Chasing the Nuclear Genie
It won't be easy to get the nuclear genie back into the bottle. No
sooner had President Bush announced his very worthy initiative to
combat proliferation, in a speech at American Defense University
last Wednesday, than newspaper reports over the weekend detailed
disturbing findings of a trail of nuclear designs from China to
Pakistan to Libya. This is one hot and scary topic.
In fact, Libya has released a mother lode of information, which is
now being analyzed by experts from the United States and Britain as
well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The designs
in question were handed over to American officials after Libya's
Moammar Gaddaffi decided to renounce weapons of mass destruction,
presumably to avoid going the way of Saddam Hussein. Readers of The
Washington Times won't be too surprised, of course; this
newspaper's Bill Gertz long since broke the news of the
Chinese-Pakistani nuclear cooperation.
Revelations about Iran's program for enriching uranium are equally
disturbing. Also last week, international inspectors discovered
that Iran had hidden blueprints for a highly sophisticated
centrifuge, capable of producing a key element in nuclear weapons.
This means that even as Iran was pretending to be cooperating with
the IAEA, it was engaged in a double-cross. Who knows what else
they have tucked away.
And overshadowing it all are the revelations about Pakistan's
black-market in nuclear technology, run by the father of Pakistan's
nuclear bomb, A.Q. Khan. Mr. Kahn is accused of running a veritable
Wal-Mart of black market proliferation, as IAEA chief Moammar
ElBaradei has put it. Eager customers included Libya and North
Do these deplorable failings of anti-proliferation measures
invalidate the main point of Mr. Bush's speech that "every
civilized nation has a stake in preventing the spread of weapons of
mass destruction"? No. What it does is to reinforce his message
that we must put teeth into the IAEA.
Mr. Bush wants to give the atomic inspection agency an enforcement
arm to verify compliance from member countries. He also wants known
and suspected violators of IAEA rules to be barred from positions
on its board of governors, which seems a very reasonable idea.
Iran, for one, has been able to flout the rules for 18 years. Most
significantly, he appealed to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which
includes the 40 countries that sell most nuclear technology, to
stop selling equipment to any country that is not already equipped
today to handle nuclear fuel.
Mr. Bush also announced the addition of three new countries,
Norway, Canada and Singapore, to the group of 11 that already
cooperate with the United States in the Proliferation Security
Initiative (PSI), the purpose of which is to block shipments of
weapons of mass destruction. Directed so far primarily at North
Korea, the PSI represents an inspired bit of multilateral thinking
on the part of the administration, primarily Undersecretary of
State for Arms Control John Bolton.
The argument could well be made that our best defense against the
proliferation of nuclear weapons is missile defense. According to
this school of thought, primarily conservative, the nuclear genie
has escaped for good, which means that we might as well get used to
a growing number of nuclear states. Were we dealing only with state
actors that argument might hold, but in an unpredictable world of
international terrorism, even a "dirty bomb," a primitive radiation
device unleashed by terrorists in a U.S. city is a nightmare
scenario. Missile defense is indeed needed, but only goes so
Another argument, advanced by liberal arms control advocates, is
that we must deal with our own nuclear weapons in order to occupy
the high ground in the nuclear proliferation field. The U.S.
stockpile is indeed shrinking, but the fact remains that we can
account for our weapons and our nuclear fuel. They are not likely
to end up in terrorist hands.
The approach suggested by the Bush administration falls into the
realm of the realistic, somewhere between idealism and despair.
Proliferation takes place mainly within a loop of rogue nations,
Iran, North Korea, formerly Libya and Iraq, and is fed by
scientists and material from Pakistan, China and Russia. Looked at
this way, it is still a deeply troubling, but not unmanageable,
Our focus needs to be on effectively cutting that loop, and on
disrupting the work of the merry band of rogue states. Provided the
political will is there, that is not an impossible aspiration.
First appeared in The Washington Times