3 January 2002 American President George Bush has announced the relaxation of long-standing controls on exports of computer equipment to a range of countries – including long-time pariahs China and Russia, as well as India.
The measure has been welcomed by the US high-tech industry. In particular, the measures will enable the vendors of supercomputers to more easily export to markets outside the US and Europe. Sales to such markets have always been tightly monitored by US authorities, enabling Japanese vendors such as Fujitsu, Hitachi and NEC to win crucial orders.
Bush indicated that the availability of inexpensive yet powerful micro processors rendered much of the legislation superfluous. He said that national security concerns must be set off against the needs of industry, and that “unnecessary regulatory burdens” should be swept away.
Stringent export restrictions – many of them imposed during or after the Cold War – have never affected ‘Tier 1’ countries, which are seen as allies of the US, such as Canada and the countries of Western Europe.
The latest measures announced by the US government concern so-called ‘Tier 3’ countries, which include India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam and Russia, as well as many countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
The maximum power of computers that may be exported to Tier 3 countries without notifying the US authorities beforehand is set to increase from 85,000 Millions of Theoretical Operations per Second (MTOPS) to 190,000 MTOPS.
In addition, a number of countries are being upgraded from Tier 3 to ‘Tier 1’, thus joining the likes of Japan, Australia and the UK, which have full access to US technology.
US supercomputer vendors such as Compaq, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and IBM expect to benefit from the easing of export controls, which should enable them to sell larger quantities of products more quickly to a wider range of countries.
Industry watchers remain very critical of the MTOPS yardstick, arguing that it is ineffective and restrictive. One national security reason cited by the US government to justify continued restrictions on computer hardware exports has been that such technology can be used in the development of powerful armaments, particularly nuclear weapons.
Export controls applying to countries still considered to be ‘rogue states’ – Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and the Sudan – are not being altered. A near-total ban on exports of US technology and hardware to those “pariah” states remains in place.