TOSHIBA AND KONGSBERG, it now appears, are not the only foreign manufacturers to have violated the embargo of strategic technology to the Soviet Union. Dozens of advanced milling machines, computer controlled, were evidently sold to the Soviets by Western Europeans, including French and West German companies. These cases have come to light in the investigations that the Japanese and, especially, the Norwegian police have been pursuing. All the NATO countries plus Japan belong to the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, known as COCOM, which is supposed to run the embargo. It seems that many of its members have not been taking their obligations very seriously.
The remedy is not merely to berate them. The United States has contributed to this general lack of regard abroad for COCOM rules. Over the years the United States has tried to extend the export rules to too many kinds of goods, some of them widely available even in countries outside COCOM. By its constant attempts to extend the export control net too widely, to include much that obviously cannot be controlled and much that is of only marginal importance, the United States has given the whole system a reputation for being overblown and unworkable. In that atmosphere, it's not surprising that evasion flourished.
The other COCOM members need to think more carefully about their responsibilities, and the very good reasons for maintaining restrictions on sales to the Soviets. But the United States can help by revising its own standards. Here in Washington, the Defense Department has consistently pressed for longer and more minute lists of prohibitions and more laborious licensing procedures. The Commerce Department has tried to keep the process shorter and sharper. A deadlock prevails between them. One of the better provisions in the trade bill now before Congress would break it in the right direction, toward greater selectivity.
The United States isn't going to be able to impose its position unilaterally on its allies. Technology spreads fast, and the strategic goods of which this country is still the sole supplier is a diminishing catalogue. Like any embargo, this one has to rest on a consensus among all the allies that it makes sense. The other countries are going to have to strengthen their controls and their enforcement. But to make that possible, the embargo is going to have to be focused more sharply on the short list of technological goods that, everyone agrees, really count.