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American Forces Press Service

Gates Proposes Revamp of Export System

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2010 – 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.

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