Courtesy Reuters

A Rational Approach to Export Controls

Last year, America's foreign trade deficit reached alarming new levels. Responding, President Carter announced in September a multifaceted program to encourage U.S. exports, and 15 members of the House of Representatives formed an Export Task Force to pursue the same objective. But also last year the President and Congress imposed various new limitations on exports, and 70 members of the House introduced a "Technology Transfer Ban Act," calling for broad prohibitions on exports to communist countries. In 1979, the Congress will have to reconcile these conflicting tendencies as it legislates an extension to the Export Administration Act, the principal authority for controls on civilian exports, which expires September 30.

Unfortunately, the political context in which Congress will face this task may not be conducive to dispassionate and objective analysis. Alarmists in Congress and the executive branch have seized upon the national uneasiness over Soviet actions in Africa, and the national revulsion over the treatment of Soviet dissidents, to subject the entire concept of East-West trade to the most serious attack it has faced in the last 15 years at least. The President's announcement last December 15 of the normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China has excited passions ranging from euphoria over the trade possibilities, to eagerness to play the China card against the Soviet Union, to charges of selling out our friends on Taiwan. As this article goes to press, events in Iran and Afghanistan threaten to damage the climate further.

In this emotional atmosphere, it will be extremely difficult to maintain a focus on the tough but crucial questions of export control policy as it applies to the communist countries. To what degree is it possible for the United States to influence the growth of Soviet military capabilities by means of export controls? Since any trade has some potential for contributing to Soviet military capabilities (Khrushchev is said to have remarked that the United States should embargo buttons because they are used to hold up Soviet soldiers' pants), where do we draw

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