Cocom, Nocom, Socom

April 04, 1994

With the demise of Cocom, the Cold War agency that restricted sales of strategic items to the Communist Bloc, the West has created a control vacuum that insider wags call "Nocom" -- meaning that no organization has been set up to replace the 45-year-old Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls. We would vastly prefer a "Socom" solution in which something is alive and functioning to stop the flow of military-potential technology and equipment to rogue regimes such as North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Cuba.

Instead, each supplier nation will rely on its own judgment, a formula that could quickly fall victim to fierce competition among Western corporations and their governmental sponsors. For the cause of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Cocom's passing may be a serious setback indeed. The Clinton administration should not have allowed its burial without agreement on a multilateral agency to replace it. But having done so, Washington should work hard to fill the vacuum.

U.S. telecommunications and computer companies are overjoyed at the lifting of many restrictions on sales of their products to the vast Russian and Chinese markets. And understandably so. For too long they have watched rival firms in Europe and Japan grab competitive advantage because their governments allowed sales of items still on the American no-no list. But the sensible decision to allow American corporations to play on a level playing field does not excuse the failure to arrange a successor organization for Cocom.

Western nations, and especially the United States, still have a lock on supercomputers and other items that in the hands of a North Korea or an Iraq could facilitate the development of nuclear weapons. There should be some international agency, one including Russia and China, to try to halt such dangerous trafficking.

Economic warfare has long been an awkward exercise for the United States. Today, it can been seen in the uncertain impact of the Haiti embargo or the mixed-messages Washington keeps sending to China. When Cocom began in 1949, however, the United States had a virtual monopoly on advanced military technology and its NATO allies did not complain. But troubles mounted with the Carter administration's ill-fated grain embargo against the Soviet Union -- a gap U.S. competitors quickly made up -- and with the Reagan administration's ill-conceived attempt to stop European companies from selling U.S.-licensed products needed for construction of a Soviet gas pipeline.

With the end of the Cold War, Cocom controls have eroded to the point where there did not seem much point in continuing the expensive Paris-based agency. Nevertheless, the answer should not be "Nocom" but "Socom."

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