- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

Congress has long had a knack for micromanaging national security policy into unworkable programs. But hara-kiri seems to be the latest fad for some congressional masochists.

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair was America’s most loyal ally when President Bush decided to invade Iraq with a view to regime change. He risked his political career, battled his own hostile Labor Party and dispatched to Iraq the second-largest contingent of troops after the U.S. Republican senators decided this was worthy of tangible recognition. Britain and Australia were to be exempt from State Department rules requiring that U.S. companies get special licenses for exporting unclassified military technologies.

The waiver was written in to the 2005 defense authorization bill, which the Senate voted last Oct. 9. But it was dropped in conference when two distinguished but geopolitically astigmatic Republican representatives — Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the House Armed Services panel — decided Britain was not entitled to anything.

With everyone on the Hill impatient to get on the campaign trails, the xenophobic partners defied Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican, and his Armed Services Committee and President Bush — and convinced Tony Blair it was time to reassess the special Anglo-American relationship.

Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Democrat Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, chairman and ranking minority member respectively of the Foreign Relations Committee, stood by Mr. Warner on the need to exempt Britain and Australia from an obsolete, cumbersome Cold War licensing process.

While British soldiers risk their lives and shed blood in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Mr. Blair risked his political career, some Republican legislators do not trust the United Kingdom to prevent weapons from showing up on the global black market arms market. Evidently, it didn’t occur to them that arms could be stolen in the United States as well. Nor do they seem to understand the benefits of trans-Atlantic technology transfers. British and French defense firms have opened plants in the United States that employ some 36,000 Americans.

So internationally tone-deaf are Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hunter, they didn’t realize they had set in motion a shift in the tectonic plates of geopolitics. Vis a vis his own Labor Party, Mr. Blair had little choice but to plan retaliatory action against the U.S.

This week, the special relationship was cast aside as Britain lifted its longstanding opposition to scrapping the European Union’s embargo on selling arms to China. What was a solid, united Bush-Blair front against military sales to China was suddenly in tatters, scuttled by two Republican congressmen.

Apparently, no one on Mr. Bush’s foreign policy team warned him about the consequences of the Hunter-Hyde two-step into the unknown. And Mr. Blair himself simply explained to Mr. Bush that Britain could no longer be the lone holdout in EU against selling weapons to China. To mollify his White House friend, Mr. Blair assured Mr. Bush no hardware would be sold to China that might upset the delicate balance between China and Taiwan.

Unaware of what motivated Tony Blair, Mr. Hunter and Mr. Hyde will now find a new pretext to limit access to the U.S. market by further throttling technological cooperation between the United States and European defense manufacturers. This does not bode well for Mr. Bush’s plans to fly to Brussels Feb. 22 to mend fences with traditional allies and launch a new beginning in the trans-Atlantic relationship.

Under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, U.S. companies are legally bound to obtain a license from the State Department to export military equipment, services and data controlled by ITAR — the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Thus, State processes almost 60,000 license applications yearly.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and its NATO allies have worked more closely together to develop and build weapons systems. This also enables the United States to defray development costs. The $245 billion Joint Strike Fighter program, for example, involves work in Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Turkey and Canada, countries that have kicked in almost $5 billion for development.

European companies have also signed memoranda of understanding for joint development of missile defense systems, which the United States has also done with Israel for the Arrow antimissile project.

President Clinton first proposed an ITAR waiver in 2000 for U.S. defense firms trading in unclassified technology with British and Australian firms. Henry Hyde quickly responded with the Security Assistance Act of 2000, designed to curtail what the president could exempt.

The Bush White House followed up in 2001 and 2002 to obtain ITAR waivers, but Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hunter manned the congressional roadblock. Mr. Bush was convinced troop commitments from Britain and Australia would soften his Republican opponents.

Both Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hunter developed blocking tactics that stymied in quick succession a Lugar bill followed by a Warner waiver in the 2004 defense bill. Finally, Mr. Warner prevailed in the 2005 authorization act. But Messrs. Hunter and Hyde were waiting in ambush and again spiked the administration’s guns.

A senior British BAE executive said privately, “I have never seen Tony Blair so angry. British papers keelhauled him for getting nothing from the U.S. in return for his Iraqi commitment to Bush. And he patiently waited for an opportunity to show the White House and Congress that Britain is bulldog, not poodle.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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