Tuesday, September 26, 2006
# Posted 2:37 PM by Patrick Belton
Yesterday, I went along to see Gordon Corera, a BBC security correspondent whose book Shopping for Bombs (OUP in the States and Hurst in Britain), which I'll be reviewing in other pages, treats with the A.Q. Khan network. The interesting bits of his talk were the interesting bits of his book, leading me to want to say to him, show me just what Corera brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman. But then I thought better of it.
So instead, I thought I'd focus on bits and bobs which didn't quite make their way into the book. One is just how rarely western businessmen serving as intermediaries of the proliferation process were successfully prosecuted; and how light the sentences were for the ones who were. If nuclear calculations are about deterrent, its factor here is low. They say generally they thought they were funding oil research; proving them liars is dicey.
Few nuclear states did it without some form of external aid. Israel, South Africa, even Britain relied on external help at some juncture or another. South Korea and Brazil could build a bomb tomorrow, Argentina and Japan could have developed a nuclear capacity had they so chosen. Saudi Arabia (with Libya) were suspected of funding the Pakistani nuclear programme, with Riyadh pushing for the test, offering even oil subsidies to set off cuts in American aid which would result. When western analysts became aware that Pakistan was helping Libya with its bomb, it shaved eight years off their estimates, centrifuges being the tricky, incredibly precise things that they are. (Which is also why Corera thinks the terrorist bomb would be more a matter of organisations getting fissile material from a state, whether from largesse or nicking poorly guarded material out of the former Soviet Union, than DIY.)
What about after Khan? Corera thinks North Korea may fit into Pakistan's role. It's already sold its missile technology quite broadly, and some hexafluoride material passed to Libya seems to have come from Pyongyang. From the perspective of Khan's nuclear club for men, North Korea seems to have been in the role of a partner, not just a customer. It's easy, anyway, for another actor to move into the niche Khan created; supply wasn't just increased by his network, so was demand, to include cascading proliferation effects (ie, once one country gets it, all its neighbours will want it too, just like Dualit espresso makers).
Interestingly, there's a rumour (which I don't think makes it into Corera book, but is juicy and perhaps untrue and so I'll put it on my blog...) that Khan's daughters, who hold British nationality and live in London, have gobs of incriminating documents demonstrating the extent of presidential involvement in Pakistani proliferation activities; they're meant further to have instructions to send them to the press if Khan disappears into the night, which has something tidy and strategic about that, for someone whose life both revolved around nuclear issues but who sought, as he saw it, to democratise the bomb. £5 to anyone who can get one of those girls to take them home. (4) opinions -- Add your opinion
Well, it would seem that a hostile government would also be able to disappear the daughters; so I can't put much credence in that cute idea.
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