The Co-ordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) is an agreement of seventeen advanced countries not to sell certain technical equipment to the former Soviet Union and its allies. A list of forbidden technology includes semiconductor manufacturing equipment, sophisticated machine tools, telecommunications equipment and computers. Despite the rules the former German DR illegally obtained Japanese-made precision equipment for producing advanced computer chips and the former Soviet Union was sold machine tools. Before mid-1990s the high-technology companies never knew which products were on the secret list and had to go through expensive and time consuming review by licensing authorities and by COCOM. However, COCOM has had little success in enlisting newly industrialized states, such as Taiwan and South Korea, and itself very nearly unravelled in 1990 with the demise of the Warsaw Pact.
Unlike the narrowly focused targets of East-West controls, the technologies covered by proliferation controls are many and varied and have diffused to countries throughout the world. Thus, the mechanisms and channels of transfer, which are difficult to manage now, will become even more porous in the years ahead.
It is often difficult to distinguish the countries restricting technology from the countries being restricted. Indeed, today's friendly nation can become tomorrow's enemy. Throughout the 1980s, for example, Iraq was a de facto ally of the USA because of its opposition to the radical Shi'ite regime in Iran. Egypt, an important ally of the USA in the Middle East, was in the late 1980s developing the long-range Condor missile with Iraq and Argentina.