“Our national security requires a wholesale revision of export control policy, a re-evaluation of our arms transfer policy in the Middle East, and a critical review of domestic access to military technology.” – Congressman Howard L. Berman

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee hearing entitled “Export Controls, Arms Sales, and Reform: Balancing U.S. Interests (Part 1).”

In July of 2009 Defense Secretary Gates and National Security Adviser Jones urged President Obama to launch the export control reform initiative that we are reviewing today.

Their concern – which I share – is that our export controls are out-of-date, more unilateral – and therefore less effective – than they were in the past and are fast becoming a burden on our defense industrial base, our scientific leadership, and our national security.

My concern is widely shared among our national security and scientific leaders. Two years ago, the National Research Council published a report which concluded that America’s national security is highly dependent on maintaining our scientific and technological leadership. The committee was co-chaired by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Stanford University President John Hennessy. They were joined by former four-star generals, admirals and senior intelligence officers, university presidents and Nobel Laureates.

In stark terms, these leaders reported that our outmoded export controls were “designed for the Cold War when the United States had global dominance in most areas of science and technology… the current system of export controls now harms our national and homeland security, as well as our ability to compete economically.”

It goes on to state that: “In the name of maintaining superiority, the United States now runs the risk of becoming less competitive and less prosperous; we run the risk of actually weakening our national security. The Cold War mentality of ‘Fortress America’ cripples our ability to confront the very real dangers of altered world conditions.”

The Obama Administration’s Export Control Reform Initiative has taken on the mammoth task of reforming our export control system, and I commend them for doing so.

The Administration formed an interagency task force of all agencies responsible for administering export controls to assess what needed to be done and how to implement changes. This task force has accomplished an astonishing amount of work in the last 18 months, proving that focused and efficient interagency review and planning is indeed possible, under the right leadership. Last week the NSC-led interagency team doing the work on this project was selected as a finalist for one of the most prestigious awards for public service: the Samuel Heyman Service to America Award. They deserve our congratulations and thanks.

I welcome and generally support the Administration’s Export Reform Initiative, although I have questions about some aspects, especially the idea of a “single licensing agency.”

There are also measures that the Congress should take, such as giving the President the flexibility to determine how controls should be applied to exports of commercial satellites and related components. The House passed my provision to accomplish this in the last Congress, with bipartisan support; I hope that the House will approve it again in this Congress.

More broadly, we need to update and revise the Export Administration Act, which lapsed from 1994 to 2000 and again in 2001. Shortly, I will introduce legislation to accomplish that objective.

“Reform” has generally been interpreted in terms of making the military export control system more responsive to exporters, more efficient, and more predictable. But reform is also a call for reassessment, for questioning old assumptions and patterns of thinking.

For example, the “Arab Spring” has shattered old assumptions about the Middle East. It’s a time of hope. But it is also fraught with peril. The region is in turmoil. We all hope that the governments throughout the region will become more democratic and stable, but it’s a real possibility that we’ll see new governments that are less sympathetic to our concerns, and more hostile to Israel, than the current regimes.

It’s time for a new level of caution on what we sell to the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Arms will not promote more democratic regimes. I would be interested in hearing from the witnesses about the additional levels of review that arms sales to this region are now undergoing to lower the risk to the security of the U.S. and our friends and allies, especially Israel.

A second area of caution is that our controls on munitions largely ignore the domestic environment. Persons and companies in the U.S. are able to purchase military items that are controlled for export, without a license and without so much as a background check, so long as the item is not to be exported. This is a godsend to smugglers for Iran and other countries of concern, and a nightmare for Customs agents. Our export control system is, literally, fighting with one arm tied behind its back, if we continue to ignore this loophole. Investigators from the General Accounting Office, using fake identities and front companies, were able to purchase several defense items, including a flight computer for an F-16 aircraft, and ship them outside the United States will no difficulty as commercial mail.

I would be interested in the witnesses’ thoughts on whether it makes sense to set up a system whereby all domestic purchasers of components for significant military equipment – excluding firearms – should be licensed and vetted by the U.S. Government in order to purchase those components, with a easily-accessible database that defense manufacturers and distributors could check before selling to them.

In sum, our national security requires a wholesale revision of export control policy, a re-evaluation of our arms transfer policy in the Middle East, and a critical review of domestic access to military technology.