AMERICA'S technology export policy is walking a fine line between good faith and bad policy. The fact that Saddam Hussein built his missile infrastructure with United States and European technology means that Washington and its allies will have to put tough controls in place. Export oversight is provided currently by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a set of international guidelines created in April 1987 without congressional approval.
With a range of options available to control the spread of missile technology, MTCR imposed controls that provided international exporters with numerous loopholes. Britain, Canada, France, West Germany, Italy, and Japan joined the United States as signatories to the MTCR agreement.
Companies in every MTCR nation exploited loopholes in the regime to sell Saddam dual-use technology that was used in the Iraqi missile program.
Brazil's weak export laws gave Saddam and European vendors a safe venue to develop technology for Iraq's medium-range missiles, which were cloned from designs of Soviet-pioneered Scuds.
Engineered by Brazilian and Iraqi experts and subsidiaries of European companies in Brazil, this military technology was re-exported under the pretext of civilian use to Iraq, where it was then assembled into guided missiles.
A major problem of MTCR is that its guidelines are interpreted and applied inconsistently by each of the signatories. For example, missile-related technologies manufactured by US companies that are posted on the MTCR "restricted list" can be exported at any time on the authority of the president. MTCR allows chief executives of other signatory nations to exercise the same authority.
An additional problem in enforcing MTCR is the refusal of officials who license technology exports to provide information on prospective deals.
Officials say that they fear such disclosures might undermine the competitive position of their national industries.
As a result, legislators and journalists are unable to determine whether pending or consummated sales of "restricted list" technology items may represent a violation of MTCR guidelines.
The Bush administration is developing new guidelines for an enhanced regime to control the spread of missile, chemical, and biological warfare technologies. But this slow-moving process is merely a modification of the old, weak MTCR supplier controls.
Herein lies the Catch-22. Although reports of how US and international companies provided Saddam with sensitive technology surface every day, the process of regulating the spread of missile and other militarily useful technologies is caught in a stalemate between arms control advocates and free traders who seek to do business as usual.
The Nonproliferation and Arms Transfer Control Act recently proposed by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona seeks to link tough sanctions with MTCR noncompliance and strengthen US export review and licensing procedures. Similar legislation was proposed by Senator McCain last year, but was blocked by the Commerce and State Departments.
The Bush administration has argued that the proposed sanctions are too broad, and that they impinge on the president's discretion to evaluate missile sales on a case-by-case basis. For their part, European nations may be more inclined to support a multilateral approach than comply with unilateral actions imposed from Washington.
To restore confidence in the missile-controls process, the US must take the lead by negotiating a treaty that combines MTCR guidelines with stringent reporting requirements and stiff financial penalties for corporate violators.
This expanded regime should include the current MTCR parties as well as the Soviet Union, China, and the leading missile producers in the developing world.
AN alternative approach might create a new multinational enforcement agency to oversee international missile technology transfer and peaceful space programs.
This new oversight agency can revitalize the controls on technology transfer that were eroded by the collapse of the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe and the improvement in US-USSR relations.
Since the MTCR lacks an administrative body, an enhanced MTCR regime could complement the confidence- and security-building measures developed by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).
The CSCE's 1990 follow-up meetings in Vienna created an extensive framework of procedures for CSCE members to exchange military information, offer prior notification of certain military activities, and ensure compliance with and verification of confidence- and security-building measures.
While the 1990 Vienna document concentrated on monitoring conventional forces in Europe, members of the CSCE could readily develop a mechanism to share information on the commerce in missile technology.
Once up and running, the revitalized MTCR could be expanded to include nations outside of the CSCE, such as China, Brazil, India, and other significant missile builders in the developing world.
It is clearly in the national security interest of the US and that of its allies to penalize the sellers as well as the buyers of mass destruction technologies who act in violation of international treaties and control regimes.
The new rules of the game should close the loopholes that enable industrial nations to use the sale of dual-use technology to arm developing nations who measure power solely by military force.