Satellite Industry Ensnared

By Hackett, James | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 5, 1999 | Go to article overview

Satellite Industry Ensnared


Hackett, James, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Today, the U.S. economy is the envy of the world. The unprecedented economic boom we are enjoying is driven by America's strong lead in information technologies. An important component of that lead is the U.S. space industry, which prospered as the revolution in information technologies created a growing global market for communication satellites.

American industry leads the world in satellite production, turning out 2 of every 3 satellites, worth more than $30 billion a year, with annual exports of $11.5 billion. But the United States does not have a monopoly. There are major competitors in Europe and growing competition in Asia, requiring U.S. companies to compete aggressively to hold their lead.

Yet, the Clinton administration is seriously damaging this booming U.S. industry to avoid annoying communist China. The administration was piqued last year when Congress passed legislation to tighten export controls on space technologies to prevent countries such as China from acquiring militarily useful technologies. Properly concerned about evidence of massive spying by mainland China that was later spelled out in the Cox Committee Report, Congress transferred export control responsibility for commercial satellites and their components from the list of exports managed by the Commerce Department to the munitions list handled by the State Department.

That put commercial communication satellites in the same category as arms, requiring close oversight and careful review before they can be exported. This is a wise precaution for satellites going to China, or any other country that is or may become hostile to the United States. But the Clinton administration does not want to distinguish between friendly countries and unfriendly ones. It continues to pursue a special relationship with the Beijing regime, as though Jiang Zemin were Winston Churchill.

What's more, the State Department is inadequately staffed to process satellite export licenses and has been slow to add staff despite congressional funding for that purpose. Export licenses, technical assistant agreements, and end use monitoring now are required even for satellites sold to or launched by our closest friends and allies, including NATO and Japan.

And there are delays and uncertainties. The State Department has no deadlines for processing export license requests, or for the related interagency clearance process. Foreign customers have no idea how long it will take to obtain approval to buy a satellite made in America.

Similar delays apply to the export of parts for foreign satellites, most of which include U. …

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