NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Supercomputers Help China Build Nuclear Weapons

July 21, 1997

Some who remember how the U.S. helped arm Japan with scrap metal prior to World War II wonder if history is not repeating itself. While free trade is beneficial, they say national defense should take priority. The Clinton administration, analysts warn, is ignoring the sale of sophisticated technologies to China and Russia. "Dual-use" technologies, such as supercomputers, may be used for either military or civilian purposes.

Supercomputers are categorized by the federal government according to "M-tops" -- or millions of theoretical operations per second. High M-tops computers exported to Russia and China require an export license, even when used for civilian purposes. But there is a threshold M-tops speed, below which a computer claimed to be for civilian use is exempted from the export licensing requirement.

  • In the past three years, the Clinton administration has raised the exemption threshold from 1,250 to 7,000 M-tops.
  • "The Chinese are using American products to build the next generation of Chinese weapons," says the director of the Wisconsin Project on Arms Control, a Washington, D.C.-based group that tracks nuclear weapons proliferation.
  • According to Stephen Bryen, a Pentagon official, the cumulative capacity of supercomputers in China is higher than that at the Pentagon.
  • Peter Leitner, a Defense Department expert, has testified before Congress that the White House is compromising national security through its policies.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to require licenses for supercomputers in the 2,000 to 7,000 M-tops range sold to certain countries, while the Senate voted down the measure. But it may be inserted in the overall budget bill now being negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee.

Source: Adrienne Fox, "Are We Arming Future Enemies?" Investor's Business Daily, July 21, 1997.


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