By Wade Boese
President Bill Clinton signed a law October 6 requiring foreign countries to revise their arms export controls to match those of the United States before they can become eligible for the relaxed, accelerated process of buying U.S. arms that was announced this May. The Security Assistance Act of 2000, a compilation of authorizations for U.S. foreign assistance, also requires a more thorough accounting of U.S. arms exports; approves the total transfer of a dozen U.S. ships to Brazil, Chile, Greece, and Turkey; and reaffirms, with exceptions for replacing previously sold missiles, a prohibition against exports of Stinger ground-to-air missiles to countries bordering the Persian Gulf.
In May, the United States unveiled 17 initiatives, collectively referred to as the Defense Trade Security Initiative, to make it easier for close allies to purchase U.S. weapons. (See ACT, June 2000.) One of the initiatives allows countries to be exempted from licensing requirements for unclassified defense items if they sign a bilateral agreement with the United States.
The Security Assistance Act requires that the bilateral agreement be binding and that the recipient country revise its export controls to be “comparable” with U.S. laws and regulations. In addition, the prospective arms client must agree to obtain “prior written” U.S. government approval to re-export U.S.-supplied items to third countries, and it must consent to end-use and retransfer control commitments, such as permitting the United States to verify the location and use of exported U.S. weapons. Congress drafted the new criteria because legislators felt the executive branch had bypassed them with the May initiative.
In a further move aimed at increasing congressional oversight of U.S. arms exports, the act requires annual reports on all arms exports made through U.S. commercial channels. Previously, the Department of State only needed to report on approved licenses for commercial arms sales but not deliveries, whereas the Pentagon was already required to report on both agreements and deliveries it concludes under the Foreign Military Sales program.