Controls in Pop Culture

Would Superman Require an ITAR License?

This would have made an incredibly boring plot twist for a Superman movie, but it is reasonable to assume that if Superman, the super-strong, super-fast native of the Planet Krypton, were to travel to another country to perform a feat of amazement, he would have to apply for an export license first.

Due to his rare capabilities and his association with the United States of America, Superman is a walking, breathing military-grade weapon. So if Kal-El, A.K.A. Clark Kent, A.K.A. Superman, existed in today’s world of export sanctions, denied or restricted party screening, and classified goods, what would be the ramifications and export controls around him leaving the United States?

How would you classify the Man of Steel?

If Superman did exist, my first thought would be on how he would be classified. Is he is a controlled good or commodity? Is he a defense service? Would he be classified as a military component under the ITAR, or a dual-use good under the EAR? Would non-U.S. citizens having access to Superman within the United States be considered a release of technology, or a deemed export?

If I was tasked with classifying the Man of Steel, I would have to think that he would be considered “Specially Designed” as a military component on the USML. The first piece of criteria for an item to be considered “Specially Designed” states that the item “has properties peculiarly responsible for achieving or exceeding the performance levels, characteristics, or functions” listed in a USML paragraph. Superman would definitely be “peculiar.” The guy once froze an entire lake and used it to put out a raging factory fire, which is not generally considered a normal activity. Secondly, I imagine that there isn’t a performance criterion that Superman couldn’t exceed. Superman is famously known by comic book lovers for developing new powers whenever needed, so I image that the fellows at the DDTC would have a hard time finding a way to put a cap on his super-human abilities.

The second challenge would be to find a USML category that could describe all of his abilities. Category I on the USML is for close assault weapons, which Superman certainly is. If you don’t believe me, just ask General Zod. Category VIII covers military aircraft, which he could also be classified under due to his power of flight. He does often get confused with birds and planes after all. How about Category X for Personal Protective Equipment? If a bomb goes off, and Superman covers you up to protect you from the blast, isn’t he personally protecting your equipment? Don’t even get me started on Category XV for Spacecraft systems. He is definitely “Space Qualified” due to his frequent trips beyond Earth’s atmosphere…..and because he is an alien.

This list could go on and on. Once Superman was properly tagged and classified, we would have to apply for an export license, most likely a DSP-73, or a temporary export license. He would have to make his way back State side at some point. Clark Kent does have a day job, and I am not sure how the Daily Planet’s vacation policy is structured. If Superman would need an export license, this would severally affect whatever crisis he was travelling abroad to avert, since ITAR license applications can take up to five weeks to be returned. I wonder if Lois Lane has any pull at the Department of State? Needless to say, I would not want to be the Export Compliance Officer in charge of exporting the Last Son of Krypton. In the end, I would probably just end up applying for a Commodity Jurisdiction and have the U.S. government help me out with the appropriate classification. I could always send along a copy of Superman II as my supporting material.