GEST-600 Controlling Trade, Controlling Knowledge: The History of U.S. Export Controls
Spring for 2017-2018
In the United States trading with foreign countries is not a right but a privilege. Legally speaking, every single export leaving the country needs to be licensed by the U.S. government. In practice export controls today focus on the most sensitive strands of American trade, mainly in the high technology field. But historically, they had a much wider scope and played a crucial role in U.S. foreign, national security, defense, and trade policy.
Since the two World Wars, where the current regime has its roots, export controls have developed from an implement of warfare to a permanent regulatory regime of enormous complexity and deep impact on U.S. international relations. Export regulations have been used for economic warfare, to implement economic sanctions against adversaries, to forge the Cold War alliance, to shield the U.S. against economic espionage, to strengthen U.S. competitiveness, and to fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Moreover, export controls also target the flow of knowledge crossing the national border. One of their main functions was and still is the monitoring of technology transfers. Technology was especially since the beginning of the Cold War seen as the basis of military power, and closely intertwined, economic prowess. Hence, export controls were and still are used to make sure that enemies and competitors can not freely acquire high technologies with military and dual use application. These technology transfer regulations cover not only the shipment of goods but also the transmission of information, covering a broad spectrum from blueprints and technical data to certain technical services like repairs. This had and has affected even universities and had sometimes far-reaching implications for the communication of scientific knowledge to foreign citizens on campus or at conferences.
This seminar will explore the history of this complex, multilayered, often contradictory and controversial system of controls of trade and technology transfer and show how and why it developed over time. What role did export controls play in the Cold War? How were national regulations translated into international, multilateral regimes? How was the control system being challenged by globalization – and why did it nevertheless show a remarkable structural and institutional resilience? What role do export controls play in the “War against Terrorism”? How do they shape the U.S. relations to China?
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