Technology & Trade
Op-Ed

A slippery slope: Will foreign companies start ditching American dual-use tech?

By Scott Jones Author

This op-ed was published in Defense News

Largely the result of European space and defense manufacturer design outs, the “U.S. International Trade in Arms Regulations-free” movement began in the 1990s. Since that time, the ITAR-free movement has diffused into other industry sectors and regions. For example, in 2017, the German Ministry of Defence announced tenders for new assault rifles for the German armed forces. The tender included an ITAR-free exclusion criterion not only for the rifles but for supplies as well. India’s space program is working with vendors on the basis of ITAR-free systems.

The ITAR are a set of government regulations administering the export, re-export and import of defense-related articles, services and technology on the U.S. Munitions List, or USML. ITAR controls are highly stringent, so much so that the Obama administration in 2010 initiated the Export Control Reform Initiative to streamline controls to make them both effective and to increase American competitiveness.

As the U.S. government controls the re-export of USML items, the ITAR are an internationally well-known quantity. In many instances, foreign defense product producers and consumers know the ITAR more intimately than their U.S. counterparts. Transferring or re-exporting U.S. defense items requires U.S. government approval no matter how seemingly trivial the part or mundane the transfer. The practical effect of ITAR requirements makes U.S. defense items very sticky and cumbersome; therefore: the ITAR-free movement.

In terms of other strategic items, the U.S. Department of Commerce licenses the exports of dual-use components in a similar manner, albeit to a much more nuanced degree. The Export Administration Regulations, or EAR, require consumers of U.S.-origin dual-use items to seek licenses for re-exports and transfers of said items depending upon the amount of U.S.-origin technology/components and/or the proposed destination of the transfer. In contrast to ITAR controls, EAR re-export and retransfer controls are simultaneously more complicated, but more flexible.

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