USA — Gates Proposes Revamp of Export System

WASHINGTON — The Unit­ed States must total­ly revamp the Cold War-era export con­trol sys­tem, because as cur­rent­ly con­fig­ured, it actu­al­ly harms nation­al secu­ri­ty, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates told mem­bers of Busi­ness Exec­u­tives for Nation­al Secu­ri­ty that the export con­trol sys­tem does not ade­quate­ly pro­tect cru­cial Amer­i­can capa­bil­i­ties and makes it near­ly impos­si­ble to quick­ly share need­ed capa­bil­i­ties with allies and partners. 

Gates said his pro­pos­al for a new export con­trol process would make it more dif­fi­cult for crit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies to get into the hands of rogue states and ter­ror­ists while facil­i­tat­ing the trans­fer of tech­nol­o­gy to U.S. allies. 

“The Unit­ed States is thought to have one of the most strin­gent export regimes in the world, but strin­gent is not the same as effec­tive,” Gates said. “A num­ber of laps­es in recent years – from high­ly sen­si­tive mate­ri­als being export­ed to vital home­land secu­ri­ty capa­bil­i­ties being delayed – have under­scored the flaws of the cur­rent approach.” 

The cur­rent export-con­trol sys­tem is a Cold War arti­fact, the sec­re­tary not­ed. “As a result,” he said, “its rules, orga­ni­za­tions and process­es are not set up to deal effec­tive­ly with those sit­u­a­tions that could do us the most harm in the 21st cen­tu­ry – a ter­ror­ist group obtain­ing a crit­i­cal com­po­nent for a weapon of mass destruc­tion, or a rogue state seek­ing advanced bal­lis­tic mis­sile parts. 

“Most impor­tant­ly,” he added, “the cur­rent arrange­ment fails at the crit­i­cal task of pre­vent­ing harm­ful exports while facil­i­tat­ing use­ful ones.” 

Gates pro­posed a tiered approach to export con­trol that he said would allow the Unit­ed States to build high­er walls around tru­ly cru­cial tech­nolo­gies while low­er­ing walls around oth­ers. One flaw of the cur­rent sys­tem, he said, is that it makes no dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion among tech­nolo­gies, and the lists are endless. 

“The real-world effect,” he told the group, “is to make it more dif­fi­cult to focus on those items and tech­nolo­gies that tru­ly need to stay in this country.” 

Gates is joined by the sec­re­taries of state, com­merce and home­land secu­ri­ty, the direc­tor of nation­al intel­li­gence and the nation­al secu­ri­ty advi­sor in push­ing for changes. The pro­pos­al Gates announced today grew from a study Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma direct­ed last summer. 

“Our plan relies on four key reforms: a sin­gle export-con­trol list, a sin­gle licens­ing agency, a sin­gle enforcement/coordination agency and a sin­gle infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy sys­tem,” the sec­re­tary said. 

The nation cur­rent­ly has two export-con­trol lists: one main­tained at the State Depart­ment and one by Com­merce. “The sin­gle list, com­bined with a sin­gle licens­ing agency, would allow us to con­cen­trate on con­trol­ling those crit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies and items – the ‘crown jew­els’ – that are the basis for main­tain­ing our mil­i­tary tech­nol­o­gy advan­tage, espe­cial­ly tech­nolo­gies and items that no for­eign gov­ern­ment or com­pa­ny can dupli­cate,” Gates said. 

It would be a tiered sys­tem, the sec­re­tary explained, with tru­ly crit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies at the top cas­cad­ing down to less­er tech­nolo­gies. Items could move from one group to anoth­er as their sen­si­tiv­i­ty changes, he said. 

A sin­gle licens­ing agency would have juris­dic­tion over both muni­tions and dual-use tech­nolo­gies. This, Gates said, would stream­line the licens­ing process and reduce con­fu­sion. Oba­ma will decide where this agency would be locat­ed lat­er this spring, the sec­re­tary added. 

Con­sol­i­dat­ing enforce­ment also will strength­en the sys­tem, Gates said. “Those who endan­ger our troops and com­pro­mise our nation­al secu­ri­ty will not be able to hide behind juris­dic­tion­al uncer­tain­ties or game the sys­tem,” the sec­re­tary said. “Vio­la­tors will be sub­ject to thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion, pros­e­cu­tion and pun­ish­ment severe enough to deter lawbreaking.” 

A sin­gle infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy sys­tem, he said, is a no-brain­er that will save mon­ey and stop confusion. 

It’s expect­ed that the ini­tial steps required in reform­ing the present export sys­tem will begin imme­di­ate­ly, Gates said. 

“We will turn these prin­ci­ples and pro­pos­als into action through a three-phased process that will unfold over the course of the next year,” he said. The first phase will see the tran­si­tion to a sin­gle list and the sin­gle licens­ing agency. The sec­ond phase will tran­si­tion to a sin­gle infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy sys­tem and imple­ment the tiered con­trol list. “These changes, which can be made through exec­u­tive action, rep­re­sent sub­stan­tial progress and momen­tum towards reform,” he said. “But they are by them­selves insuf­fi­cient to ful­ly meet the chal­lenge at hand. We need a final, third phase.” 

That phase will require con­gres­sion­al action, Gates said, adding that he looks for­ward to work­ing with sen­a­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives to craft the right approach. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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