Secretary Gates Presses the Case for Export Control Reform

Secretary Gates Presses the Case for Export Control Reform

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates continued to press his case for reform of the U.S. export control system in a Tuesday speech to Business Executives for National Security.

Stressing that it is “critically important” that the United States prevent technologies from getting into the hands of adversaries who would use them against us, Secretary Gates nonetheless said that the current system does not deal effectivly with today’s threats. As an example, he pointedly remarked that “It makes little sense to use the same lengthy process to control the export of every latch, wire and lug nut — for a piece of equipment like the F-15 — when we’ve already approved the export of the entire aircraft.”

After detailing what he sees as the many failings of the current system, Secretary Gates listed four key reforms the Obama Administration is seeking: a single export control list, a single licensing agency, a single enforcement coordination agency, and a single information technology system.

A single list would allow the government to focus on protecting the “crown jewels” that maintain the U.S. technological advantage, but he acknowledged that such fundamental reform inevitably would be criticized.

“Some people will be concerned that having fewer items subject to the most onerous export restrictions will make it easier for hostile states or groups to obtain weaponry and technology that potentially could be used against us.

“No system — above all, the current one — is foolproof, but by consolidating more … we can focus our energies and our scrutiny on technologies that truly threathen America’s security….”

The Secretary added that he hoped that reform of the U.S. export control system would reestablish a partnership with U.S. allies along the lines of COCOM (Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls) to prevent transfer of nuclear weapons technology, for example. “Right now, it requires a U.N. Security Council resolution or significant governmental actions by a single government to prevent those transfers…. We hope…we can begin the kind of working-level relationships that we had in the COCOM days…”

He outlined a three-phase process to implement these changes that would take place over the next year. He also noted, however, that congressional action is required.

The congressional calendar in this election year is rather full already, so it is not clear if export control reform will rise to the level of criticality necessary to garner sufficient congressional attention.

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