The absurdity of US controls on high-tech exports to India

Chips are bad. Planes are not.

The United States controls exports of microprocessors (yes, microprocessors) to defence equipment manufacturers in India. One businessman was jailed for illegally selling 500 chips to India. The logic behind such export controls is to prevent India from developing and using such things like fighter aircraft, which ostensibly would be a Bad Thing for US interests.

And then you note that the US is keen to sell state-of-the-art F-16 and F/A-18 aircraft to the Indian Air Force, and that’s not a Bad Thing at all.

It’s not about arms control. It’s good old protectionism. And what if the India simply decides to buy Russian or European jets instead? What does that do for US interests?

Update: Oh, and by the way, did you know that Apple forbids you from using iTunes 7 software to develop, design, manufacture or produce weapons of mass destruction? Does that mean you can use iTunes to test them? [Via New Scientist blog]

10 thoughts on “The absurdity of US controls on high-tech exports to India”

  1. Yes, but the beauty is, the US isn’t protecting US companies from competitors in US markets. Its protecting US companies from competitors in Indian markets.

    Also, minor quibble, but the F-16 and F/A-18 haven’t been state-of-the-art since before I was born.

  2. Kunal,

    I don’t claim F-16s and F/A-18s are state-of-the-art aircraft. Rather the US wants to sell state-of-the-art F16s and F/A-18s. Quibble unwarranted 🙂

  3. Well, they’re the latest version of F-16 or F/A-18, but that still does not mean they’re state-of-the-art. You wouldn’t call the Ambassador 1800ISZ a state-of-the-art car, would you?

  4. Kunal,

    You wouldn’t call the Ambassador 1800ISZ a state-of-the-art car, would you?

    Nope. Just that it is a state-of-the-art Ambassador.

  5. The high tech denial regime has, sadly, extracted a heavy price on India. has delayed a myriad of projects and forced sarkar to expend scarce resources on developing them inhouse. Sure, there’ve been spinoff benefits along the way but the opportunity cost of having to do so much inhouse has bogged down many a project, IMO.

    And yes, make no mistake, the tech denials will only be lifted when we’re close to developing reliable substitutes inhouse. How better to strangle indigenous tech by making cheaper alternatives suddenly and alluringly available? Having come to the last lap, sarkar should avoid these false temptation traps.

    Another issue is that US hardware is likely booby trapped. Hooks built in for DoD to sneak in and out at will. Wouldn’t want our hardware deserting us just when crisis erupts now, do we?

    A good signal from the US on its sincerity at implementing from its side the 123 agreement is by pre-emptively lifting some of these ridiculous tech denials. But that hasn’t happened yet has it. Also, there’s every possibility any such move maybe passed by admin but ‘not ratified’ by the US Congress, what then?

  6. Nitin, I don’t see anything absurd in US policy. It’s the give a man a fish v/s teach him how to fish debate. With the former, the US can squeeze India’s precious jewels any time it wishes. With the latter, India becomes independent and makes decisions in its own interest – and that cannot be a good thing.

    Kunal, the F-18 is pretty much state-of-the-art today.

  7. Nitin, how is what US is doing protectionism?

    Agree with Mihir that FA18 is still state of the art, at least the version being offered to India.

    I think those chips were to be used in rockets – missile proliferation issues take over. Anyway, we should be fabricating them ourselves.

  8. The distinction is subtle. At the time of the commission of the offence the act was illegal. Selling the same chips now may not be. Plus one assumes the gov has the necessary permissions to sell them aircraft. And, maybe just maybe, the aircraft don’t have that damn chip! 😉

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