Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Technology Transfer Paradox

Mr. Jean-Pierre Maulny
Deputy Director, IRIS (Paris)

Jean-Pierre Maulny
"The situation is now chaotic, without a clear line of confrontation between one group of states and another...Libya was once a rogue state but recently changed its status by revealing its nuclear military program and then abandoning it...Pakistan, a key United States ally against terrorism ...
cannot be categorized as a secure one in the future."


Today we are in a paradoxical situation regarding technology transfer, and it i s not easy to know what we need to do without taking this paradox into account. Before 1989, the world order was fairly simple. We had the West, we had the East, and it was impossible to transfer strategic technologies from the West to the East with the COCOM that had been implemented in 1949. Prior to 1989, economic globalization had also not taken place, and there was no sophisticated technology for global network communication. During that time we can say that the world was divided in all senses of the term- it was a closed world, not an open one. 

The world that has emerged since 1989 is not at all comparable. First of all, there is the movement toward economic globalization and the development of new communications and information technologies. Globalization is not just a gimmick- the world economy and industry are now interdependent. For example, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives wants to pass legislation known as the " Buy American Act," which would prohibit the U.S. from using foreign suppliers for the U.S. military. But this would be impossible, because American industry is no longer able to build some of the components that are used in armaments. U.S. defense manufacturers also use some German and Japanese machine tools and the " Buy American Act" would require that all U.S. defense manufacturers use U.S.-made machine tools. It is impossible for the U.S. to produce machine tools overnight, and it would cost a lot for U.S. manufacturers to do so at a good price. In Europe, we face the same problem, because European defense manufacturers are dependent on certain U.S. technologies and components. 

In the communications sector, we know that the Internet has revolutionized everything. Today, it is possible to be in contact with everyone in the world and to transmit data and knowledge in real time. The world is decidedly now a culturally and scientifically open world, not a closed world. Even Al-Qaeda uses the tools of the Western way of life, with the technological capability to transfer money and data in real time. Al-Qaeda is today the symbol of our internationalized open world. 

Both the movement toward economic globalization and the development of new information and communication technologies have been occurring very rapidly over the last 15 years. 


The geostrategic situation is also evolving. The year 1989 signified the victory of democracy and capitalism. Some would say, as George Bush père said, that a new world order was born with the end of the East-West confrontation. But the new world is not happening. The situation is now chaotic, without a clear line of confrontation between one group of states and another group of states. The situation is more fluid. For example, Libya was once a rogue state but recently changed its status by revealing its nuclear military program and then abandoning it. Another example is Pakistan, a key United States ally against terrorism but a state that cannot be categorized as a secure one in the future. 

There is also more fluidity in what has been termed the Western camp. NATO is still a reality but it is not the reality it was in 1989. There is suspicion between allies, especially between France and the United States. Today France is closer to NATO than it was in 1989, but it is also further from the U.S. than it was in 1989. The war against terrorism is a real war, not the virtual war that was the East-West confrontation. 

In this context, the United States has tended to implement a ban on technology transfer with the goal of maintaining a technological advantage against the enemy and potential enemies. But the question is not as simple as it was before 1989: Who is the enemy and how can the ban be constructed? 


It is at this level that the paradox begins to take effect. Taking into account that economic and industry globalization are taking place at the same time as the development of new information and communications technologies, it is much more difficult to forbid technology transfers. The tendency is thus to strengthen the means of control. But it is difficult to have a clear policy on the subject because the notion of allies is different in the United States than it was prior to 1989. For example, we can say that the Spain of Aznar was a strong ally of the U.S. but the Spain of Zapatero may not be. Similarly, France and Germany were not strong allies of the United States in 2003, but as Nicholas Burns recently said the situation is better now. The notion of what an ally is is highly relative for the United States, and it can change at any time. So when the United States want to prohibit technology transfer in a world in which it is very easy to transfer technology and in which the notion of an ally can be very relative and contingent, the natural course is to block transfer even for some communal components and to any type of state. I do no t say this is a conscious policy for the U.S. today, but I think it is the tendency. 

So the paradox of our contemporary world is that the natural tendency of the United States is to close the world though the world is naturally open. The fact that we do not have an organized world- democracies and NATO are not part of an entity with unified policies and the rogue states and terrorist organizations are not members of one club or bloc- does not simplify the situation. 

It is my belief that we cannot remain in this paradox, that we have to resolve it. We cannot stay in this paradox because it is forcing us to use an inefficient policy to fight the real threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

Right now, the general feeling is that the United States wants to maintain their technological superiority because they believe this superiority is the only real guarantee for their security. This position is not the best for two reasons: For technical reasons it cannot be efficient because it totally contradicts the capitalistic modern world that I described. For political reasons, it is not an opportune policy because U.S. allies and potential allies are its victims. 

I believe that you cannot employ the mechanisms of a closed world in a world that is in fact open. Regarding technology transfer, you would have to involve the largest possible number of states in your policy, and this would only be possible if you strictly limited the technology that was not desirable to transfer. Such a policy would deal only with weapons of mass destruction though it should also strengthen the means of controlling violations of treaties that forbid weapons of mass destruction. It also seems that you would have to verify whether or not dual-use technologies were being diverted from their civil uses. 


To sum up, I think it is difficult to have a confrontational world within an open world. The principal issue is not U.S. unilateralism, but the fact that to obtain satisfactory results in an open world one must continually negotiate. Today, the United States does not negotiate; they apply the mechanisms of a closed world. This is inefficient because the more they apply these mechanisms, the more they stifle globalization and the development of information and communications technologies, and the harder it becomes to obtain results. The issue today is not identifying threats and enemies, for of course Islamic terrorism and states such as North Korea are threats, but the issue is how to manage these threats. The way to do so is to have broad cooperation and to limit the ban on technology transfer to that which is strictly necessary.



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