Nuclear Wal-Mart


Nuclear Wal-Mart

Feb 9th, 2004 3 min read
Peter Brookes

Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs

Peter helps develop and communicate The Heritage Foundation's stance on foreign and defense policy through his research and writing.

Pakistan has become the world's nuclear Wal-Mart. The father of the Pakistani bomb, jetsetter scientist A.Q. Khan, turns out to be the godfather of global nuclear proliferation. Perhaps more than any one person, Khan is responsible for the most egregious string of nuclear-proliferation transactions in recent history - perhaps ever.

Khan's televised mea culpa on sharing nuclear technology with Iran, North Korea and Libya is little consolation. Certainly it's not enough to warrant the pardon given by Pakistani President Musharraf. Even more disappointing is Pakistan's refusal to allow an independent probe of Khan's proliferation activity - or that of others in Pakistan's scientific, intelligence or military circles.

You can bet that Khan isn't the only one complicit in this fiasco. U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohammed ElBaradei (Hans Blix's old sidekick) has said that Khan is just the "tip of the iceberg." ElBaradei's investigators are pursuing leads in at least five countries, including Japan, Malaysia, Germany and a couple of other yet-unidentified European nations.

But what does all this mean? That the world's most destructive weapons have been placed in the hands of the world's most despicable regimes. Iran has extensive ties with terrorism, including considerable outright sponsorship of it. North Korea has amply demonstrated its willingness to sell ballistic missiles to the highest bidder.

So the burning question is "secondary proliferation": What might Iran and North Korea do with their newfound capabilities and knowledge, besides go nuclear themselves? Will an Iranian A.Q. Khan share nuclear technology with Syria? Will North Korea give atomic tips to Burma's junta, which already plans to build a nuclear research reactor?

Why did Khan do it? For self-aggrandizement, and to line his pockets with the coins of despots. And to get North Korean ballistic-missile technology that would let Islamabad level the strategic playing field with nuclear India. (The Pakistani "Ghauri" ballistic missile is a nuclear-capable knock-off of Pyongyang's "No-Dong" missile.) Some suggest he even did it out of anti-Americanism, supplying America's sworn enemies with nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the most important question is: What to do now that the nuclear horse has left the barn? Here are some suggestions:

Debrief Khan's nuclear clan: Find out exactly what was shared with North Korea and Iran, the status of their nuclear programs, the locations of their covert research and production facilities and who else may have had access to Pakistani nuclear technology or materials.

For instance, has there been Pakistani contact with the Saudis or the Syrians, both believed to have nuclear aspirations? Did Pakistani scientists or intelligence personnel have dealings with the Taliban and al Qaeda on nuclear matters, as has been rumored? Is all Pakistani fissile material - such as might be used in a "dirty bomb" - accounted for?

Break up the world's nuclear networks: Using the information gleaned from Khan's debriefing (as well as Libyan info), U.S. and international partners must act swiftly to dismantle the clandestine global-proliferation grid, keeping nukes from spreading beyond Iran and North Korea. Middlemen and front companies must be exposed and closed down as soon as possible.

Strengthen international nonproliferation pacts: The U.N.'s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the voluntary, 38-country Nuclear Supplier Group export-control agreement are proving anemic in fighting nuclear proliferation. Real penalties and vigorous enforcement, such as those contained in the Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative, are in order.

Improve proliferation intelligence: In his Georgetown University address last week, CIA Director George Tenet identified some intelligence victories on nonproliferation, such as Libya. That's great. But these triumphs didn't prevent the Pakistani nuke blueprints from getting to Tehran and Pyongyang. The independent intelligence assessment called for by the White House must go beyond Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to improving all intelligence, but especially WMD and terrorism.

Pakistan is a troubling strategic partner, especially in light of Khan's (forced) revelations. But Islamabad remains critical in fighting terrorism and proliferation.

The Pakistani nuclear genie is out of the bottle, but with Pakistan's (belated) help, we still have a chance of keeping the North Korean and Iranian bottles corked.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. He served with the CIA, DIA and Naval Intelligence. E-mail:

First appeared in New York Post