On January 13, it was reported that Secretary Gates, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, and Acquisitions chief Ash Carter met with Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a top trade lobby comprised of leading defense industry executives (including those of Lockheed and Boeing), to discuss the future of government/industry collaboration.
The meeting comes in the days leading up to the conclusion of the administration's review of export regime controls, commissioned in August 2009 and due for release later this month.
Gates praised the industry for rapidly meeting the Pentagon's needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, including prompt provision of drones and mine-resistant vehicles. He pledged to secure growth in the Defense budget, arguing that the task would be greatly facilitated by an industry that vigilantly cuts costs and delivers provisions on-time.
Gates also threw his full support behind AIA-backed export-regime control reforms. Typically opposed by the Pentagon, Gates' reversal gives new hope to proponents of acquisition and export-control reform. Though he is not the first official to favor the idea - in September 2009, Secretary Clinton and other senior officials (like assistant SecStates Andrew Shapiro and Ellen Tauscher, as well as NSA James Jones) called to remake the notorious ITAR regulations.
The meeting, coupled with the administration's commitment to reshape export controls, raises a few questions:
- How commercially-driven will the White House allow export-regime reform to become?
- How implicated will America's allies be in redrawing the US Munitions list?
- How will the Administration explain any eventual reforms in order to mitigate critics who call the administration weak on national security and seek to damage the White House's credibility in the lead-up to midterm elections?
Also, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to introduce legislation in late January (around the time of the release of the White House strategic review) calling for a Congressional conference that will likely raise the topic of easing restrictions on communications satellite exports.
Prior to its meeting with Gates, the AIA gave President Obama a letter calling for reform on the basis that the current regulations cost US exporters billions in annual sales and weaken defense-related industries that are implicated in the construction and production of new technologies. The list of goods on the US Munitions List is outdated and includes many banal items while excluding far more threatening technologies such as stealth and night vision.
The AIA outlined four key areas for reform, elements to which Gates has now voiced his support:
1. Updating the US Munitions List and commodity jurisdiction
2. More efficient, clearer division of responsibility between government agencies in caseload management
3. Placing decision-making on technology release in the hands of the Defense Department
4. Treatment of drones as a Category I item in the multilateral Missile Technology Control Regime
- Amy Greene