U.S. Easing On Exports Of Computers
By Michael Wines
The New York Times
March 31, 1990
The Pentagon said today that it would no longer block sales of the least powerful American-made mainframe computers to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, leaving control of such exports to the Commerce Department.
A Defense Department spokesman called the move ''a streamlining process,'' adding that the Pentagon already approves many computer exports to Eastern Europe.
Other Administration officials said the announcement was a concession to the
Commerce Department in the long-running battle between the two agencies over whether
advanced American technology should be sold to the Soviet Union.
European Competitors Cited
The Commerce Department and some American manufacturers have advocated lowering export barriers on some technologies, arguing that European competitors already sell similar products to the East with little or no government review.
The Defense Department's announcement today covers what it called low-end mainframes like the International Business Machines Company's 3031, 4331 and 4341. The Pentagon also decided to end its veto power over exports to the same nations of sophisticated medical equipment, including CAT scanners, magnetic resonance imagers and cancer-treatment equipment.
Also, the Pentagon will no longer exercise its right to block the exhibition of certain high-technology products at trade shows in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Today's action was welcomed by computer makers, but its significance appears to be more political than commercial or strategic. Although they are called mainframes, the machines at issue are generally less powerful than many desktop models, like the widely used I.B.M. PC-AT, computer experts said. The United States has already agreed to a proposal that would end all export controls on such desktops among the 17 nations in the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls, or Cocom. If adopted, the proposal would end all government reviews of such sales to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
The low-end mainframes involved in today's decision are not covered by Cocom export regulations, but remain subject to export reviews by individual Cocom members.
The United States reviews and has often rejected proposals by American companies to export the mainframes, especially to the Soviets. But European governments have taken a more relaxed attitude, and many models similar to American mainframes have already been sold in the Eastern bloc, Administration officials said.
Because the Pentagon has most often vetoed export proposals, today's decision means that more United States-manufactured mainframes will be sold abroad, primarily to the Soviets. But the Soviets have little hard currency to spare for such purchases, and not much more of the industrial and commercial infrastructure in which they would be most useful.
Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher said in a written statement today that the Pentagon decision ''reflects the Administration's understanding of changing circumstances in East-West relations.''
Some computer industry experts suggested that the Pentagon was bowing to Congress, which is in the midst of revising Federal export laws and could rescind much of the Defense Department's existing authority to block exports.
Copyright 1990 The New York Times Company