Thursday, February 12, 2004

Separate but Related

President Bush's speech proposing unprecedented measures to prevent nuclear proliferation brings together two threads, conceptually separate but operationally intertwined: Islamic terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The address begins with a reminder of just what terrorists can accomplish with materials obtainable at the local shopping mall.

"On September the 11th, 2001, America and the world witnessed a new kind of war. We saw the great harm that a stateless network could inflict upon our country, killers armed with box cutters, mace, and 19 airline tickets."

He then went on to say that new merchandise has appeared on the shelves. Nuclear weapons.

A. Q. Khan is known throughout the world as the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. What was not publicly known, until recently, is that he also led an extensive international network for the proliferation of nuclear technology and know-how. ...  A. Q. Khan, himself, operated mostly out of Pakistan. He served as director of the network, its leading scientific mind, as well as its primary salesman. Over the past decade, he made frequent trips to consult with his clients and to sell his expertise. He and his associates sold the blueprints for centrifuges to enrich uranium, as well as a nuclear design stolen from the Pakistani government. The network sold uranium hexafluoride, the gas that the centrifuge process can transform into enriched uranium for nuclear bombs. Khan and his associates provided Iran and Libya and North Korea with designs for Pakistan's older centrifuges, as well as designs for more advanced and efficient models. The network also provided these countries with components, and in some cases, with complete centrifuges.

To increase their profits, Khan and his associates used a factory in Malaysia to manufacture key parts for centrifuges. Other necessary parts were purchased through network operatives based in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. These procurement agents saw the trade in nuclear technologies as a shortcut to personal wealth, and they set up front companies to deceive legitimate firms into selling them tightly controlled materials. Khan's deputy -- a man named B.S.A. Tahir -- ran SMB computers, a business in Dubai. Tahir used that computer company as a front for the proliferation activities of the A. Q. Khan network. Tahir acted as both the network's chief financial officer and money launderer. He was also its shipping agent, using his computer firm as cover for the movement of centrifuge parts to various clients. Tahir directed the Malaysia facility to produce these parts based on Pakistani designs, and then ordered the facility to ship the components to Dubai. Tahir also arranged for parts acquired by other European procurement agents to transit through Dubai for shipment to other customers.

The inescapable inference, indeed the intended suggestion of the President's speech was that in the near future, terrorists would come at us not with box cutters but with a certified 40 kiloton Pakistani-designed nuke. This WMD marketing network had been uncovered not by the mechanism of the nonproliferation treaties, nor by the United Nations, but by Allied intelligence. The breakout had breached the defenses the world had long relied upon the control the spread of nuclear weaponry. Consequently President Bush proposed a series of measures, which, although unable to recall the horses which had already bolted the corral, might not nonetheless narrow the gate. They included:

  1. Tracking down and prosecuting violators;
  2. Making it a crime in all nations to proliferate nuclear weapons;
  3. Hire all idle nuclear scientists;
  4. Restrict the production of fissile materials to 40 countries;
  5. Restrict the importation of civilian nuclear equipment to countries which sign a nonproliferation agreement;
  6. Revamp the IAEA; and -- here is the clause that provides unintended comic relief --
  7. "finally, countries under investigation for violating nuclear non-proliferation obligations are currently allowed to serve on the IAEA Board of Governors. For instance, Iran -- a country suspected of maintaining an extensive nuclear weapons program -- recently completed a two-year term on the Board. Allowing potential violators to serve on the Board creates an unacceptable barrier to effective action. No state under investigation for proliferation violations should be allowed to serve on the IAEA Board of Governors -- or on the new special committee. And any state currently on the Board that comes under investigation should be suspended from the Board. The integrity and mission of the IAEA depends on this simple principle: Those actively breaking the rules should not be entrusted with enforcing the rules."

Taken together, the points in the President's speech are a virtual admission that the nuclear nonproliferation regime lies in absolute ruin. Not only did the "international" watchdog refuse to bark as offenders plied to and fro, but the perpetrators were sitting on the  IAEA Board of Governors itself. The President now holds out the hope that taking steps to control fissile materials may yet limit the damage. We should all congratulate ourselves that only a handful of cities can be incinerated if we act now.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odor of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.