The New York Times has an important article about Pakistan’s ties to nuclear programs in a number of countries.
The Pakistani leaders who denied for years that scientists at the country’s secret A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories were peddling advanced nuclear technology must have been averting their eyes from a most conspicuous piece of evidence: the laboratory’s own sales brochure, quietly circulated to aspiring nuclear weapons states and a network of nuclear middlemen around the world.
The cover bears an official-looking seal that says “Government of Pakistan” and a photograph of the father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan. It promotes components that were spinoffs from Pakistan’s three-decade-long project to build a nuclear stockpile of enriched uranium, set in a drawing that bears a striking resemblance to a mushroom cloud.
I don’t see the mushroom cloud in that brochure and in fact find the mention of the brochure without a high quality image and a description of what parts it shows to be a big distraction. This part of the article is just plain stupid. The A. Q. Khan Research Labs might have been marketing nuclear technology but that brochure as shown does not prove it. On the other hand, Dr. A.Q. Khan has always struck me as a megalomaniac and so this doesn’t seem out of character for him.
As investigators unravel the mysteries of the North Korean, Iranian and now the Libyan nuclear projects, Pakistan —- and those it empowered with knowledge and technology they are now selling on their own —- has emerged as the intellectual and trading hub of a loose network of hidden nuclear proliferators.
That network is global, stretching from Germany to Dubai and from China to South Asia, and involves many middlemen and suppliers. But what is striking about a string of recent disclosures, experts say, is how many roads appear ultimately to lead back to the Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta, where Pakistan’s own bomb was developed.
If all this turns out to be true (and right now it does look likely), it was extremely stupid of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment.
These nuclear ties are all a part of the dirty world of weapons export. It is an old game now being played with extremely deadly stakes. If you looked at the ties between countries for weapons purchase and selling, you’ll find that everyone is linked to everyone else through middlemen and other countries. Even when countries don’t have formal relations or are on bad terms, there is still a weapons link between them. A small example from the NY Times article: It talks about Libya financing Pakistan’s nuclear program and supplying it with uranium ore in the late 1970s. Around the same time, Libya was also supporting the Bhuttos against Pakistan’s military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq. Libyan support included financing Al-Zulfiqar, a terrorist organization led by Prime Minister Bhutto’s sons. Bhutto had been deposed by Zia and was executed after a murder trial in 1979.
Near the end of the article, there is an important point about the spread of nuclear weapons.
Dr. ElBaradei estimates that 35 to 40 nations now have the knowledge to build an atomic weapon. In place of the nonproliferation treaty, which he calls obsolete, he proposes revising the world’s system to place any facilities that can manufacture fissile material under multinational control.
“Unless you are able to control the actual acquisition of weapon-usable material, you are not able to control proliferation,” he said in recent interview. But Mr. Bush and the leaders of the other established nuclear states are reluctant to renegotiate a stronger treaty because it will reopen the question of why some states are permitted to hold nuclear weapons and others are not.
For now the world is left watching a terrifying race —- one that pits scientists, middlemen and extremists against Western powers trying to intercept, shipload by shipload, the technology as it spreads through the clandestine network.
I think that nuclear weapons will spread. Probably by 2050, 30—50 countries will have nuclear weapons. The era of nonproliferation is over. We need alternatives. Don’t ask me for any solutions. I don’t have any.
UPDATE: The brochure story seemed a bit familiar. And it should be since it is a year old. I blogged about it last year.