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Statement by Press Secretary Fitzwater on Modifications of Export Controls for Strategic Technologies and Goods

May 02, 1990

The President is recommending to the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) that significant changes be made in the list of technologies subject to export control. For over 40 years, COCOM controls have helped the allies protect our technological achievements from being exported to our adversaries. The President initiated a comprehensive study of these controls in January to reflect the changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, as well as other military priorities that have emerged in the last year or more. The President has concluded that a complete overhaul of the control list is warranted. Therefore, the United States will recommend to COCOM the development by the end of 1990 of a new core list of goods and technologies that is far shorter and less restrictive than the present list.

The President's proposals will continue to protect our advanced technology from being exported to the Soviet Union and other adversaries. In effect, our proposals will build "higher fences around fewer goods" by focusing on those items that are the most sensitive in terms of our national security. We will be able to pinpoint a streamlined list of exports that can make a major contribution to Soviet power while changing the restrictions on items such as personal computers which are readily available throughout the world anyway.

We will propose that of the 120 categories on COCOM's industrial list 30 will be eliminated completely, and the scope of another 13 will be reduced substantially. These changes reflect specific analysis by the Department of Defense that identifies technology of crucial importance to weapons production in the Soviet Union and other countries. They have the unanimous support of all security agencies.

Careful study indicates that most of the goods and technologies that we currently control to Eastern Europe and Soviet destinations are of low strategic value and should be decontrolled. These categories include computers, telecommunications equipment, and machine tools. More specifically, these categories will include off-the-shelf personal computers and some mainframe computers for use in banking, airline reservations, etc.

We are proposing greater access for Eastern Europe to modern fiber optics equipment and some microwave telecommunications systems. Access to this technology is dependent on adoption of safeguards against diversion, such as identification of authorized uses and verification inspections.

The United States will begin consultations immediately with our allies on these changes. We think it is crucial to be able to provide maximum protection of our highly sensitive technologies while at the same time giving the Eastern Europeans access to technologies desperately needed to improve their infrastructure and modernize their industrial plants.

Note: The Office of the Press Secretary issued a fact sheet on the same day which provided the following additional information on modifications of export controls:

Core List

As a result of its evaluation, the United States recommended to its COCOM allies the development of a core list of technologies that need to be controlled to maintain the strategic technological edge that is a key component of our military strength.

The U.S. core list proposal, which is similar to a British proposal, would replace current export controls with a completely restructured list of key technologies and goods. This new list would be built from scratch. The military priorities identified by the Department of Defense's analysis would be a vital guide in identifying those technologies and goods that are militarily critical to our technological lead. The United States proposes that the new list supersede the regular COCOM lists by the end of 1990. The U.S. proposal would allow for phased or complete implementation as long as strategically critical items are fully integrated into the new list.

Decontrol in Priority Sectors

There are three priority sectors identified by COCOM for immediate or partial decontrol: computers, telecommunications equipment, and machine tools. These sectors account for a large portion of all export license applications and are key to infrastructure improvements in Eastern Europe. The United States has proposed significant decontrol in these categories as follows:

Computers. The U.S. proposal would provide for decontrol of computers to all destinations which have a Processing Data Rate (PDR) of 275 megabits per second (mps), which is half way to the China Green Line [limits of licensing to China], and favorable licensing treatment to civilian end-users all the way to the China Green Line (a PDR of 550 mps). This action would result in the decontrol of most off-the-shelf personal computers and allow access to some mainframe computers for applications in banking, airline reservations, etc.

Telecommunications Equipment. The United States proposes relaxation of controls, for example, in some cellular communications systems and some satellite ground stations, to all destinations. We are proposing for Eastern Europe greater access to modern fiber optics equipment (to a transmission level of 156 megabits) and some microwave telecommunications systems. Access to this more advanced technology is dependent on adoption of safeguards against diversion.

Machine Tools. The U.S. Government will support with a few modifications a COCOM proposal calling for significant decontrol of machine tools and their numerical controllers. This results in decontrol of many machine tools with a positioning accuracy down to the ÿ1B2 or 3 micron level depending on the type of machine tool.


The United States will recommend to COCOM that more favorable licensing treatment be accorded to countries adopting COCOM-approved safeguards against diversion of controlled goods and technologies to proscribed destinations or to unauthorized end-users. Such countries would be determined to be in transition to a status of a nonproscribed destination pursuant to COCOM-agreed conditions. COCOM would be asked to develop a list of technologies and goods to which such countries would have presumed favorable treatment.

Enforcement of Export Controls

The U.S. Government continues to encourage the enforcement of the controls by its allies. It is essential to obtain the agreement of our COCOM allies to a renewed commitment to improve compliance so that the core list of identified technologies is protected. The United States will seek adherence to the previously agreed common standard levels of protection against diversion or illegal acquisition of controlled goods and technologies.

George Bush, Statement by Press Secretary Fitzwater on Modifications of Export Controls for Strategic Technologies and Goods Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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