I first began to work on what became the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) just before Reagan was elected. I was working in the state Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research on nuclear non-proliferation and other scientific subjects. Under President Jimmy Carter, some senior policy wonks in State and ACDA had begun to think about a missile non-proliferation regime that would be similar to the nuclear non-proliferation regime under the NPT. These senior people needed somebody to work with them on intelligence about missile proliferation. Nobody else in INR wanted to take on a new project, so I did. We had only been working a few months when Reagan was elected. The senior guys I was working for were all political and lost their jobs with the change of administration.
I didn’t think Reagan Republicans would be interested in a new non-proliferation initiative, but they were. I assume the Carter people had probably left them a briefing memo on the issue. The new administration decided to continue the initiative, but I was about the only person in the State Department with any institutional memory about what had gone on under Carter. At the Pentagon, Richard Perle took a particular interest in the issue, since one of his main concerns was export control, preventing the spread of militarily useful technology, including missile technology. Perle’s main staffer on missile technology was Richard Spier.
Perle wanted a very restrictive treaty along the lines of the NPT. At State, we began a series of consultations with our G-7 partners to get their reaction to a missile treaty. At that time there was strong opposition from developing countries to the NPT because they saw it as discriminatory, preventing developing countries from having nuclear weapons, while it allowed the existing nuclear powers to keep theirs. When we consulted the other G-7 we found strong opposition to a new missile treaty, because it would offend the developing countries who already opposed the NPT. However, there was more receptivity to suppliers group like the Nuclear Suppliers Group or the Zangger Committee.
At DOD, Perle wanted a stricter regime, but was particularly adamant that the member countries had to have strict, enforceable trade controls. Perle was also the lead DOD official on the old COCOM regime that restricted exports from the Western members to the Soviet Union. He was always pressing COCOM to be stricter, and he wanted the new missile regime to be similarly tough.
Preparing the new missile regime, I consulted one of State’s COCOM experts, Bill Root, the head of the COCOM office. COCOM had a list of exports that were controlled to the Soviet Union which had been negotiated over many years. Thus the legal language was familiar to the export control offices that we would be dealing with on the missile issue. I thought we could use the COCOM regulations as a starting point for the missile regulations. One day my meeting with Bill Root was interrupted because he had a phone call from Richard Perle at DOD. He said, “Let’s continue after lunch.” When I came back after lunch, he had retired and left his office for good. He had had so many fights with Perle over COCOM that he was leaving for good. He felt that Perle was pushing COCOM too hard and alienating our partners. In doing so, it was breaking with years for cooperation.
Perle’s same attitude carried over to missile proliferation. He wanted a very tough export control regime, but the G-7 partners were opposed. They were all members of COCOM and were resisting US pressure there. They did not want to create another forum for the US to pressure them on export control. Thus, we at the State Department ended up caught in the middle; we wanted a missile regime, but we could not harmonize the G-7 and DOD positions. In addition to questioning whether the proposed list of prohibited exports was strong enough, DOD questioned whether the other countries had strong enough export control agencies to enforce the regulations. This was the same issue that he continually brought up in COCOM, where he was continually complaining about export control violations by companies in other COCOM countries.
Another problem on the G-7 side was the European Space Agency. The Europeans had formed an international space consortium, under which different European countries manufactured different parts for space launch vehicles. The parts were then shipped around Europe for assembly, and finally the finished rocket was shipped to the European launch site in Guiana in South America. The Europeans did not want a new missile regime, which would cover many of the parts used in space launch vehicles, to interfere and add bureaucracy to their ESA activities.
Although we were making progress, we were still at an impasse between DOD and the G-7 when my assignment ended. I went off the old Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), then to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Brasilia, Brazil. By the time I was in Brasilia, the people back in Washington had resolved their differences and gotten the Missile Technology Control Regime agreed among the G-7 (and DOD). By then the Reagan administration was gone, and along with it, Richard Perle. Despite that, one of the first countries to feel the obstructing force of the MTCR was Brazil, while I was there as the science officer handling missile and space cooperation.