‘Technological constraints and wars can spill over into hot wars’
The US government has blocked Intel from selling tens of thousands of chips to China to upgrade the world's biggest supercomputer - Tianhe-2 as it fears nuclear research is being done using the computer.
RT:Are Washington's nuclear concerns legitimate here, and if so, why haven't they done something like this earlier?
Dr. Tim Beal: Good questions. Let’s take the second one first. The answer is we don’t know why they haven’t. Perhaps it’s infighting between the state and national security bureaucracy and the private companies such as Intel because they have conflicting interest here. We are going back to a more fundamental question. Is it a legitimate concern? And the answer is yes. And I think to answer that properly we have to realize that this is part of a longstanding issue, a dilemma which has faced the US and has faced all developed countries worried about competitors and challenges. So in the post-war period the Americans set up what was called CoCom, the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Controls on exports to the then Soviet Union, to China and various other countries they were worried about. And that fell apart at the end of the Cold War. It was replaced in 1996 by the Wassenaar Arrangement (The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies) which does roughly the same thing - it’s a form of export control. In this case Russia is a member. And it’s there to preserve national security but also to preserve technological superiority. And one of the key words in here is dual-use, so the Wassenaar Arrangement talks about dual-use which means technology is going to have military implications as well as commercial implications. So in the case of this Chinese super computer, it can be used for weather forecasting, it can be used for doing research on nuclear explosions. So it’s got dual-use. And all technologies of course have got dual-use. So we have to look at this at this in a broader historical context.
RT:Do you think other companies could also be banned from doing business with countries like China, because of what the US calls "national security interests"?
TB: There have always been these export controls, they will continue. What is interesting is that the balance of forces is changing. In the past … China of course was not a great economic competitor. Now they are. So within the US all sorts of companies want to sell things to China and the national security operators want to restrain them so that’s an ongoing challenge. So yes, other companies are involved and will be involved.
China specialist Andrew Leung, comments on the US banning Intel from sending computer chips to China: “There is a deep mistrust between [China and the US] because America’s superpower status seems to be challenged by China on many fronts. China’s recent initiative – the setup of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a typical example. And now in terms of technologies, supercomputers, China is not just narrowing the gap but seems to be leapfrogging. So there is a cause of concern for those people in the US who want to maintain its supremacy in the world in many different fields. But again supercomputers are not just for the military.”
RT:Where does this stop for the US? Are they going to try and micro-manage trade with every nuclear power now?
TB: At the moment they don’t have a technological superiority so in a sense they can’t… there is not much point in restraining Chinese companies from selling hi-tech to the US. What they are doing is stopping Chinese companies buying equipment from the US. So Cisco, for instance, and Intel itself and various other companies have been kicked off the procurement list for Chinese state enterprises because the Chinese are very worried about American cyber espionage and surveillance. So in a sense the Chinese have a counter offensive.
RT:Do you see China taking any sort of similar counter-measures against Washington now?
TB: It’s a longstanding battle and it will continue, and it will change its way of operation and the relative strength of the participants. But yes, it’s ongoing because countries which have technological and military advantage don’t want to lose it. At the same time they need to trade, they need to invest, they need to make money. So we have these two conflicting forces and it’s been there in the past, it’s going to continue in the future in different ways, but it’s going to be with us. It’s a deep dilemma and there is no easy solution for the Americans or for anyone else in that position. And China of course will be in that position in the future.
China specialist Andrew Leung, comments on the US banning Intel from sending computer chips to China: “Of course supercomputers have got many different applications in terms of e-commerce, cloud computing, the speed of data transmission, the mining of data and even in terms of quantum computing which is another level of technology in telecommunications. All these have tremendous commercial possibilities. But I think that the main worry is that China’s computer power could well be translated into narrowing the gap in the military field in terms of missiles against satellites, in terms of aerodynamics that can be used in supersonic or hypersonic aircraft. All these remain almost unspoken worries in the case of certain people in the US.”
RT:In your opinion, could we see a new type of technological computer arms race emerge?
TB: Yes, it is always a possibility and the Americans have long been talking about a military conflict with China. At the moment they are talking about a military conflict with Russia. All these things, they are in the background, they are all part of a general struggle for, from the American point of view, world hegemony. So these technological constraints, technological wars can spill over into hot wars. It’s possible, hopefully at the moment it’s not probable, but it’s certainly possible.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.