High-Performance Computing, National Security Applications, and Export Control Policy at the Close of the 20th Century

If high-performance computing (HPC) export control policy is to be effective, three basic premises must hold:

  • There exist problems of great national security importance that require high-performance computing for their solution, and these problems cannot be solved, or can only be solved in severely degraded forms, without such computing assets.

  • There exist countries of national security concern to the United States that have both the scientific and military wherewithal to pursue these or similar applications.

  • There are features of high-performance computers that permit effective forms of control.

    This study applies and extends the methodology established in Building on the Basics [1]. Its objective has been to study trends in HPC technologies and their application to problems of national security importance to answer two principal questions:

    · Do the basic premises continue to be satisfied as the 20th century draws to a close?

    · In what range of performance levels might an export-licensing threshold be set so that the basic premises are satisfied?

    The study concludes that export controls on HPC hardware are still viable, although much weaker than in the past. In particular, while applications of national security interest abound, it is increasingly difficult to identify applications that strongly satisfy all three basic premises, i.e. are of extreme national security importance and would likely be effectively pursued by countries of national security concern and would be severely retarded without levels of computing performance that could be effectively controlled.