Winking at Proliferation

The Washington Post
August 16, 1992, p. C2

Why Are U.S. Firms Still Able to Aid the Mideast Missile Race?

The Bush administration this summer has missed a major opportunity to slow the spread of missiles in the Third World. In June, it published a list that purports to name the world’s most dangerous rocket projects so that U.S. firms would not sell material of any sort to them. However, after political arm-twisting by several foreign governments, the administration has deleted the names of every dangerous project in the Mideast. The effect of this, bafflingly, is to let U.S. firms continue selling missile-related technology not only to Israel, but to its rivals.

Among the nations and projects listed in the original Commerce Department tally but dropped from the final list are: Egypt’s upgraded Scud and Condor II missiles; Iraq’s Scud-B, Al-Husayn, Al-Abbas, Condor II and Tammuz missiles, and Al-Abid rocket; Israel’s Jericho I and II missiles and Shavit space launcher; Libya’s upgraded Scud and Al-Fatah missiles; and Syria’s upgraded Scuds. Also dropped were Argentina’s Condor I and II missiles and Alacran rockets. President Carlos Menem pledged to end the Condor II program, but it remains an active component of his nation’s unneeded space-launch program.

To be sure, some of these deletions are theoretical — total embargoes are in effect in such countries as Iraq. But the deletions mean that U.S. firms can continue to fan missile proliferation, especially in the Middle East, by selling equipment and technology while claiming they do not know which projects are missile efforts.

U.S. law forbids U.S. firms from selling anything — even a pencil sharpener — to a project that they “know” is missile-related, unless they obtain an export license from the Commerce Department. The procedure is intended to give Commerce direct oversight of any exports to dangerous projects. But the only way for an exporter to “know” legally is through the newly published — and now deeply flawed — list.

The new list is an example of unsavory political favoritism. For example, by omitting the potent Jericho II missile, which has a range that allows it to reach every Mideast capital, the administration winks at Israel’s diversion of U.S. technology to the missile effort.

The list also winks at Israel’s agreement to develop the Jericho jointly with South Africa, and that is because the administration’s list is also nonsensical. Though it leaves out the Jericho, it names South Africa’s “Surface-to-Surface Missile Project” — which is Pretoria’s half of the Jericho project.

The list’s same lack of logic is at work in other international missile projects. While leaving out Syria’s short-range missiles, for example, the list names North Korea’s “Scud Development Project,” which is virtually identical. North Korea is selling short-range Scuds to Syria as fast as it can. The list also fails to mention Syria’s medium-range missiles, but names China’s medium-range “M Series Missiles,” even though the technology to make them is being sold to Damascus by Beijing.

The Israelis fought the administration’s 1991 version of the list because it did name the Jericho, their premier missile. After caving in to Israeli demands that the Jericho be excluded, the administration felt forced to exclude projects underway in Egypt, Libya and Syria because, administration officials told me privately, it would have been politically embarrassing to do otherwise.

The task of compiling the list divided the administration. On one side were officials whose job is to stop proliferation; on the other were the country desk officers at the State Department, whose job is to maintain good relations with the countries on the list. “We went back and forth for more than a year,” said one official close to the debate, “and ‘the desks’ finally won.”

The result did not please the exporters. “It shows that the president’s program lacks clear objectives,” asserts one exporter. “It doesn’t really achieve any foreign policy goals.” In fact, American exporters are the loudest proponents of a better list that would enable them to tell safe buyers from the risky ones.

To be truly useful, the list should name the various companies, institutes, “research” enterprises and other entities that are the actual buyers of equipment for missile programs.

Some examples would be: Israel’s Technion University, which has helped design the Jericho II’s re-entry vehicle, and Israel Military Industries, which makes the Jericho’s rocket motors; and the Indian Institute of Science and the Institute of Technology, which are studying such things as stresses on rocket bodies and computer modeling of solid rocket fuel performance.

In Brazil, the Embraer company, an arm of the Brazilian Air Force, and another firm, Orbita, are trying to turn Brazil’s Sonda IV space launcher into an intermediate-range, nuclear-capable missile.

The administration is now said to be considering adding such companies and institutes by name to the June list. But there is still a black hole in place of the rocket projects of Argentina and the Mideast.

A detailed list from the administration would be a message to the world. All exporters — foreign and domestic — would rely on it. Foreign governments would immediately feel the pressure to incorporate the list into their own laws. The result could be a lot less missile proliferation. If Saddam Hussein has taught us anything, it is that half-hearted export controls don’t work.