Pakistan: no way to put the nuclear Gini back in the bottle
By Ehsan Ahrari
Global Beat Syndicate
NORFOLK, Va--Just when you thought Pakistan was out of the woods on the issue nuclear scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan and his "nuclear department store," Islamabad faces that hot issue again. A new CIA report says Khan "...provided Iran's nuclear program with significant assistance, including designs for advanced and efficient weapons components."
The controversy is fueled by Iran's continued flirtation with uranium enrichment, and Washington's fear that Tehran is considerably closer to developing nuclear weapons than even the best estimates of the U.N. watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, indicate. The indigenous nuclear know-how in Tehran and Iran's proximity to Pakistan are two other reasons underlying Washington's concern.
Before the world learned about the activities of Dr. Khan, the United States was living in a make believe world, thinking that as long as high profile nonproliferation regimes were in place, everyone would play by the rules. But there were at least two problems with this kind of thinking. First, the U.S.-sponsored nuclear nonproliferation regimes gave ample security guarantees through "extended nuclear deterrence" only to Western European NATO countries, plus Japan, Australia, Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan. Second, a number of other countries facing major regional conflicts were left to scramble for their nuclear security from their major interlocutors, the Soviet Union or China--or they were left to fend for themselves.
Meanwhile, the United States became more resolute than ever about stopping nuclear proliferation, and as we tried to ensure that there would not be a repeat of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear arms race. That was one reason why Washington has remained so adamant that North Korea must not become the next declared nuclear power.
The A. Q. Khan controversy forced leaders in Washington to face three ugly realities. First that the nuclear genie is not only out of the proverbial bottle, but that it is also likely to keep on delivering nuclear technology via mail order to all the wannabe nuclear powers.
Second, the nuclear black-market--which cannot be effectively dealt with by using the extant international legal channels--was highly proactive in helping to make Libya, Iran, and North Korea the next nuclear powers.
Third, in the wake of the thriving nuclear black-market, chances are high that the shady and illegal modus operandi of Dr. Khan will be used by other actors to spread nuclear know-how and technology to other nuclear wannabe countries in the future. Iran is considered the most likely current practitioner of that modus operandi.
The Bush administration's reaction to the late November CIA report was not only anger and dismay but a demand for a thorough international investigation of the damage done by Khan and his cohorts. The White House also wants to know whether Dr. Khan's house arrest also meant the end of Pakistan's nuclear black-market, or just the removal of a visible personality from the scene, but no dismantlement of the global nuclear mail order system.
George W. Bush's global war on terrorism was the main the reason why the United States could not press close "war ally" Pakistan to come clean about its role in the A.Q. Khan affair--and so, the controversy refuses to go away. Washington is also greatly concerned that other countries might acquire nuclear technology once U.S. pressure eases up.
Despite strong pressure on Iran, chances are slim that we will learn the full extent of Khan's involvement in Tehran's nuclear program any time soon. More likely, the mystery will continue until the next major disclosure linking him to another regional state's involvement in nuclear-related activities.
Even if Pakistan fully discloses the involvement of its own nuclear scientist in the spread of nuclear technology and know-how, there is still no guarantee that the nuclear black-market will be eliminated--or even fully controlled. As long as some countries are motivated to acquire nuclear weapons as part of their overall security blanket, there will be suppliers who are willing to sell them whatever they want, and for an exorbitant price. Given the "law of supply and demand," the nuclear genie is probably out of the bottle for good.