Experts Skeptical On Export Control Reform

Support for Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ export-control reform initiative is not robust within the cabinet agencies with authority over international weapons sales, according to a panel of experts on U.S. export policy.
Suzanne Palmer, president of Export Compliance Solutions and former State Department official, said creating a single licensing agency would be all but impossible given the State Department’s interest in retaining authority over sensitive weapons transfers.
“The State Department has been largely silent on the issue to date,” Palmer said during a panel discussion on the sidelines of the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference and exposition in Washington.
The Commerce and State Departments currently control commercial and munitions lists, respectively, with the Pentagon weighing in on both.
“In reality, there is not a lot of upper-level support because the [State] Department wants to retain authority over the diplomatic aspect” of weapons sales, Palmer said.
“That a one-list, one-agency model can be achieved is doubtful,” she added.
Joel Johnson, the executive director-international at the Teal Group, said that even the U.S. defense industry has “limited expectations” for reform.
“What we don’t want in industry is two more years of disruption,” he said.
Gates earlier this year called for an overhaul of Cold War-era rules on exports that would consolidate and streamline regulations for selling sensitive U.S. technology abroad. Many in industry have criticized the current export control regime as overly complex and harmful to U.S. commercial competitiveness.
The Obama administration last summer initiated a comprehensive review of U.S. export controls by an interagency task force. Gates played a pivotal role in that review, according to many officials familiar with the proceedings.
Gates has said the administration hopes to garner enough support for the effort in Congress by the end of the year. He has said he envisions a system in which “higher walls are placed around fewer, more critical items.”
Officials have said the administration plans to establish the reforms in three phases over the next year.
First, it would use executive authority to transition to a single list and single licensing agency by establishing criteria for a tiered control list, while launching an integrated enforcement center. Next, the transition to a single IT structure, implementation of the tiered control list and progress toward a single licensing system would come into play. And the third phase would be to win congressional backing for the reforms.
Johnson and Palmer both spoke in favor of recent bilateral treaties and other incremental reforms.
But they expressed skepticism about any potential overhaul on a grand scale as envisioned by Gates, noting that several administrations have tried and failed to achieve that kind of bureaucratic overhaul.
“We’ve all seen this movie before,” Johnson said.

by Marina Malenic

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