Universities Support Obama Move to Loosen Export Controls

For many years, academic institutions and businesses in the United States have complained about the long list of technologies that the U.S. government considers too sensitive to export without a license. It affects companies directly by curtailing their ability to freely sell certain products like sensors with military applications all over the world. But the list also affects universities in that it puts restrictions on hiring foreign students for research projects requiring the use of these technologies.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama delivered good news to both companies and universities: the Administration plans to pare down the list of export-controlled items and improve coordination between the different agencies responsible for granting export licenses. The new list will be tiered by risk, a concept that the Administration is applying, in parallel, to the safekeeping of dangerous pathogens. A significant percentage of items are likely to be removed from lists altogether. The president also announced that he would sign an executive order creating an Export Enforcement Coordination Center to reduce red tape in enforcing export controls.

“Going forward, we will have a single, tiered, positive list—one which will allow us to build higher walls around the export of our most sensitive items while allowing the export of less critical ones under less restrictive conditions,” Obama said in a videotaped statement released Tuesday.

In a statement, Association of American Universities President Robert Berdahl called it “an important first step toward achieving meaningful and sensible export control reform.” He added that the Administration’s proposal would “protect national security without disrupting university research that is critical to our long-term economic national security, and that the proposals are intended to ensure that the world's best talent can participate openly in that research.”

Some in the arms-control community are not happy with the proposal, which they say would help defense companies at the cost of national security. "The financial industry and the auto industry had their bailouts, now it is the defense industry's turn," says Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, in a story in The Washington Times.