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From CoCom to Dot-Com: Technological Determinisms in Computing Blockades, 1949 to 1994

Abstract : The well-known restrictions on exports of computing equipment to the USSR and its allies at the end of the cold war had a curious history. Although the legacy of CoCom is that it seems natural to restrict technology from potential belligerents, it is difficult to determine the policy’s efficacy. Started as a corollary to the plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, CoCom originally had nothing to do with computers. High-profile failures brought the usefulness of the economic blockade into question at the same time a new academic definition of technology became popular: technology is not just a material device, but it is also a means of getting something done. Computers were at the center of the quandary: does a device provide an inevitable strategic advantage, or is it the innovation culture that surrounds the device what needs protection? What is more, protecting the institutionalized knowledge from antagonists would require reducing the openness of the academic and scientific institutions that had provided innovation in the first place. When the personal computing revolution was underway, the computing embargo was at the forefront of CoCom, even though PCs had not been prominent at its inception. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the USSR, it might seem as if CoCom had been successful, yet contemporary critics and practitioners think otherwise. The determinism that underwrote CoCom then operated in reverse: policies granting access to computing networks were imagined to inevitably bring about cultural and political changes. The failure of CoCom to achieve a meaningful hindrance to technology and the unintended consequences of its implementation failed to make an impact in the political arena, but the lessons about technology transfer grained from the evaluation of the embargo deserve greater attention to guide policy today.
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Christopher Leslie. From CoCom to Dot-Com: Technological Determinisms in Computing Blockades, 1949 to 1994. IFIP International Conference on the History of Computing (HC), Sep 2018, Poznan, Poland. pp.196-225, ⟨10.1007/978-3-030-29160-0_11⟩. ⟨hal-02386549⟩

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