``Star wars'' and the reluctance of the United States to share high-technology with its allies are finally pushing Western Europeans to cooperate among themselves on such research. On Wednesday the West German government joined France in supporting the Paris-designed ``Eureka'' proposal to pool European technology. And the four largest European electronics firms made public a plan for joint research in the Eureka framework.
On Thursday Gen. James A. Abrahamson Jr., the director of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or ``star wars''), apparently failed to win any new converts at a blue-ribbon American-German conference in Cologne to the benefits to European industry of participating in SDI. Both European and US officials insist publicly that SDI and Eureka are compatible and even complementary, but there are many private doubts on this score.
West Germany, which has been torn two ways on SDI, is perhaps the best measure of the evolution of European thinking on the US space-based defense project. Britain and France have been skeptical about the program all along, and US SDI enthusiasts have had their greatest success in Europe in rallying German colleagues to the cause. Yet there have been German skeptics from the beginning, and the skeptical view is now in the ascendant.
This was evident in Wednesday's meeting in Bonn between the West German and French foreign, defense, and technology ministers. The two governments agreed to support Eureka together at the European Community summit in Milan this weekend. This is a considerable shift in public image since the Western economic summit in Bonn in early May. At that time, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl conspicuously endorsed SDI while playing down Eureka.
Already a French-West German forum has proposed six projects under Eureka in which EC and other Western European nations would be welcome to participate, the West German financial paper Handelsblatt reported Thursday.
Research fields would include supercomputers (with suggested funding of 800 million marks, or $270 million, over two years); integrated circuits ``with the least structure'' (3.5 billion marks, or $1.2 billion over 10 years); integrated circuits with switching times of less than a picosecond (500 million marks, or $170 million over 10 years); flexible automatic montage systems in an integrated factory (500 million marks, or $170 million, over 10 years); software tools (700 million marks, or $233 million, over 10 years); and smart robots capable of learning (300 million marks, or $100 million, over seven years).
On the same day that the French and West German ministers coordinated their position, Germany's Siemens, France's Thomson, Britain's General Electric, and the Netherlands' Philips made known their willingness to participate together in Eureka research in integrated circuits, supercomputers, and software.
This collaboration, which would require some $1 billion in initial funding and six months of preliminary planning, could begin to redress the perennial complaint that while Europe's total research expenditures match those of the US, the fragmentation into small national markets and companies precludes the rapid conversion of research into products.
The particular stimulus to such unprecedented cooperation among European nations is the fear that the US and Japan will leave them behind in the technological race. European firms are still interested in lucrative individual SDI contracts, but they are wary of having their best brains and research siphoned off without being able themselves to use new technologies commercially. West Germany in particular is therefore interested in reaching a government framework agreement that would protect its firms' access to any technologies they helped develop.
So far the US has not been interested in such an arrangement.
General Abrahamson has been quite frank all along in saying that what the US wants to do is to sign contracts with individual European firms and researchers, and the Pentagon practice is to patent valuable military technologies itself.
This is now beginning to sink in here and to cool the enthusiasm of some former SDI fans.
Foremost among these is Baden-W"urttemberg Premier Lothar Sp"ath, a longtime champion of SDI as a means of jacking up German high-tech industry. Significantly, in the past week, Mr. Sp"ath has begun to warn that SDI participation by German industries without financial participation and without government coordination makes no sense -- and that Europe must now accelerate its own research.
This has always been the position of West German Research and Technology Minister Heinz Riesenhuber, who this week emphasized that he knows of no German company that has yet received a concrete offer to participate in SDI research. All along Mr. Riesenhuber has been dampening the zeal of some of his fellow conservatives both for SDI and for vast government spending to promote research.
This week the contrary pulls on West German industry are all focused on the closed-door German-American conference of top military officers and industrialists in Cologne Thursday and Friday. Abrahamson and Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle have both made a strong pitch there for the advantages of SDI to Europe and to European firms, but for now the West German tide seems to be running against them.