WASHINGTON-While congressional and Justice Department investigators concentrate on whether satellite technology transfers helped Communist China improve its nuclear missile capability, the United States quietly is leading an effort to decontrol all telecommunications technology by this fall.

The so-called Wassenaar Arrangement, named after the Dutch town where it was created in 1996, is a little-known, high-tech export monitoring regime that replaced the 17-member Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Controls in 1996.

Wassenaar is viewed by some as much weaker than its predecessor, COCOM.

“If this proposal goes through, it will result in free and open access by even the rogue states to state-of-the-art optical fibers, transmission equipment, switches, high-speed, computer networks, advanced encryption, etc., which forms the backbone of military battle management, air defense, command and control, missile launch and joint R&D development efforts,” said Peter Leitner, a senior analyst with the Defense Technology Security Administration, in congressional testimony this month.

DTSA, a unit of the Defense Department, advises the Pentagon on technology transfers related to national security with an eye toward preventing nuclear proliferation.

It was DTSA’s review of the post-1996 launch failure assessment by Loral Corp. and Hughes Electronics Co. that sparked the Justice Department investigation and opened the floodgates to a series of congressional probes on China technology transfers that Republicans would like to use against Democrats in fall elections.

“On several levels,” said DTSA’s Leitner, “what passes for an export control system has been hijacked by longtime ideological opponents of the very concept of export controls.”

More recently, a classified U.S. Air Force report suggested cooperation between Motorola Inc. and China on Iridium global launches improved China’s nuclear missile capability. Motorola denies it transferred sensitive technology to China.

Motorola, Loral (which is also building a global satellite phone network), Hughes (which supplies terrestrial wireless infrastructure) and others in the Satellite Industry Association are lobbying Congress to kill a provision in a House-Senate defense bill conference that would ban further satellite technology exports to China.

Republicans charge the Clinton administration, which abolished COCOM and shifted high-tech export licensing oversight from the State Department to the Commerce Department in 1996, compromised national security as a result of a zealous trade policy tainted by illegal Democratic campaign contributions.

“Senate investigators have found that sensitive technology related to satellite exports has been transferred to China … in violation of stated U.S. policy,” said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “China has received military benefit from U.S. satellite exports.”

The harsh criticism could come back to bite GOP lawmakers, though, in California, Arizona and other states whose economies could feel the pinch of a satellite export ban.

Top Clinton administration officials like Frank Miller, deputy assistant defense secretary, John Holum, acting undersecretary of state for arms control, and Commerce export specialist William Reinsch argue there are adequate national security safeguards in place.

Moreover, they say the global commercialization will leverage political and economic reforms that discourage heavy military spending and nuclear buildup.

“It’s false,” said Michael Ledeen, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He disputes the administration’s contention that had the United States not supplied high technology to China, someone else would. Ledeen pointed out that in the early 1990s China had no super computers and today it has more than 100, all made in America.

“I think the Clinton trade policy [produced] a quantum jump” in technology transfers, said Ledeen. “I think there is a whole generation with no sensitivity to military security.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Editorial Reports

White Papers


Featured Content