryption technology-fall under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administration, as specified in the Export Administration Act (EAA) of 1979. Sensitive cases often are referred to the State, Defense, Energy or Justice Departments, or other agencies for review.

In fiscal year 2000, the State Department reviewed more than 46,000 applications for export licenses, according to a recent study by the congressional watchdog agency, the General Accounting Office. During the same year, the GAO said, the Commerce Department completed more than 11,000.

This system is designed "to slow the spread of items and technologies that can threaten U.S. national security-particularly the security of U.S., allied and friendly armed forces," Dave Tarbell, former deputy undersecretary of defense for technology security policy, told a congressional hearing earlier this year.

Export controls were imposed first before World War II to ensure that U.S. supplies would be adequate to meet wartime needs. They were continued during the Cold War to help keep U.S. defense technology out of the hands of the Soviet Union and its allies.

In 1990, Congress and the executive branch failed to agree on terms to renew the EEA, and it expired. Since then-with brief exceptions-presidents have enforced the controls through executive orders. A year ago, Congress reinstated the EEA, but it expired again in August.

President Bush immediately issued an executive order extending the controls under the International Economic Emergency Powers Act. He pledged to terminate the executive order as soon as Congress passes legislation reforming the exportcontrol system.

"Such legislation is long overdue," Bush said. "The EAA is a Cold War statute that does not reflect and is ill-suited to deal with current economic and political realities."

The need to update export controls is widely acknowledged on Capitol Hill. When the first EAA was enacted, "Jimmy Carter was president, bellbottoms were the style and disco was king," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. "Times have changed, and improvement of this outdated legislation is past due."

What kinds of changes are necessary, however, are hotly disputed, noted Edmund Rice, chairman of the Export Controls Working Group, a coalition of 130 companies advocating EEA reforms.

Basic Differences

"There are two groups on the Hill with very basic philosophic differences," he told National Defense. One side, led by exporting businesses, argues that since the end of the Cold War, many export controls-particularly those on dual-use products-are no longer required for national security. If it can be bought at Radio Shack, said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., "you're wasting your time trying to protect that item. …

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