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Export Control Review Launched
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Jeff Abramson

The White House last month announced it was launching a major review of the U.S. export control system, and the chairman of a key congressional committee said he hoped to introduce new legislation at the beginning of next year that would replace a central component of that system.

The announcement by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of his plan to introduce a new Export Administration Act (EAA) in early 2010 came Aug. 13, the same day the White House issued its statement. The EAA, which was enacted in 1979, expired in 1989 and has been renewed by interim congressional and executive branch measures since then.

As initially outlined, the administration’s review will be broader than the congressional effort. Both will consider dual-use goods, many of which are covered by the EAA. Dual-use goods are items, technology, and information that have both military and civilian uses. But the administration also is seeking to tackle trade in weapons.

President Barack Obama directed the National Security Council and National Economic Council to open an interagency process “to consider reforms…to enhance the national security, foreign policy, and economic interests of the United States,” according to the White House statement. No specific list has yet been developed to accomplish this broad mandate, a congressional source said in an Aug. 20 interview. Such a comprehensive review would involve at least the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and State, all of which hold major responsibilities within the export control system. According to the source, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with Obama earlier this summer to convince him of the need for the review. The source also indicated that the review has the backing of national security adviser James Jones and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher.

The Defense and State Departments lead implementation of the 1976 Arms Export Control Act (AECA). That statute defines the purposes for which weapons may be transferred to other countries and establishes reporting and notification requirements for proposed and completed arms sales. In implementing the AECA, the State Department maintains the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which contains a munitions list of all weapons regulated by the department.

The Commerce Department is the lead agency in regulating dual-use items under the EAA, using a control list found in Export Administration Regulations. Numerous efforts have been made to reform the EAA. Since it first expired in 1989, the act has been reauthorized by Congress for short periods, the last one ending in 2001, or extended by presidential authority. In the Aug. 13 statement, the White House announced the use of presidential powers to extend the Commerce Department’s export control authority for another year.

One frequent criticism of the U.S. export system is that many of the lists are outdated; another is that it does not adequately protect national security. The White House statement called the U.S. system “one of the most robust…in the world” but criticized it as “rooted in the Cold Ear era of over 50 years ago.”

Berman, in his statement, cited a need for export controls to be “responsive to the challenges of the modern globalized world.”

According to the congressional source, the foreign affairs panel will hold hearings in the fall and winter in an effort to meet Berman’s goal of introducing a bill in early 2010. The source also said that the White House and congressional efforts would be conducted “in parallel and coordination.”

Although expansive, the reviews are not expected to take on broader conventional arms transfer policies, according to the source. Those policies were last set in 1995 by President Bill Clinton and establish the goals for U.S. conventional arms transfers. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)

Posted: September 4, 2009