Your Most Trusted Source of Foreign News and Views About the United States
Allies Rebel Against U.S. Military Trade Restrictions

For years, the United States has abused its influence in the international arena - an obnoxious, often irrational tendency to throw its weight around that has only worsened under the Bush Administration. According to this article from Belgium’s Defense News, the patience of Washington's Transatlantic allies for having American interests dictate what they can buy and sell is reaching a breaking point.

Translated By Mike Goeden

October 25, 2005

Original Article (French) De Defense

Hugo Chavez: a Source of U.S. Irritation

The unfolding case of the ten small C-295 transport planes that Spain is trying to sell to Venezuela is exemplary of the state of relations between the United States and its allies. The sale is currently being blocked by the U.S., in accordance with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). ITAR allows American authorities to veto any sale of a non-American system that may be considered of direct or indirect military use, provided that the system includes U.S.-made components originally sold under the auspices of this agreement. The sale of any component that falls within a technological category judged to be of strategic value and vital for national security is immediately subject to ITAR. The range of such categories and the components they comprise is extremely broad, reflecting Washington's paranoia with regard to security issues. This intervention is the result of the current administration’s erratic and authoritarian foreign and national security policies.

The U.S. Has Stopped Spain from Selling Transport Planes to Hugo Chavez.

The debacle surrounding the C-295s (light transport planes without the slightest offensive or defensive military capability) perfectly reflects the absurdity and arbitrariness of the situation.  The block on their sale has been attributed to America’s Venezuelan policy - itself often described as being paranoid and arbitrary. According to Defense News (October 24), the Bush Administration has confirmed the current veto: A U.S. State Department official confirmed on Oct. 18 that the U.S. government is blocking the sale of 10 Spanish C-295 aircraft to Venezuela, at least temporarily, while EADS CASA’s export-license applications are being “reviewed thoroughly." The official said a meticulous look at the applications is warranted “given the increasing authoritarian direction of the Venezuelan government.” 

—LINK: U.S. State Department Directorate of Defense Trade Controls

The conflict over the C-295s is but one of many such cases testifying to the intrusive and arbitrary character of the ITAR legislation. However, the legality of such legislation is not in question, since any country acquiring American components necessarily agrees to the provisions set by ITAR. Up until now, there has been no significant backlash - in other words, no specific boycott of American components.

Contrary to rumor, there exist more than enough substitutes for such American components sold to equip foreign systems. The United States enjoys no monopoly in this domain. The U.S. is itself responsible for this state of affairs, since it refuses to export to even its closest allies any system or component that it considers could jeopardize national security - the U.S. is under the (mistaken) impression that it enjoys monopoly control over such security-sensitive technology. Therefore, for those countries seeking to acquire such technology, the reasons are either commercial (when the American-made products are less expensive) or political (expressly seeking to do business with the U.S.), since the widely-held belief in American technological superiority is in fact unwarranted.

European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company

It would seem that as a result of such an extreme case as the blocked C-295s (unjustified interference from Washington in the foreign sale of non-military aircraft), a counter reaction could be expected.  Or, rather, that the various options for a response be brought forward to the point of forcing concrete action. With this in mind, Defense News speculates at length on the possible ramifications of ITAR:

U.S. trade restrictions that have tripped up EADS CASA are likely to spur efforts by European arms makers to escape U.S. export controls.

A handful of European companies already advertise that some of their wares are “ITAR-free” - that is, they are not subjected to the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

The worrisome part of that for U.S. manufacturers is that the best way to become ITAR-free is to stop buying American-made parts.

EADS and other European companies have been working to develop military components that are not subject to a U.S. sales veto. For example, EADS Space Transportation Division boasts it is developing a satellite motor that will be “completely ITAR-free and therefore not subject to U.S. export license restrictions, allowing competitive access to worldwide customers.”

EADS is following in the footsteps of France’s Alcatel Space, which has made it company policy since 2002 to build ITAR-free communications satellites to avoid U.S. control over sales. Last April, Alcatel launched its first ITAR-free satellite on a Chinese rocket.

French-Made Rockets: Free of U.S. Components

Morotta, a British maker of spacecraft propulsion and propellant management equipment, advertises that its products “are European and hold ITAR-free status.” And when Surrey Satellite Technology, another British firm, touts the “features” of its satellite propulsion systems, “completely ITAR- free” is at the top of the list.

This is bad news for the U.S. satellite industry, according to a paper published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. U.S. companies, which must adhere to ITAR restrictions, are at a growing disadvantage as the inventory of ITAR-free components expands.

An official at the French armaments agency DGA said the United States is within its rights to hold up the sale of the Spanish planes to Venezuela. But French displeasure with U.S. veto authority long ago prompted France to adopt a policy of industrial autonomy. Its defense industry uses domestic and European suppliers to preclude an American export veto.

Another important factor to consider: such an evolution should further encourage the current consolidation of the European arms manufacturers, as well as opening up the arms market within the European Union. A European source cited by Defense News argues just that: the issue does raise interesting questions about why [EU] member states should think about their future common defense market. They’re not getting the bang for the buck they need - and that’s the main rationale [for creating a common defense market] - but they’re also vulnerable to these sort of things. What the source fails to mention is the logical expectation that this affair should, in addition, lead to the construction of a European market based upon the very same criteria: a market just as protectionist and aggressive with regard to foreigners as its American counterpart, and which functions according to the same purchasing philosophy (in this case, the promotion of a "Buy European" mentality, just as the tendency to "Buy American" is already present in the U.S.).

As usual, Europe will most likely attempt to avoid the fundamental questions raised by this affair. However, both the absurdity and enormity of the C-295 incident will complicate any such attempt. The key questions to consider are as follows:

--How is one to pursue military and technological cooperation with a partner proceeding from a decidedly unilateral perspective, at once especially aggressive and intrusive, and which is hostile toward even its supposed allies? The United States is certainly within its rights, but the European countries are duty bound to look to their own interests. (In this day and age, the word "duty" has rather lost its meaning. Yet, hope remains: a few large sales foiled by ITAR should be capable of reviving this forgotten concept).

--How can Europe accept its dependence upon such a doubtful and erratic foreign policy, as its commercial and ideological allegiance to the United States necessarily dictates? Up until now, the E.U. has more or less managed to do so. However, the case of the C-295s clearly shows that the Americans are hardly appreciative of such efforts and certainly have no intention of behaving in a more civil manner.

Of course, such concerns are hardly new. Most European countries - their industries at the forefront - have persistently reacted in the same manner. The source of their reasoning has remained the same: intellectual cowardice concealed by the idiotic profit motive (idiotic, since the Europeans are generally the losers in any such agreement with the Americans). It is always interesting to consider just how far such sloppy reasoning can be stretched - and to how great an extent the Europeans will suffer such treatment without eventually striking back. It is also remarkable that two British companies (Morotta and Surrey Satellite Technology) are found among the three countries cited by Defense News to have opted for an avowed policy of avoiding U.S.-made components.

© Watching America all rights reserved. Disclaimer