US West, an American telecommunications firm, announced yesterday that it was going to lead a massive multinational effort to install a fiber-optic communications system across the Soviet Union. The deal would transform the relatively primitive Soviet telephone network into one utilizing high technology fiber-optic cable and switching equipment.
Because of its direct applicability to military purposes, such technology is currently prohibited for transfer to the Soviet bloc under controls imposed by the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls. Indeed, the Center for Security Policy believes it is difficult to overstate the significance that this transaction could have for enhancing Soviet strategic command, control and communications (C3) capabilities.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., the Center’s director, said today, "The Soviets have long been preoccupied with enhancing the robustness of their military C3 system. In fact, the massive investment Moscow has made in recent years in establishing diversified, hardened capabilities for wartime command, control and communications dwarfs that of the United States and NATO and is one of the principal indicators of the Soviets’ systematic preparation for nuclear conflict. Installation of a fiber-optic communication network will greatly augment this concerted effort."
Gaffney added, "A Soviet fiber-optic network will also make it infinitely more difficult for the West to monitor Soviet communications, a decisive factor in assessing leadership intentions, status of forces and preparations for conflict. It is noteworthy that just today, U.S. officials have indicated that Soviet forces in East Germany have been placed in a higher state of readiness, but aver that this action appears to be of a defensive character. If accurate, these leaks beg an important question: Would the United States be able to ascertain and judge such actions if Soviet communications were transmitted by secure fiber-optic lines?"
Ironically, this deal — and others like it — are being formulated at the same time that the American people are indicating strong opposition to such ill-advised transactions. In an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released on 6 December 1989, the public disapproved of selling high technology products with potential military applications to the USSR by a margin of 17% in favor to 77% opposed. The Center believes that this popular sentiment will result in serious costs for American and allied firms that pursue such parochial and mercenary deals at the expense of U.S. national security.
The Center for Security Policy calls upon the Bush Administration and allied governments to reject this and similar ill-advised transactions. How Western governments respond to the US West deal will be an important litmus test of their willingness and ability to prevent a dangerous hemorrhage of sensitive technology to the Soviet bloc.