Revolutions are rarely tidy affairs.
Back in 2005, in the belly of the U.S. Capitol, a senior aerospace and defense industry executive was busy pleading the case for Washington to acknowledge that the world existed. Centuries after scientists, philosophers and theologians posited as much, Beltway officials and lawmakers were still lagging behind, especially when it came to export controls and all-things trade oriented.
"If cross-border relationships are anti-American, the defense industry didn't get the memo," he reminded lawmakers, aides and reporters. U.S. industry had responded to the global marketplace and expanded internationally, so U.S. leaders should rethink domestic-oriented mandates. "It's a little late for someone to say that we don't want you to do it.”
Such is the case now with the Obama administration’s export controls review and the Senate’s consideration of ground-breaking trade cooperation treaties with the U.K. and Australia. The time is coming to take the next step, according to the editorial in our latest edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology, and here’s why.
Nearly half of U.S. aerospace sales are exported, and nearly half of the U.S. industry’s workforce depends on those exports, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. As the Pentagon looks to underpin its industrial base and allies look for reassurance and cooperation in this global economic crisis and post-9/11 world, ratifying the treaties would do both while laying a cornerstone for greater export licensing reforms.
How so? For starters, the chief executives of more than 100 prime and subtier companies support the administration’s review and they recently identified long-term areas for improvement, while London and Canberra remain firmly behind the two-year-old treaties despite overhauls in their own ruling parties. Boeing and Northrop Grumman may be at each other’s throats over the USAF aerial refueling tanker, and the U.K. and U.S. may still disagree over controlling technology in the Joint Strike Fighter, but all agree that these steps must be taken for the whole community to thrive.
Second, there is the acknowledgement of the damage done already. As other nations have developed capabilities for space launch and manufactured their own commercial satellites, for instance, the U.S. share of commercial launches has decreased dramatically while so-called ITAR-free items proliferate overseas. It is folly to believe the same would not occur with unmanned vehicles or most other new aerospace innovations now emerging.
Indeed, allied exploitation of unmanned aircraft is now running up against restrictions based in the missile technology control regime from the 1980s. The international regime placed a particular focus on unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a distance of at least 300 km – enough to snare certain aerostats, according to AIA. The MTCR is not a treaty, but a voluntary arrangement among member countries sharing a common interest in controlling missile proliferation, the State Dept. says. To handcuff U.S. dominance in this arena could lead to a similar fate as commercial satellites.
Finally, ratifying the treaties and adopting some proposed reforms by industry are steps that can be taken now. It is a maxim that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, and while these steps should not be the end of reform, the benefits derived from them will help prove that change is beneficial and more is needed.
The Senate thus far has not passed the treaties ostensibly due to concerns over balance-of-power issues between Congress and the White House, while lawmakers from both parties across the Capitol have raised the volume of Buy American efforts in light of the recession.
But it is disingenuous to shield a local company or workforce while expounding on the virtues of global partnership, such as in Afghanistan or on climate change. And it is wrong to withhold the opportunity to move forward just to hold on to past authority. Not all of the industry’s recommendations deserve immediate enactment, and the administration should do a better job of publicizing how the treaties work – especially in monitoring trade violations and enforcing punishments – but the time to take the next steps has arrived.
Let the revolution begin.