After a year of discussions among 17 Western countries, CoCom, the Co-ordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, ended two days of talks in Paris last week with a new export policy agreed that dramamtically cuts restrictions on the shipments of technology with potential military use to the Soviet Union and other east European countries. The […]
After a year of discussions among 17 Western countries, CoCom, the Co-ordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, ended two days of talks in Paris last week with a new export policy agreed that dramamtically cuts restrictions on the shipments of technology with potential military use to the Soviet Union and other east European countries. The new policy, to take effect in September, halves the number of controlled items on the group’s Core List of civilian technologies with military application – after a 33% cut a year ago. One of the main results is that Western countries, led by the US, will finally be able to sell minicomputers, personal computers and workstations to the Soviets. Control Data Corp’s Cyber 960 and DEC’s VAX 8420 now can be sold without an export licence as can 32-bit microcomputers and all semiconductors in the dynamic-RAM category. Supercomputers, meanwhile, remain under close scrutiny. Optical fibre controls and those governing microwave radio links have barely been affected by the new rulings and remain under strict control, which has caused an uproar among US telecommunications equipment makers. This decision was based on observations of Iraqi use of technology during the Gulf War, and is subject to review in a year’s time. But the US National Security Agency has been arguing that it’s harder to listen in on a fibre optic telephone line than on traditional telephone wiring. US negotiator Allan Wendt responded to the complaints saying the technology being made available to the Soviets corresponded to their current needs, so they will have to make do with telephone technology that is over 10 years old. It seems, however, that the new rules are not all that consistent while the Soviets might not be able to get their hands on overland fibre optic cable, as offered by US West Inc, an undersea system – as proposed by Cable & Wireless Plc and Simplex Wire & Cable Co in the US, linking the USSR to Western Europe and Asia – may be permitted because it is believed to be less resistant to US eavesdropping. The scope for bending the rules is quite wide since a policy of national discretion permits individual governments to make the final decision as to what can and can’t be shipped. Meanwhile, US computer manufacturers are worried that the new agreement will give European and Japanese rivals an edge. CoCom is looking into a complete end to export restrictions for Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, which have promised to set up their own export controls to stop Western equipment being acquired by their former ally, the Soviet Union. These countries are already subject to slacker controls, particularly in telephony.