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U.S. Arms Export Controls "Reforms" 

Background | U.S. Government Information | Project Publications | Other Publications

Background

For many years, arms export control policy was based on preservation of national security and the need for allies to keep weapons technology out of the hands of Eastern Bloc countries.  With the end of the Cold War, arms export control has become more complicated and difficult. The post-Cold War global arms market is extremely competitive; defense firms compete for an ever-greater share of a smaller pie. Partly in response to this competition, the defense industry has put tremendous pressure on the U.S. government to speed up the arms export licensing process, which industry claims is too slow and therefore threatens its market share.

At the same time, the need for rigorous export controls has never been greater. Arms traffickers roam the planet looking for weapons and defense technologies that they can sell, at a huge profit, to rogue states, terrorists and other dangerous individuals and groups. Preventing these individuals and countries from acquiring U.S. defense technology is the primary objective of the licensing process that industry seeks to streamline. Thus, government agencies responsible for controlling arms exports are confronted with the unenviable task of balancing industry's demands for decontrol with the need to keep dangerous technologies out of the hands of unauthorized end-users.

The defense industry's efforts began to bear fruit in May 2000, when the Clinton administration unvieled the the Defense Trade Security Initiative - a set of changes to the arms export licensing system designed to expedite weapons exports to NATO members, Japan, and Australia, and to increase cooperation between European and American weapons manufacturers.  These changes ranged from creating new export licenses for entire weapons systems to expediting license reviews for NATO members. The most far reaching reform would be to exempt favored allies from some arms export license requirements in exchange for modifications to their export licensing systems (the U.S. government is trying to encourage other states to tighten their export controls by offering them license-free U.S. weapons exports as a reward).

The Arms Sales Monitoring Project is concerned that the defense industry's push to reduce restrictions on arms exports, even to allied countries, will increase the likelihood that US weapons will be diverted to agents of rogue regimes, terrorists and criminals. Below is a collection of our analysis, along with relevant media reports and government documents.

U.S. Government Information
Details about government "reform" measures

  • Testimony of Robert W. Maggi, Managing Director of the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations of the House Committee on Government Reform, March 9, 2004. Response to the GAO's findings in report 04-175.
  • Testimony of Lt. Gen. Tome Walters, Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations of the House Committee on Government Reform, March 9, 2004.
  • Testimony of Lisa Bronson, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Technology Security Policy and Counterproliferation, Department of Defense, before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations of the House Committee on Government Reform, March 9, 2004.
  • Testimony of Joseph A. Christoff, Director, International Affairs and Trade Team, GAO, before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations of the House Committee on Government Reform, March 9, 2004.
  • Testimony of Matthew Borman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Export Administration, Department of Commerce, before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations of the House Committee on Government Reform, March 9, 2004.
  • The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency maintains a page on its efforts to reform the Foreign Military Sales program, in order to speed up the arms export process and make it more accessible to foreign recipients. 
  • The Wassenaar Arrangement is the current multilateral body charged with coordinating conventional arms export policy.  

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