Thursday, February 19, 2004

A Tale of Two Cities

Here are two accounts of the nuclear proliferation disaster occasioned by Pakistan's active peddling of WMD technology. The first from Ma'ariv International (Hat tip: reader DL), puts the blame squarely on the complacency of American policy:

The most likely explanation why the Reagan, 1st Bush and Clinton administrations did nothing, despite having concrete information that Khan was peddling nuclear technology to rogue states, was that the US decided that he was carrying out Pakistani state policy. Pakistan has been a US ally since the onset of the cold war, and was the main conduit for US aid to the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet occupation forces. Even after the USSR collapsed, orthodox thinking reigned supreme in the foreign policy establishment.

It is becoming increasingly clear that policy regarding Pakistan is gong to go down in history as another great chapter of US folly. The US significantly upgraded the capabilities of the ISI (Inter-Service-Intelligence), Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, using it as its main tool in supplying the Afghan rebels. It failed to notice that the ISI itself had come under the command of militant Islamists, and had become the most influential force within the Pakistani military establishment. When Uncle Sam belatedly realized he was being had by his erstwhile allies, he preferred to bury his head in the sand rather than admit he had been played for a fool. As a result the ISI was able to effectively hijack Pakistani policy. It created the Taliban, and gave them the green light to turn Afghanistan into the base of an Islamic jihad against the West, while professing to the US that it was the sole lever of moderation over Mullah Omar.

One of the main supporters of the ISI within the Pakistani military was General Pervez Musharraf, who, it is believed, played a significant role in developing the Pakistani bomb. Just how deep a game Musharraf himself has been playing is unclear. His Indian neighbors have never trusted him, and have always maintained that he is a closet Islamic militant who actively supports Islamic terrorism in Kashmir. Their opinion is worthy of consideration.

Bush Sr. played a significant role in creating this mess, first as head of the CIA, subsequently as Vice President and President. His son is going to have to clean it up. The irony is delicious: the son, considered a foreign policy ignoramus, is having to deal with the problems created by his father, considered one of the biggest foreign policy mavens ever to occupy the White House.

The second, from the New York Times, suggests that America was not quite so blind, just lackadaisical as Europe, that peaceful continent, broadcast the seeds of destruction to the four corners of the globe. (Hat tip: another reader with the initials DL).

The proliferation has its roots in Europe's own postwar eagerness for nuclear independence from the United States and its lax security over potentially lethal technology. It was abetted, critics say, by competition within Europe for lucrative contracts to bolster state-supported nuclear industries. Even as their own intelligence services warned that Pakistan could not be trusted, some European governments continued to help Pakistan's nuclear program. ...

The problem began with the 1970 Treaty of Almelo, under which Britain, Germany and the Netherlands agreed to develop centrifuges to enrich uranium jointly, ensuring their nuclear power industry a fuel source independent of the United States. Urenco, or the Uranium Enrichment Company, was established the next year with its primary enrichment plant at Almelo, the Netherlands.

Security at Urenco was by most accounts slipshod. The consortium relied on a network of research centers and subcontractors to build its centrifuges, and top-secret blueprints were passed out to companies bidding on tenders, giving engineers across Europe an opportunity to appropriate designs.

Dr. Khan, who worked for a Urenco Dutch subcontractor, Physics Dynamic Research Laboratory, was given access to the most advanced designs, even though he came from Pakistan, which was already known to harbor nuclear ambitions. A 1980 report by the Dutch government on his activities said he visited the Almelo factory in May 1972 and by late 1974 had an office there.

After Dr. Khan returned to Pakistan with blueprints and supplier lists for uranium enrichment centrifuges at the end of 1975, American intelligence agencies predicted that he would soon be shopping for the items needed to build the centrifuges for Pakistan's bomb. They soon detected a flow of equipment from Europe to Pakistan as Dr. Khan drew on Urenco's network of suppliers using a trusted group of former schoolmates and friends as agents.

The NYT article details how European companies, despite fitful American warnings and resistance from their own governments, continued to sell parts to Pakistan.

The Dutch government report found that in 1976, two Dutch firms exported to Pakistan 6,200 unfinished rotor tubes made of superstrong maraging steel. The tubes are the heart of Urenco's advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges. ... "The export control office didn't even inspect the goods," said Reinhard Huebner, the German prosecutor who handled the subsequent trial of the company's chief, Rudolf Ortmayers, and Peter Finke, a German physicist who went to Pakistan to train engineers there to operate the equipment. Both men were sentenced to jail for violating export control laws. But there were clues that the technology had spread even further: a German intelligence investigation determined that Iraq and possibly Iran and North Korea had obtained uranium-melting expertise stolen from Urenco in 1984 ...

And so the principal bulwark against nuclear weapons proliferation, the control of fissile materials dissolved in the fog of neglect and the acid corrosion of corruption. With finished bomb designs in the hands of Libya, courtesy of China via Pakistan, the last piece in the puzzle of death has been put on the board. The Washington Post reports:

Investigators have discovered that the nuclear weapons designs obtained by Libya through a Pakistani smuggling network originated in China, exposing yet another link in a chain of proliferation that stretched across the Middle East and Asia, according to government officials and arms experts. ...

The packet of documents, some of which included text in Chinese, contained detailed, step-by-step instructions for assembling an implosion-type nuclear bomb that could fit atop a large ballistic missile. They also included technical instructions for manufacturing components for the device, the officials and experts said.

"It was just what you'd have on the factory floor. It tells you what torque to use on the bolts and what glue to use on the parts," one weapons expert who had reviewed the blueprints said in an interview. He described the designs as "very, very old" but "very well engineered."

And maybe that is why Hans Blix, the UN's principal inspector, claims that President Bush exaggerated the threat of weapons of mass destruction to the world like a common salesman in pursuit of his imaginary fears.