U.S. Seeks Support for Strengthening Of Export Controls at Cocom Meeting

By E.S. Browning
The Wall Street Journal

January 27, 1988

PARIS -- Cocom, the secretive 16-nation export-control agency, today opens two days of high-level meetings that U.S. officials hope will lead to stronger restraints on technology exports to the Soviet bloc.

The agency, whose formal name is the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, maintains a small staff in an annex of the U.S. Embassy here. Its decisions aren't legally binding, but its members -- the 15 countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Japan -- agree to enforce them through their own laws.

The meetings in the Paris suburb of Versailles follow disclosures over the past year that companies from Japan, France, Norway and the U.S., among others, have exported sensitive material to the East during the past 15 years, in apparent violation of Cocom rules. The most notable revelation was last year's disclosure that a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary had sold milling machines that may have permitted the Soviet Union to build quieter propeller shafts, making detection of its nuclear submarines more difficult. A Norwegian concern, Kongsberg Vaapenfabrikk AS, provided computer technology to help run the milling machines.

This week's meeting follows a quiet July gathering here of lower-level Cocom officials, at which preliminary agreement was reached to update the list of restricted technologies and to strengthen the various Western agencies that monitor the exports. U.S. officials have said they hope this week's meeting will put a high-level stamp of approval on the July agreement, although actual implementation will have to be gradual.

As a sweetener, U.S. officials have said they would like to virtually eliminate U.S. restrictions on technology exports to other Cocom members, which would greatly ease technology exchange within the West. But first, they say, they need firm pledges that Western countries will commit more money and manpower to controlling the leakage of the technology to the East.

Sources helping to plan the meeting were reluctant to say how much they hope to accomplish this week. But European countries, although generally less fervent in their support for stronger restraints, generally have supported the U.S. position. A West German official said last week in Washington, for example, that his country also seeks to update the list of restricted goods, while improving enforcement.

In the past, European officials have noted, the Cocom list sometimes has restricted outdated equipment, while failing to include newly developed advanced equipment.

In addition, France and Norway have stiffened their penalties for illicit exports, and France is committing more money to training and recruiting customs agents specialized in monitoring technology. Japan has taken similar steps.

France, which was stung by recent disclosures of a French company's illicit machine-tool exports in the mid-1970s, this week let it be known that it has taken action in two other cases of alleged export violations. Official sources said France in November arrested four people charged with organizing the export to an East-bloc country in 1986 and 1987 of electronic measuring and communications equipment. In an unusually harsh action, it charged the four under anti-espionage laws that could carry prison sentences of 10 to 20 years.

Official sources also said France late last year brought civil charges against a subsidiary of France's third largest bank, Societe Generale, which has been accused of shipping advanced semiconductor-manufacturing equipment to the Soviet Union in 1985. The subsidiary is called Les Accessoires Scientifiques, or LAS. Societe Generale has denied any wrongdoing by its subsidiary and said the company obtained all necessary government export approval.

A Luxembourg court, which heard similar charges against the company last year, found that LAS had violated Luxembourg's export rules, and confiscated the advanced equipment in question. But it ruled the company innocent of wrongdoing because the goods in question were routed through Luxembourg without LAS's knowledge. Since LAS didn't intend to violate Luxembourg law, the court ruled, it couldn't be found guilty. LAS is appealing that ruling in an effort to recover the seized semiconductor-manufacturing equipment, Luxembourg court officials said.

Copyright (c) 1988, Dow Jones & Co., Inc.