Let's not be Saddam's Shopping Mall
Talk about ironic.
Thanks to legislation sneaking through Congress, rogue leaders and
military competitors around the world soon may wind up with a new
source for many of the key components they need to build weapons of mass destruction
: the United States.
The bill in question, the Export Administration Act, now before the
House of Representatives, would significantly loosen export
controls over so-called dual-use technologies -- manufacturing
processes and other products with civilian and military uses.
Perhaps the most well-known example is the aluminum tubing that has
topped Saddam Hussein's shopping list in recent months. It's a
product that can be used to make bicycles -- or nuclear
Some of these technologies can be obtained only from the United
States. In those instances where other nations have such
technology, we work with them to keep these processes and products
out of the hands of rogue leaders.
The bill has received scant attention from a press and a public
focused on high-profile Washington battles such as the Iraq policy
resolution and the homeland security bill. Yet this under-the-radar
legislation would allow U.S. companies to export products that
could make it far easier for Saddam or similarly sinister leaders
to build up their war-making capabilities. In essence, we'd be
helping the very people we may well find ourselves fighting.
Supporters of the Export Administration Act say letting these
products be exported reduces their costs to Americans and that
they're intended for non-military uses only. Besides, they say, if
we don't sell them, competitors in Germany or France will.
How pragmatic. But the fact is, we have no control over how
products get used once they're sold overseas, and we can't control
what other countries choose to export. As for the costs, let's face
it: When it comes to our security, surely it's worth paying higher
prices if it means keeping the Saddam Husseins of the world from
developing even more powerful weapons of mass murder.
But, supporters reply, we can't sell these products to Saddam
anyway, because our embargo against Iraq forbids it. Yet once these
products leave the United States, what control do we have over how
they may be used? Ask Siemens, the German firm that legally sold
Saddam krytron electronic switches, which doctors use to break up
kidney stones. Only when Saddam tried to order 120 more for "spare
parts" did it occur to the firm that these switches also can be
used to trigger nuclear devices.
In addition to loosening control over sensitive export items, the
Export Administration Act would significantly diminish the
authority of the State Department and Defense Department to decide
which products shouldn't be exported. State and Defense always have
taken the lead in this area precisely because these products, when
exported without the appropriate safety controls, threaten American
security. Experts in both departments often know of military uses
that trade officials wouldn't conceive of.
The Export Administration Act was written before the Sept. 11
attacks, so it's not surprising to find that it now needs some
serious revision. Export controls provide a critical first line of
defense against weapons of mass destruction. In a post-9/11 world,
these controls should not be administered by the Commerce
Department, whose mission is to encourage trade.
Normally, of course, there's nothing wrong with trade. But many of
the products for which Saddam has scoured the earth in recent years
-- the aluminum tubes, the triggers, carbon fibers and other
products useful for constructing nuclear weapons -- would be
considered "mass market items" under the legislation and thus fit
for export without restriction. That's simply unacceptable.
Congress needs to give American officials concerned with security,
as well as those involved with trade, veto power over the export of
militarily sensitive items. It also should restore vigorous
enforcement of our export rules and work with our trading partners
to prevent these technologies from falling into the wrong
Will nations such as North Korea, China, Iraq and Iran keep trying
to develop weapons of mass destruction? Yes, and we shouldn't do
anything to make it easier for them to do so.
Lenin went to his grave believing one day the West would sell its
adversaries the rope with which it would be hanged. Let's not prove
Wortzel is director of the Asian Studies Center at The
Heritage Foundation. From 1984 to 1988, he worked in the office of
the Secretary of Defense on issues involving counterintelligence
and technology security.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire