Bush Emphasis on Proliferation Sanctions Stirs Debate

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Bush Emphasis on Proliferation Sanctions Stirs Debate


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


IN A RADICAL departure from its predecessor's practice, the Bush administration has been gung-ho about imposing proliferation sanctions, levying penalties against foreign companies and individuals 34 times in 2002 and 21 times so far this year.

The rate at which the Bush administration is imposing sanctions is three times greater than that of the Clinton administration, which averaged eight sanctions per year, according to June congressional testimony by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton.

The change has less to do with changes in the underlying U.S. laws authorizing sanctions than a change in philosophy. Of the laws cited in the administration's sanctions announcements, with the notable exception of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, most were also in effect during much of the Clinton administration's two terms.

Top Bush administration officials are confident that imposing sanctions can change the cost/benefit analysis of potential proliferators and deter future proliferation. The administration repeatedly warns that countries can do business with the United States or with rogue regimes and terrorists, but not both. But skeptics, including some former top Clinton administration officials, contend that, although the threat of sanctions can be a useful lever to try and change behavior, actually imposing sanctions can have limited utility and be merely symbolic.

The Bush Administration and Sanctions

The driving force behind the policy shift is Bolton, a former senior vice president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute who advocates an in-your-face approach to dealing with rogue regimes. The undersecretary has pushed the State Department to impose sanctions to the fullest extent and has discouraged using legal provisions that allow the president to waive sanctions out of concern for broader national security interests.

In the past, and still to some degree today, various U.S. government entities have been reluctant to impose sanctions because they are generally acknowledged to be a double-edged sword. The State Department, which puts a premium on fostering good relations with foreign governments, has concerns about imposing sanctions for fear of upsetting other capitals, while the intelligence community is cautious about potentially exposing U.S. sources and methods critical to tracking proliferation. Backed by U.S. businesses worried about losing trade opportunities, the Commerce Department has generally opposed sanctions.

The Bush administration is proud of its aggressive sanctions style. Bolton noted in June that "for the first time, the State Department is reviewing every known transfer to Iran" to identify items that could aid Tehran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction or missiles.

Since taking office, the Bush administration has imposed sanctions on a total of 32 foreign entities-a term for both companies and individuals. The United States has penalized 18 of those entities multiple times since January 2001. A North Korean firm, Changgwang Sinyong Corporation, ranks as the top sanctions recipient with seven, the latest publicly announced July 25.

Chinese entities appear most frequently on the sanctioned roster. Of the 32 entities, 19 are Chinese. Indian and Moldovan entities are the next most numerous at three apiece. Two Armenian, two Pakistani, one Iranian, one Jordanian, and the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation account for the others. No entities from Russia, which is frequently cited in U.S. intelligence reports as a proliferation source, have been publicly penalized.

U.S. proliferation sanctions generally prohibit the charged entity from signing contracts, receiving aid, or importing arms and dual-use goods from the U.S. government for two years. Sometimes, the penalties can be imposed for longer periods, such as the July 30 announcement that the China Precision Machinery Import/Export Corporation would be sanctioned indefinitely. …

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