Nr 2-3   2010

The Transatlantic Link

Most countries, particularly in the Western hemisphere, and irrespective of whether they acknowledge it or not, are heavily dependent for their weapons systems on technologies from the United States. Europe is competitive in some areas, but, averaged over all defense sectors, there is a technology gap which by some is claimed to be growing, and which is put forth, particularly in Brussels, as an argument for increased European defense spending.

US arms export control, which involves not only the Department of Defense but also the State Department and the Department of Commerce, may change significantly in the near future. The restrictions of the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) regime have been overtaken by reality, where some of the listed technologies now are available from several other countries. Also, the issue of who is a trusted partner is no longer solely determined by NATO membership or whether a security agreements is in place, but by more short-term concerns, such as whether the nation requesting a certain technology participates in the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism), in particular in the more volatile regions of Afghanistan. Because of its presence in Afghanistan, Sweden’s access to advanced US technologies has for the past couple of years not been hampered by its unwillingness to join NATO.

Both president Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates have recently promoted changes to ITAR, advocating “higher walls around fewer things”, with only one entity in charge. This has been attempted before, by previous administrations, with little success. Countries in Europe should wish the present administration good luck in its attempt to create ITAR 2.0. The main hurdle is likely to be infighting among the departments who presently share the responsibility, and who are not likely to willingly relinquish that influence without putting up a fight.

Gunnar Hult

Chairman, Swedish Military Technology Association