- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

To his credit, President George W. Bush used his trip to Europe last weekend to promote a new agenda for post-Iraq relations between the world’s leading industrial powers: A redoubled effort to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to the remaining rogue state regimes and the terrorist organizations they sponsor and arm. It would be highly desirable if, as Mr. Bush suggested, past strains in alliance relations could give way to concerted joint action on what should clearly be an item of shared interest.

The problem lies with “should.” A number of the countries whose leaders the president met with in recent days — notably, France, Germany,Russia and China — have at times perceived their interests very differently. Their governments and/or companies have repeatedly been discovered treating sales to would-be proliferators of technologies relevant to the production of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and their delivery systems as more important priorities than preventing such dangerous transfers.

The obligations such suppliers have assumed not to proliferate WMDs usually cause them to undertake these transfers with stealth and to deny their occurrence when challenged. Calculating the full magnitude of the damage thus caused is, therefore, tricky.

One thing is clear, however: Were it not for the strategic and commercial interests industrial countries have sought to advance with their sales to dangerous regimes of “dual-use” technologies (namely, those that might have civilian applications but that are also inherently WMD-relevant), the threat posed by such regimes would be vastly less, and perhaps insignificant.

Unfortunately, President Bush’s laudable effort to encourage other industrialized nations to forgo this sort of trade would be gravely undermined should some in his administration succeed in what can only be described as a counter-counterproliferation initiative. For years, American manufacturers of high-speed computers have been seeking the elimination of all export controls on the sales of their products overseas.

In recent days, legislators who should know better have tried to get Congress to go along. Surprisingly, they have received strong support for doing so from Commerce Secretary Don Evans and even National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

On May 22, the House of Representatives considered an amendment offered by its Rules Committee Chairman David Drier and by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Republican and Democrat respectively from California — home of much of the U.S. computer industry. It would repeal an existing law adopted in the wake of revelations that U.S. supercomputers useful for developing thermonuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and modeling their effects had been sold to dubious foreign entities, including Communist China’s nuclear weapons complex.

The seemingly innocuous change sought by the Drier-Lofgren amendment would end the government’s use of a standard known as MTOPS (short for “millions of theoretical operations per second”) that is used to quantify computer performance and to establish export-control thresholds. The amendment proposes no other standard that could be used for such purposes, however. It also would require that before a new one were adopted, the president would have to consult with several committees of Congress. In short, the practical effect of Reps. Drier and Lofgren’s legislation would be to clear the way for the sale of supercomputers to anyone with the cash to buy them.

Before the House acted on the Drier-Lofgren amendment, its opponents — including Republican Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona and Richard Shelby of Alabama — circulated a point paper that observed, in part:

“U.S. companies can already export — without a license — computers under the 190,000 MTOPS threshold set by the administration [in January 2002, up from the previous level of 85,000 MTOPS]. It is important to note that computers operating at or under this threshold can perform 98 percent of the Defense Department’s military applications. So, for the remaining 2 percent — our most powerful computers — we require a license when the export is going to a country of proliferation concern.”

In addition, the opponents told their colleagues: “Through various notification and reporting requirements, [existing laws] provide for congressional oversight of high-performance computer exports. The General Accounting Office has warned against eliminating this oversight in congressional testimony, noting the lack of adequate national security analyses in administration decisions to reduce restrictions over the export of these computers.”

In the event, the Drier-Lofgren amendment was defeated in the House by a vote of 207-217, despite the support expressed for it in writing by Mr. Evans and Miss Rice. Proponents nonetheless intend to press for its adoption in both congressional chambers in coming weeks.

Given the considerable political muscle of the computer industry — and the lobbying effort it and other would-be exporters of dual-use technology are mounting in the hope of scuttling this and other national security-based impediments to trade that they view as unreasonable — one factor will likely determine the outcome:

Will President Bush allow pandering for campaign contributions from such exporters to trump his counterproliferation agenda — and, by so doing, give every other industrial nation political cover to continue their lucrative transfers of potentially deadly technologies? Or will he see to it that his administration shows by its actions the seriousness of its words about the need to stop trafficking in dual-use equipment and know-how to rogue states and their terrorist 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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