Top of the News: Commentary
LETHAL WARES: IF ONE NATION SLEEPS, A NIGHTMARE FOR ALL
Unsettling scenes from around the globe: Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan auction off chunks of the former Soviet arsenal. Nuclear wannabes Iran and Pakistan edge closer to success, thanks to covert purchases of plutonium and a boominginternational trade in commercial technologies for making atomic bombs. And now comes word that Washington may sell once-top-secret espionage satellites to such allies as South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
All nations face a worldwide proliferation of technology that may make the 1990s a dangerous decade. Curbing the spread of weapons will be a top worry for the Clinton Administration--and a growing concern internationally. The Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), the agency that monitors exports to the former Soviet bloc, adopted strict rules in late November for transferring high-tech items to these new democracies. To qualify for such transfers, they must set controls and prove there are no holes.
BLUNT MEASURES. But COCOM's European focus misses many nations selling "dual-use" equipment: high-tech commercial items that can be diverted to military use. Once, its technocops could control technology flows by focusing on NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Now, second-tier exporters--such as Brazil, China, Israel, and South Africa, plus such newly industrialized Pacific Rim players as South Korea and Taiwan--are selling sophisticated weaponry, commercial nuclear reactors, and high-powered computer chips.
Meanwhile, Washington's attempts to control the flow is like a finger in the proverbial dike. Often, it's the strictly industrial products that get stopped--at a heavy cost to American business. As exporters such as Boeing, IBM, and Intel will point out, the U.S. uses blunt measures, such as bilateral trade sanctions, to control high-tech exports and pursue other foreign policy goals. These curbs have lost American companies precious overseas business to foreign rivals, whose governments are less discriminating about selling to such countries as Iran or Vietnam.
Balancing foreign-policy goals with the realities of export competition will be a key test of the new Administration. That would require the world's major exporters to agree on common menaces, and then to ban dual-use exports to them. It won't be easy. At last summer's economic summit, America's overtures on controlling high-tech trade were not warmly received. "We can all agree on Saddam Hussein and Qadaffi, but that's about it," says a Dutch export-control official.
In that case, Clinton may have to open the export gate for many widely available items--or risk sabotaging U.S. exports that he's counting on to make his own economic growth agenda happen. Intel Corp. faces an average wait of three months for permission to export specialized--though hardly rare--gaskets and valves to its semiconductor plant in Israel. Why? They could conceivably be used to make missiles. Clinton senior defense adviser John Holum agrees that the process is outdated: "There are plenty of items on lists simply because nobody has bothered to take them off," he says. In exchange for regulatory relief, companies must share the burden of checking the credentials of foreign customers.
TALL ORDERS. Building a consensus among the world's major arms exporters might be easier if they all played by the same rules. They should also harmonize control lists, so that export bureaucrats can be keeping tabs on the same sensitive technologies.
Of course, buyers need close monitoring, too. Developing countries that are interested in owning a satellite launch system, for example, should permit third-party inspections to ensure that the technology is used only for civilian purposes. And the major industrial nations should regularly share data to detect illicit weapon programs.
At home, the Clinton Administration must improve controls. Now, an applicant for an export license must consult six major control lists, each administered by up to five different departments. One Clinton insider says the President-elect may give sole export-control authority to his new Economic Security Council, streamlining the licensing process.
Refashioning the American export-control policy and building an international coalition to check proliferation are tall orders for a new President. Yet Clinton has little choice. The alternative is a world of potential enemies--all armed to the teeth with high-tech weaponry.
TABLE: THREE STEPS TO BETTER EXPORT CONTROLS
GET ALLIES ON BOARD The U.S. and its partners cooperate well in controlling exports to communist and former communist nations. But the Clinton Administration must win support on stemming dangerous exports to new trouble spots
DEMAND FULL DISCLOSURE Developing countries that claim to want high-tech items for purely commercial purposes must agree to outside inspections. The major nations should share intelligence data to stop illicit diversions
CENTRALIZE AND STREAMLINE The U.S. should cut from five to one the number of agencies that have a say in granting export licenses. Controls should be removed from items such as laptops and some common machine tools
DATA: BWBrian Bremner and Jonathan B. Levine