- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

Just as Congress is poised to authorize the use of force against Iraq because of its continued development of weapons of mass destruction, the House is about to consider legislation that will make it far easier for rogue regimes to acquire technology to build such weapons.

Passage of this bill, the Export Administration Act, would seriously hamper the president's ability to carry out his new national security strategy aimed at pre-emptively dealing with threats to the United States. Yet, some in Congress and, remarkably enough, in the administration are determined to push the bill through at the end of the congressional session.

The Senate passed the Export Administration Act just five days before the September 11 attacks. The bill was troubling enough then. But today, it is astonishing: It clearly does not reflect the fact that the world in which we live has changed dramatically over the past year.

The September 11 attacks made it obvious that those who hate freedom and democracy are willing to use any means to inflict mass casualties upon innocent civilian populations. And these terrorists would like nothing more than to obtain weapons of mass destruction to murder more innocent people. These unfortunate realities are the main impetus behind President Bush's strategy of pre-emption. It seems to us that 3,000 civilian deaths, a radical new national security strategy and an impending war are cause to rethink a bill that passed before September 11.

In addition, the U.S. government has released a number of recent reports that document how deficiencies in the U.S. export control system are exacerbating the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, the bipartisan U.S.-China Security Review Commission concluded that the United States is a contributor to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction due in part to the relaxation of its export-control policies.

The pending Export Administration Act would only make matters worse. Administration officials recently confirmed that Iraq has sought to acquire thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which they believe were intended for use in Baghdad's nuclear weapons program, as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. Under the bill, these aluminum tubes meet the criteria for "mass market" status and would be decontrolled. U.S. companies would thus be free to sell them without an export license.

Essentially, the bill requires the secretary of commerce to decontrol these "mass market" items (items that are available in large quantities in the United States). The president can make a determination that the item should remain controlled, but he must do so every six months. Items supposedly available from foreign sources are similarly decontrolled. For these technologies with "foreign availability" status, the president can maintain controls only for 18 months, after which the item is free for export without a license

The long list of items that meet one or both of these standards includes maraging steel, which serves a purpose similar to that of the aluminum tubes, nuclear weapon triggers, and glass and carbon fibers used in ballistic and cruise missiles.

As Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, recently informed the House Armed Services Committee, "It is manifestly absurd to decontrol the same technologies that we are worried about Saddam Hussein importing."

The danger in weakening our export-control system is also illustrated by another recent case. Last year, press reports surfaced that the Chinese firm, Huawei Technologies, assisted Iraq with fiberoptics to improve its air defense system. This is the same fiberoptic network that allied pilots in the no-fly zones have been bombing since last year.

During the 1990s, Huawei bought a number of dual-use items from the United States, such as high-performance computers and telecommunications equipment, including switches, chips and digital signal processing technologies. In other words, U.S. pilots are threatened by an Iraqi air defense network that could very well contain U.S. technology.

It is important that we develop a new export-control regime to regulate the flow of dual-use technologies from American companies to foreign sources in view of the new realities. A new Export Administration Act must find the appropriate balance between national security and trade. But it is clear that the bill currently being pushed through Congress is not the right vehicle to do so. Though it was crafted just over a year ago, it was, nonetheless, designed for a different era. Our country is now at war, and prudence demands that national security not be sacrificed for potential commercial gain.


Sens. Jesse Helms (North Carolina), Jon Kyl (Arizona), John McCain (Arizona), Richard Shelby (Alabama), and Bob Smith (New Hampshire) and Fred Thompson (Tennessee) are all Republicans.

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