Time for a New Export Control Regime

Emily Weinstein and Kevin Wolf, both fellows at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), held a discussion last month entitled “A New Export Control Regime for the 21st Century.”

Multilateral export controls have been around for decades. But according to Weinstein, “the current system no longer meets more complex needs.” The world’s democracies, according to Weinstein, “need to rethink export controls multilaterally.” Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) Under Secretary Alan Estevez shares this view, calling the creation of a new multilateral export regime one of his priorities and affirming, “We need to work with our partners on that.”

What prompts this assertion? The four multilateral export regimes concentrate on controlling technologies used in conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. They are inadequate for controlling new and advanced technologies with national security implications. Weinstein and Wolf agree that the United States and its allies need new regimes that address policy issues such as:

  1. China’s objective of dominating key technology areas
  2. Ensuring supply chain resiliency in allied countries
  3. The misuse of commercial technologies to abuse human rights
  4. China’s military-civil fusion policies

As Kevin Wolf stated, bringing together techno-democracies to address the four issue areas above, “will be a difficult exercise.” But there is hope. In recent months, 37 nations plus Taiwan have coordinated to impose common controls on technologies outside the scope of traditional controls bound for Russia, setting a precedent for further action. Added Wolf, “the mold has been broken.”

As governments plan a coordinated way forward, said Weinstein, “governments in the United States and elsewhere will need industry advice.” As Wolf and Weinstein also write in a related article, companies and industry groups should support the creation of a new regime, which will:

  • Create level regulatory playing fields,
  • Ensure clear and technically accurate controls, and
  • Create new opportunities for investment and access among participating countries.

Additionally, write Weinstein and Wolf, “Opposition by US industry to new types of multilateral controls will only increase the pressure for the imposition of too-blunt unilateral controls that will eventually hurt US industry more.” In other words, a lack of industry engagement will only backfire in the form of broad, unspecific controls that punish industry.

The downside of waiting for a new multilateral approach is that it will likely take months, if not years, for allies to agree on a new regime. Yet there are urgent national security threats that must be addressed now – ones that should be addressed through unilateral controls. As Estevez also indicated in a discussion at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on June 15th, “export controls have to be done on a multilateral basis, unless the US the only technological supplier.” Chinese chipmaker YMTC depends exclusively on chipmaking tools supplied by American companies Lam Research, Applied Materials, and KLM. In addition to posing a serious threat to Americans’ national security and privacy, YMTC acts anticompetitively, is disrupting the global memory chip market, and threatens to kill 24,000 American semiconductor sector jobs. As the world waits for a much-needed new export control regime, BIS should act swiftly to put YMTC on the Entity List and exercise the Foreign Direct Product Rule.

Read more about how YMTC threatens American security and prosperity in a new report from China Tech Threat and the Coalition for a Prosperous America entitled Silicon Sellout: How Apple’s Partnership with Chinese Military Chipmaker YMTC Threatens National Security.