- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

As the Bush administration and Congress consider ways in which to respond to the increasing belligerence of Communist China that was so much in evidence in the EP-3 affair, one idea unlikely to top the list is the idea of giving the Peoples Liberation Army a massive new infusion of militarily relevant U.S. high technology.

Yet that would be just one of the untoward effects of legislation Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican and Senate Banking Committee chairman, hopes get enacted in the next few weeks.

Mr. Gramm is the chief sponsor of S.149, formally known as the Export Administration Act (EAA). Its working title, however, should be the "Hi-Tech for China" bill since Beijing will be one of the principal beneficiaries of the emasculation S.149 proposes for what remains of U.S. controls on the sale of sensitive equipment and know-how.

This bill is basically a reprise of legislation (S.1712) that Mr. Gramm introduced in the last Congress. Fortunately, that version died aborning despite the Texan´s considerable clout, forceful personality and intensive lobbying on the part of U.S. firms weary of government regulations that interfere with their ability to sell whatever they want to whomever has the necessary cash. Their list includes such militarily useful equipment as: supercomputers, fiber optics, advanced telecommunications switching and routing gear, heat-resistant alloys and carbon-carbon materials, sophisticated machine tools and stealth technology.

Mr. Gramm was stymied last time around by a combination of factors. The most important of these was that national security-minded legislators strenuously opposed his effort to eliminate the vestiges of a real export control regime that survived the Clinton-Gore administration´s wrecking operation. Led by Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, senior members of the Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees were able to thwart the chairman of the Banking Committee even though his panel enjoys tremendous institutional advantages under Senate jurisdictional arrangements. (Having a committee dominated by export promoters write export-control laws is about as ill-advised as having the Treasury Department´s champions of foreign investment run the interagency process charged with assessing the national security implications of overseas firms´ purchases of sensitive U.S. companies. The proverbial foxes guarding the latter chicken coop see no harm, for example, in approving the pending sale of Silicon Valley Group the last U.S. manufacturer of high-end lithography equipment critical to the mass production of state-of-the-art electronic equipment.)

To their credit, Mr. Thompson and the Republican chairmen of the three national security committees (Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, John Warner of Virginia and Richard Shelby of Alabama , respectively) together with the chairman of the influential Senate Republican Steering Committee, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona have sallied forth once again to resist S.149. They argue persuasively that this bill "will reduce the ability of the United States government to maintain effective export controls on American-made products that can be used for civilian and military uses (so-called dual-use products)."

They are alarmed as should be all Americans at the provisions in the Gramm bill (whose other prime-mover is Sen. Mike Enzi, Wyoming Republican) that would require the commerce secretary to decontrol any item that is deemed to be available "in volume" in the country that produces it. As Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control recently noted in the Los Angeles Times: "[Electronic switches that can be used as] nuclear weapon triggers, carbon fibers [that can make warhead nose cones more lethal] and maraging steel [needed for nuclear weapon-related centrifuges] are all available in volume in the United States, but that doesn´t mean they are readily available to countries trying to build the bomb."

The Commerce Secretary would also be obliged to decontrol any technology that "controlled" countries could buy from "sources outside the United States." Taken to its logical conclusion, if the Russians (or our allies) are willing to sell sensitive dual-use technology to China, then U.S. companies should be able to compete for such deals. For that matter, if German firms want to sell Libya or Iran chemical warfare-related equipment (as they have done in the past), or the North Koreans are prepared to provide ballistic missile technology to those or other rogue states (as they are doing now), shouldn´t Americans be able to get a piece of the action?

Presumably, President Bush´s response would be a resounding "No." Yet, the Gramm-Enzi bill would significantly interfere with his authority to prevent such U.S. sales. To do so, he would have to intervene personally and make a number of burdensome findings in order to overrule a determination of mass market or foreign availability made by his commerce secretary. The latter would be triggered upon the petition of any "interested party" (read, "interested" in making a dubious sale of heretofore controlled equipment to a controlled end-user). Even then, the president´s objection could only stand for 18 months.

In the aftermath of the Chinese wake-up call near Hainan Island, it would be the height of folly not to say of ignominy were the Gramm-Enzi "Hi-Tech for China" bill to become law. This is particularly true in light of the second thoughts being expressed by many in Congress who had previously believed nothing was more important than opening China´s markets to American sales of non-dual-use goods and services.

Under these circumstances to say nothing of the even worse ones the People´s Liberation Army evidently has in mind for American interests down the road it is hard to believe that majorities on Capitol Hill and President Bush will agree effectively to clear the way for the wholesale distribution of militarily relevant U.S. products to Communist China and its friends.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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