Washington, D.C. — Ted Bridis reports that the White House is further
relaxing export restrictions on high-speed business computers, allowing U.S.
companies to sell even more powerful machines to both military and civilian
customers in about 50 countries, including China and Russia.
The computer industry had lobbied hard for the change, which was announced
last week. The industry feared tight export restrictions would limit sales of
computers using the fastest microprocessors on the horizon.
The change will double the speed of computers allowed to be sold without
prior government approval to about 50 “Tier Three” countries, including China,
Russia, India, Pakistan and Vietnam. The Clinton administration also decided
to abandon the distinction between selling to civilian and military customers
in those countries.
Computer speed is expressed in millions of theoretical operations per
second, or mtops. Companies will be able to sell computers to Tier Three
nations with as much as 28,000 mtops, roughly the speed of a single machine
mated to four of Intel Corp.’s Itanium processors, which are expected on the
market this fall.
Experts don’t consider these computers to be supercomputers. Devices this
powerful normally would be useful running small to medium-size businesses with
large databases or as Internet servers. A single Pentium III computer runs at
about 1,200 mtops.
Vice President Al Gore said in a statement that the change “reflects the
consensus position of our national security and economic advisers.” He noted
the enormous growth contributed by the technology industry and described the
importance “of maintaining a strong and vibrant industrial and technology
Also under the changes, closer U.S. allies in the Tier Two category will be
able to buy computers as high as 45,000 mtops, or more than one-third more
powerful than allowed under earlier limits. That change will take effect almost
immediately; changes affecting Tier Three nations can take effect no sooner than
in six months under a 1997 law.
Tier Two countries include those in Central and South America, South Korea and
parts of Africa.
The White House said its national-security experts decided to abandon the
distinction between civilian and military customers in Tier Three countries
because modern technology makes it relatively simple to upgrade computers to use
more than several processors at once.
“There’s a ubiquity to the technology that we have to recognize,” Commerce
Undersecretary William Reinsch said. “What we discovered, unfortunately, is that
there is not a bright line where you can say above this level they’re all
military and security uses and below this level, it’s civilian.” Most customers
of computers as high as 28,000 mtops include banks, telephone companies and
railroads, he said.
The administration maintains a near embargo on the sale of high-speed
computers to Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria, with limits
of a mere six mtops. Yesterday’s announcement didn’t change that figure.