Sunday, March 26, 2006


A common complaint about the American trade in technology and arms is that we are arming our enemies. By selling weaponry to other countries, the possibility of blowback arises, wherein Americans are killed by weapons supplied by America. This seems, at first glance, to be a legitimate concern.

However, "The New Face of War,"by Bruce Berkowitz, makes an insightful point:

Sometime in 2000 China's Huawei Technologies sold Iraq fiberobtic communications components, which Iraq used to improve its air defense network. This was a violation of the UN embargo on trade with Iraq, but what really made many pundits and politicians in the US angry was that Huawei had originally obtained the fiberoptic technology from Motorola, an American company. After the press reported the incident, these pundits and politicians cited the Huawei case as evidence of the need for tougher export controls. They seemed to miss a minor point: the original sale wasn't to Iraq; it was to china. Did they want to ban all exports of the technology? And if not, how did they expect to prevent Iraq from getting the technology through a third party?

But here's the crunch issue: When U.S. military officials were planning air strikes for a war against Iraq in 2003, which would have been better-for Iraqis to be equipeed with a communications system that was totally foreign to the United States? Or one that American engineers understood in detail, and understood how to neutralize? [emphasis added]

If we are supplying weapons to other countries, then we know more or less what to expect from them. Blowback can be an unpleasant, and outright deadly, irony, but the opposite danger--ignorance about an opponent's arsenal--might possibly be even more dangerous.

The book summarizes a paragraph later:
Today the ability to command information is almost always more important than firepower and speed, and information technology is so widely available that it is almost always impossible to control. So, [...] today it is usually better to have insight into--or, even better control over--your adversary's information technology than to stop him from getting the technology.


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