Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Weapons: Russia's Request for the Export of U.S. Computers for Stockpile Maintenance

(Stmnt. for the Rec., 09/30/96, GAO/T-NSIAD-96-245).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the
proposed export of U.S. high performance computers to Russian nuclear
weapons laboratories. GAO noted that: (1) the executive branch has held
discussions with the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) and
other officials on the possibility of undertaking cooperative projects
under a comprehensive test ban treaty; (2) the cooperative projects
would be unclassified and would not enhance the performance of Russian
nuclear weapons or contribute to Russian nuclear weapons design; (3) the
proposed export of these computers raises concerns on whether Russia
will adhere to U.S. policy regarding stockpile maintenance, use the
computers for other nuclear activities, or attempt to develop or acquire
additional high performance computers from other non-U.S. sources; (4)
the United States has set boundaries for cooperation with Russia to
ensure that the information exchange does not contribute to Russian
nuclear weapons design or enhance Russian nuclear weapons military
performance; (5) a MINATOM official has expressed concern regarding U.S.
export restrictions on high performance computers and has requested that
Russian and U.S. officials discuss the possible export of a Convex SPP
2000 Computer; and (6) Russia is unlikely to have acquired computers
with more than 3,500 million theoretical operations per second due to
lackluster sales for these computers by the United States and Japan.
--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------
 REPORTNUM:  T-NSIAD-96-245
     TITLE:  Nuclear Weapons: Russia's Request for the Export of U.S. 
             Computers for Stockpile Maintenance
      DATE:  09/30/96
   SUBJECT:  Atomic energy defense activities
             Nuclear weapons
             Nuclear weapons testing
             Export regulation
             Supercomputers
             Nuclear proliferation
             Foreign military sales policies
             Arms control agreements
             International cooperation
             International trade restriction
IDENTIFIER:  Russia
             China
             India
             Pakistan
             Israel
             Convex SPP 2000 Computer
             Convex Exemplar X-Class Computer
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Cover
================================================================ COVER
Before the Subcommittee on Military Procurement, Committee on
National Security, House of Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Monday,
September 30, 1996
NUCLEAR WEAPONS - RUSSIA'S REQUEST
FOR THE EXPORT OF U.S.  COMPUTERS
FOR STOCKPILE MAINTENANCE
Statement for the Record by Mr.  Harold J.  Johnson, Associate
Director, International Relations and Trade Issues, National Security
and International Affairs Division
GAO/T-NSIAD-96-245
GAO/NSIAD-96-245t
(711192)
Abbreviations
=============================================================== ABBREV
  CTBT - Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
  CTP - composite theoretical performance
  DOE - Department of Energy
  MINATOM - Ministry of Atomic Energy
  MTOPS - million theoretical operations per second
============================================================ Chapter 0
Mr.  Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 
This statement responds to your request that we obtain information on
proposed exports of U.S.  high performance computers to Russian
nuclear weapons laboratories.  Specifically, you requested
information on the policies affecting cooperation between the United
States and Russia on nuclear warhead safety and security under a
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Russian officials' requests
for access to U.S.  high performance computer exports to conduct work
under a CTBT. 
The executive branch, pursuant to U.S.  policy on cooperation with
Russia, has held discussions with Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy
(MINATOM) and other officials on the possibility of undertaking
cooperative projects under a CTBT.  Although no specific project
plans have been developed or approved, Department of Energy (DOE)
officials said that the boundaries for potential cooperative projects
are that (1) they would be unclassified, and (2) they would not
enhance performance of Russian nuclear weapons or contribute to
Russian nuclear weapons design.  These officials stated that any
access to computers provided to Russian scientists will be consistent
with current export control laws.  The regulations implementing the
law provide the executive branch the authority to deny a license for
any item intended for research, development, design, manufacture,
construction, testing, or maintenance of any nuclear explosive device
or other sensitive nuclear activities.  The United States is now
seriously considering Russia's request for the export of U.S.  high
performance computers that are more powerful than those previously
exported to Russia.  The proposed export raises issues about
safeguards to ensure that U.S.  policy is adhered to and that the
computers are not being used for proscribed nuclear activities.  In
considering these issues, the United States must also consider
whether or not Russia could develop or acquire high performance
computers from other non-U.S.  sources in the near future. 
   POLICIES AFFECTING U.S.-RUSSIAN
   STOCKPILE SAFETY AND SECURITY
   COOPERATION
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:1
On September 24, 1996, the United States, Russia, and several other
countries signed a CTBT that prohibits any nuclear explosions.  The
United States supports a CTBT to prevent the improvement of existing
nuclear arsenals and to constrain nuclear weapons proliferation. 
Since nuclear explosions are not permitted under a CTBT, the United
States has embarked on a science-based stockpile stewardship program
that uses past nuclear weapons test data, nonnuclear laboratory
tests, and computer simulations to maintain confidence in the
existing U.S.  nuclear stockpile.  It is U.S.  policy to continue to
maintain a nuclear deterrent against other countries with access to
nuclear forces; the United States considers such a nuclear deterrent
to be a supreme national interest. 
While negotiating the CTBT, representatives from the United States
and Russia discussed the possibility of scientific and technical
collaboration on topics related to the safety and security of each
country's stockpile under a CTBT.  However, according to DOE
officials, the United States set boundaries for cooperation with
Russia to ensure that the information exchange does not contribute to
nuclear weapons design or enhance the military performance of Russian
nuclear weapons.  The United States restricted collaboration to
unclassified subjects and materials and projects that would not
enhance the performance of Russian nuclear weapons.  Access to
computers will be consistent with U.S.  export control laws.  In this
context, it should be noted that the actual export of high
performance computers is not required to conduct the collaborative
efforts currently being discussed, according to a national laboratory
official. 
The executive branch announced a new export control policy on October
6, 1995, for high performance computers that is intended to focus
controls on computers that have a significant impact on U.S.  and
allied security interests and eliminate controls that became
unnecessary or ineffective due to rapid advances in computer
technology.  The policy allows the executive branch to deny export
licenses for high performance computers to certain nuclear weapons
states and other countries of proliferation concern, such as Russia,
China, India, Pakistan, and Israel, when the computers (1) are
intended for a military end user or an end user involved in
proliferation activity and have a composite theoretical performance
(CTP)\1 of over 2,000 million theoretical operations per second
(MTOPS) or (2) are intended for a civilian end user and have a CTP of
over 7,000 MTOPS.  The policy retained the authority to deny export
licenses for any item intended for the research, development, design,
manufacture, construction, testing, or maintenance of any nuclear
explosive device or other sensitive nuclear technologies. 
The policy was announced after the executive branch concluded that
computers capable of a composite theoretical performance of up to
7,000 MTOPS would become widely available in international markets
within the next 2 years.  The executive branch set a lower export
control limit of 2,000 MTOPS for military end users and end users of
proliferation concern because, while these computers may be less
controllable, the United States does not want to support
proliferation or certain military efforts in these countries. 
The policy also outlines a number of steps that the U.S.  government
may require of the exporter or the end user to safeguard computer
exports.  Among other things, the exporter or end user may be
required to limit access to the computer or inspect computer logs and
output.  In addition, the end user may also be required to agree to
on-site inspections by U.S.  government or exporting company
officials, who would review programs and software used on the
computer, or to remote electronic monitoring of the computer. 
--------------------
\1 Composite theoretical performance is used to estimate the maximum
possible performance of a computer as measured in millions of
theoretical operations per second. 
   RUSSIAN REQUESTS FOR HIGH
   PERFORMANCE COMPUTER EXPORTS
---------------------------------------------------------- Chapter 0:2
In the early summer of 1996, a MINATOM official expressed concern
about U.S.  export restrictions on high performance computers and
requested that Russian and U.S.  officials discuss the possible
export of a Convex SPP 2000 computer.  This computer is more capable
than any computer known to be in use in Russia.  This request is
currently being considered by the United States, although the
Commerce Department has not yet received an export license
application for the computer.  In considering this request, the
United States asked MINATOM for additional information on how Russia
planned to use the SPP 2000 computer and several other computers for
which the executive branch was reviewing export license applications. 
The MINATOM official indicated that the SPP 2000 would be used to
help maintain Russia's nuclear stockpile but that the other computers
requested would be used for civilian purposes at Russian nuclear
weapons laboratories.  According to the manufacturer, the SPP 2000,
now known as the Exemplar X-Class, can be configured with a maximum
of 64 processors and has a maximum performance rating of 46,100
million floating point operations per second (or approximately 34,500
MTOPS).\2
Our review of computer export data indicates that it is unlikely that
Russian military and nuclear weapon laboratories have acquired
computers capable of more than approximately 3,500 MTOPS, due to a
lack of known sales of computers above that capability from the
United States or Japan, the only countries currently producing
computers above that level.  Lawrence Livermore Laboratory officials
told us that, the Russians currently have the capability to connect
less powerful computers into a system with a capability greater than
3,500 MTOPS, but they did not know whether the Russians had done
this.  Figure 1 shows a comparison of Russia's computing capabilities
with the Convex Exemplar X-Class computer. 
   

Figure 1: Comparison of Russian Computing Capabilities With the Convex Exemplar X-Class Computer.

<head1<ISSUES REGARDING THE EXPORT OF HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTERS TO RUSSIA Under current export control regulations, the United States could choose to approve the export of high performance computers to Russia with a computer safeguard security plan. According to some national laboratory officials, implementing a rigorous safeguard plan would require personnel experienced in nuclear weapons work to identify the types of programs being run on the computer. These officials said that some civilian computer programs are similar to nuclear weapons programs. Within this context, the proposed export of high performance computers to Russian nuclear weapons laboratories raises several questions the Congress and the executive branch may wish to consider. -- How will the executive branch determine whether the export of high performance computers to Russian nuclear weapons laboratories is in the U.S national security interest, taking into account (1) U.S. support for the CTBT and (2) the executive branch's boundaries on nuclear weapons safety and security collaborations with Russia to ensure that such efforts do not enhance the military performance or contribute to the design of Russian nuclear weapons? -- If the United States were to approve the export of any computers to Russian nuclear weapons laboratories for civilian end uses, how would the United States devise a computer safeguard plan that could detect the possible diversion of the computers from civilian end uses to proscribed nuclear weapons activities? -- Could Russia develop or acquire computers with similar capability to those they are requesting from non-U.S. sources in the near future? This concludes our statement for the record. -------------------- \2 The computer industry measures computer performance in floating point operations per second. According to national laboratory officials, an MFLOP is roughly equal to .75 MTOP for multiprocessor computers. *** End of document. ***






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