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2007 April 15 Sunday
Saudis Lead Gulf Sunni Nuclear Push

George W. Bush's good buddies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have decided that they have to keep up with the Iranians on the nuclear front. The Saudis and their allies claim they are pursuing only peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Two years ago, the leaders of Saudi Arabia told international atomic regulators that they could foresee no need for the kingdom to develop nuclear power. Today, they are scrambling to hire atomic contractors, buy nuclear hardware and build support for a regional system of reactors.

So, too, Turkey is preparing for its first atomic plant. And Egypt has announced plans to build one on its Mediterranean coast. In all, roughly a dozen states in the region have recently turned to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for help in starting their own nuclear programs. While interest in nuclear energy is rising globally, it is unusually strong in the Middle East.

Well, look at it on the bright side: The nuclear electric generation plants will reduce oil consumption by Middle Eastern populations. So the oil will last longer for transportation uses around the world. On the other hand, look at it on the very bright side: some future event might some day powerfully warn the world on the dangers of nuclear proliferation.

While some Middle Eastern governments are thinking down the road to the point where their oil production starts to fall they are also afraid of Shia Iran's nuclear program.

But with Shiite Iran increasingly ascendant in the region, Sunni countries have alluded to other motives. Officials from 21 governments in and around the Middle East warned at a meeting of Arab leaders in March that Iran’s drive for atomic technology could result in the beginning of “a grave and destructive nuclear arms race in the region.”

In Washington, officials are seizing on such developments to build their case for stepping up pressure on Iran. President Bush has talked privately to experts on the Middle East about his fears of a “Sunni bomb,” and his concerns that countries in the Middle East may turn to the only nuclear-armed Sunni state, Pakistan, for help.

There's something funny and telling about this: The Arab press and clerics spends a lot of time proclaiming the thorough evilness of Israel. But Israel's nuclear weapons have not been enough to push the Arabs to develop their own nuclear weapons in defense. Nor have the Arabs really sought nukes in order to wipe out Israel. Saddam Hussein pursued nukes in a serious way up to the point of the first Gulf war. I suspect he did so more to pursue his territorial ambitions and to protect himself from Iran than to strike at Israel.

But look at the very different Arab reaction to Shia and non-Arab Iran getting near to making nukes. In response only now's the time for Arab Muslim countries to make nuclear power plants and get closer to making nuclear weapons.

I think nuclear proliferation is inevitable.

The Saudis aren't go-it-alone unilateralists. Oh no. They are into diplomacy, consensus, and multi-lateral alliances of friends. A coalition of the willing, if you will. They've organised a group of countries that have almost half the world's oil and that group is pursuing the benefits of nuclear power.

Diplomats and analysts say Saudi Arabia leads the drive for nuclear power within the Gulf Cooperation Council, based in Riyadh. In addition to the Saudis, the council includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — Washington’s closest Arab allies. Its member states hug the western shores of the Persian Gulf and control about 45 percent of the world’s oil reserves.

Late last year, the council announced that it would embark on a nuclear energy program. Its officials have said they want to get it under way by 2009.

Read the whole article. The 21st century promises to be very interesting.

By Randall Parker    2007 April 15 01:24 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2006 November 06 Monday
Japanese Politicians Debate Nuclear Weapons Development

Worries about the North Korean nuclear weapons program has Japanese politicians once again asking whether Japan should develop nukes.

TOKYO – In a new thread to the North Korean bomb saga, arguments over Japan's nuclear ambitions are becoming the focus as prominent politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continue to raise the issue.

LDP Policy Research Council chairman Shoichi Nakagawa has repeatedly called for such a debate. His latest comments Sunday, urging a broad discussion of the option, followed statements last week that Japan's pacifist constitution doesn't preclude nuclear arms. Foreign Minister Taro Aso has also sparked anxiety in the opposition and LDP by pushing for debate on the topic.

Japan wants some way to deter a nuclear North Korea.

I bet a poll today would find much more widespread support for the development of nuclear weapons.

Recent comments echo the opinions of former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and current opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa. A poll in 2003 showed that almost 1 in 5 lawmakers thought Japan should consider nuclear weapons capability if warranted by the regional political climate.

Japan has the material and the scientific know-how to make an atomic bomb. Its civilian nuclear industry has a growing surplus of reactor-grade plutonium, which can be converted to weapons-grade material with techniques that are likely to be well within Japanese capabilities. The time lag between a decision to go nuclear and the actual creation of a bomb would probably be measured in months, not years.

My take on nuclear weapons in the hands of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan: China has nukes. The United States is going to decline in power versus China and China's economy is going to grow larger than the US economy. Nukes in the hands of more neighbors of China will help restrain the Chinese as the US position declines. Taiwan's own continued independence probably hinges on whether it develops a nuclear capability.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 06 10:31 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 October 15 Sunday
Two Thirds Of South Koreans Want Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear proliferation begets more nuclear proliferation. The South Koreans want nuclear weapons of their own to deter Kim Jong-il's regime in Pyongyang.

SEOUL -- In less than a week since North Korea claimed to have tested a nuclear weapon, public opinion in the South has turned sharply against a South Korean policy of engaging the enemy in the belief it will eventually bring peace on the divided peninsula.

A JoongAng newspaper poll, several days after the reported nuclear test Monday, found 78 percent of respondents thought South Korea should revise its policy, and 65 percent said South Korea should develop nuclear weapons to protect itself.

I see a potential silver lining for Taiwan: The Taiwanese could develop their own nukes when Japan and South Korean develop nukes. How could the Taiwanese get singled out for trade sanctions under those circumstances? Then the Taiwanese would have a way to stay independent of the mainland.

The South Korean reaction ought to be a lesson for the Chinese leaders. They can either have two nuclear powers on the Korean peninsula or cut off the North Koreans so that the regime falls. Though such a regime collapse would bring with a very real risk of a massive artillery barrage by North Korean forces against Seoul South Korea. The South Koreans need a way to take out artillery fired from within hillsides.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 15 12:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2006 October 08 Sunday
North Korea Explodes Test Nuclear Weapon

North Korea has followed through on their recent threat to carry out an underground nuclear weapons test.

The Korean Central News Agency said the test was successful and there had been no radioactive leakage from the site.

The underground test was reportedly conducted on Monday morning in Hwaderi near Kilju city.

South Korea's intelligence agency detected a 3.58-magnitude seismic tremor, the country's foreign ministry said.

TV analysts are quoting Bush Administration officials who believe the test claim.

Will China block UN sanctions against North Korea? Will China vote for sanctions but then continue to send fuel and other supplies to North Korea?

One TV reporter says US and South Korean military officers think the North Koreans have 3 to 5 tunnels under the border which the South Koreans have been unable to find. So the North Koreans might be able to deliver a nuclear weapon into Seoul without a missile to carry it.

Will the South Koreans change their own policies toward North Korea? Will they cut back on trade and aid?

I think attempts to stop nuclear proliferation are doomed to failure. Until nuclear weapons are used again to kill people I do not expect sufficient will to exist in the world to stop nuclear weapons proliferation. Since I think the odds are low that I'll get killed whenever nuclear weapons get used again I've decided to be fairly relaxed about the prospect of nuclear proliferation. If Chinese and European people don't want to strongly oppose nuclear proliferation then we just have to protect ourselves and wait for changes in world attitudes.

The US Geological Survey now reports they measured a 4.2 magnitude tremor in North Korea.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 08 09:12 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2006 September 22 Friday
Will Middle East Start Nuclear Arms Race?

Stanley Kurtz worries Iran's getting nuclear weapons will set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that will lead to nuclear terrorism with untraceable bombs. Is this a realistic fear?

I found Time's latest cover story on "What War With Iran Would Look Like (and how to avoid it)," much less slanted against the military option, than I'd expected. True, the story was weak on explaining the actual dangers of a nuclear Iran. Time warned of a nuclear arms race between Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, but didn't explain how this would greatly increase the prospects of Muslim terrorists getting a bomb to plant on U.S. soil. Once many Muslim states have the bomb, the state source can no longer be traced, and it becomes a relatively simple matter to hand a nuke off to terrorists. Nor was there much here on the huge damage Iran could do by blackmailing itself into de facto control of the world's oil resources.

Yet Time acknowledged that a raid would have "a decent chance of succeeding," if at a "staggering" cost. Time also noted that the real "red line" (the ability to enrich enough uranium for a bomb) could be crossed in just a year. The biggest surprise of all was that Time rightly put little stock in the likelihood of a negotiated settlement. Time called the diplomatic approach "as much like a prayer as a strategy," and quoted an ex-CIA director saying "I don't think I've ever met an Iranian moderate." (Read that Michael Rubin piece and you'll see what he means.)

Sure, Time also covers those "staggering" costs: a huge and economically damaging oil price spike, the prospect of escalation from air raids to a major land war (at a moment when our military is already stretched to the limit) and the danger that after all the trouble and world condemnation, the raid won't even succeed. But all this is quite right.

One the one hand, we are faced with a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, nuclear blackmail and terrorist chaos at the heart of the world's Persian Gulf oil supply, and terrorist-planted nuclear weapons in America's cities. On the other hand, we can choose an economically disruptive war with Iran that will alienate us from the world, push us to and beyond our military limits, and that even then may not even succeed. The by now stock phrase, "there are no good options" doesn't quite do justice to the awful choice we face.

My guess is that Muslim states can't be trusted with nukes. I'm afraid people who have more loyalty to something other than a ruling government will turn nukes over to other groups. Is that reasonable fear? I'm very curious to hear sharp and well-informed arguments on why Arab or Iranian governments will control their nukes. Will the possession of nukes by a large number of Muslim states lead to untracable nuclear terrorist bombings? Or theft of nukes?

Without the fear of nukes getting out of the hands of sovereign governments I think the use of nukes by Muslim governments has very low odds. The elites have shown a willingness to avoid confrontations that might knock them out of power - let alone get them killed. Assad of Syria and Mubarak of Egypt do not want to launch attacks on Israel since they like being at the top of their national status and power pyramids.

Hosni Mubarak's son Gamal wants Egypt to develop nuclear energy.

CAIRO, Egypt -- The son of Egypt's president urged the nation to consider developing nuclear energy, a proposal that could help establish his own credentials as a serious politician and publicly distance him from the United States.

...

"We will continue using our natural energy resources, but we should conserve these resources for our future generations. The whole world is looking at alternative energy - so should Egypt - including nuclear," Mubarak told the gathering in Cairo.

The Mubarak dynasty wants to propagate itself, not get destroyed in mushroom clouds.

Gamal Mubarak appears to be in line to succeed his father and become the next King of Egypt (though as a sop to international and perhaps domestic opinion Kings in Egypt pretend they are really Western-style Presidents).

CAIRO -- It was back in May that many feel Gamal Mubarak was anointed the next president of Egypt.

...

In May, Gamal flew to Washington on what was supposed to be a secret visit, until details were leaked to the media. While in the U.S. capital, the 43-year-old got startling access for a private citizen who holds no official government position: a meeting with Vice-President Dick Cheney and another attended by Ms. Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

I'm sure some eager beaver blogger somewhere can explain how it is part of the brilliant Bush Administration democratization program for the Middle East to support the dynastic succession.

Does the United States need Egypt to behave nicely toward Israel so much that the US would continue to pay Egypt protection money for Israel's benefit even as Egypt developed nuclear power and eventually nuclear weapons?

The carefully crafted political speech raised the prospect of two potentially embarrassing developments for the White House at a time when the region is awash in crisis: a nuclear program in Egypt, recipient of about $2 billion a year in military and development aid from the United States, and Mr. Mubarak succeeding his father, Hosni Mubarak, as president without substantial political challenge.

Simply raising the topic of Egypt’s nuclear ambitions at a time of heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear activity was received as a calculated effort to raise the younger Mr. Mubarak’s profile and to build public support through a show of defiance toward Washington, political analysts and foreign affairs experts said.

The United States is seen as the world's market dominant minority. This breeds resentment and the need of some to defy the US to demonstrate their masculine independent leader bona fides. We'd be better off if we were less visible in the Middle East since then Middle Easterners would spend less time reacting to us. We should protect ourselves by preventing them from coming here and by doing less stuff over there.

Update: There'd be a chain of causation that would lead to a Western city getting nuked by Muslim terrorists. Do each of the links in the chain work? I just wrote this up in an email trying to explain the specific components of my fear of Muslim state nuclear proliferation might lead to terrorists getting nukes:

My fear of transfer of Muslim nuclear weapons into the hands of non-state actors (i.e. terrorists) stems from my view that Arab countries are full of people who have less loyalty to the state. They have tribal and family loyalties and loyalties to Islam.

Was A.Q. Khan operating on his own in doing deals about nuclear technology or with the blessings of his superiors?

We certainly have examples of disloyalty to a state in order to help another state with nuclear technology. Americans have done it. Is it really that big of a jump from that to disloyalty in order to help a private group? The disloyalty hurdle for a single person doesn't seem so big.

But the next hurdle seems quite a bit bigger. Nukes are under guard. They are in (presumably) facilities that are hard to get access to. The number of people who have to either be disloyal or fooled would hopefully have to be very large. But I have no idea, for example, what security Pakistan has around their nukes or what security Iran will have around their's.

How big are these hurdles?

By Randall Parker    2006 September 22 04:54 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2006 May 14 Sunday
Rod Barton On Government WMD Lies About Iraq

Former Australian intelligence analyst and weapons inspector Rod Barton says even once the lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were proven false on the ground the US and allied governments in Britain and Australia kept up the drumbeat of lies.

A year after Bush administration claims about Iraqi "bioweapons trailers" were discredited by American experts, U.S. officials were still suppressing the findings, says a senior member of the CIA-led Iraq inspection team.

At one point, former U.N. arms inspector Rod Barton says, a CIA officer told him it was "politically not possible" to report that the White House claims were untrue. In the end, Barton says, he felt "complicit in deceit."

Last month Joby Warrick of the Washington Post revealed that for almost a year after the famous trailers were found not to be bioweapons labs the Bush Administration continued to lie about them. (and would you expect anything better from the Bushies?)

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories.

Barton says people in the US, British, and Australian governments all knew how weak their evidence was.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You say of John Howard's role - quote - this is from the book -, "I was reliably told that when Howard saw the intelligence assessment in late 2002 he exclaimed along the lines of 'Is that all there is.' Subsequently he applied almost as much spin," you say, "to the intelligence given him as Shane Warne to a wrong'un." Is that really an objective assessment from you of what John Howard did and said?

ROD BARTON: I saw one of the assessments that was produced by the Australian intelligence community shortly before the war. I looked through that and I agreed with the assessment. More or less I quibbled about some of the language, but I agreed more or less with that assessment which again had all the caveats in. It said there were possibilities of these things but there was no firm evidence, for example. So, what John Howard had actually seen from the Australian intelligence community was a very fair and reasonable assessment. You couldn't say that there were no weapons of mass destruction or that there were, but there was a possibility. Iraq certainly had the capability but there was no firm evidence that they'd restarted their programs. That's what was said by the intelligence community, but that's not what John Howard told Parliament. John Howard told Parliament in certain terms that Iraq - he said, "The Government knows that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons." The intelligence community never said that to him.

I hear Peggy Lee singing:

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

Based on really shoddy thinking our leaders inflict all sorts of damage on the nation.

America has reached a point where the lies are causing too much damage. Liberal lies about race and human nature. Neoconseratives lies about Iraq, WMD, and democracy. The costs of these lies are getting bigger and bigger and are going to cause the decline of the United States as a world power. Worse, we'll have to live with lots of domestic deterioriation with greater corruption in politics, a dumber citizenry, massive debts, and other afflictions.

The truth tellers like Barton have been ostracized while the liars have been promoted and rewarded for their lies.

In February last year, Barton went public on ABC television. Now he has written a devastating book about it, The Weapons Detective (Black Inc. Agenda, $29.95). His security clearances withdrawn, Barton knows he will not be getting any more contracts from his old employer, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, which he had joined as a young microbiologist in 1972.

Old colleagues at the intelligence organisation have been warned not to have contact with him, not even social meetings. In one act of spectacular pettiness, at the insistence of the Prime Minister's staff, Barton and Gee were dropped from the guest list for last year's 20th anniversary meeting in Sydney of the Australia Group, a forum of intelligence specialists from 38 countries on chemical and biological weapons, which the two had helped set up in 1985.

...

The liars and spin doctors have prospered, the whistleblowers have been shafted. Barton's former UN colleague and friend, the British defence scientist David Kelly, killed himself in July 2003 after being outed for telling a BBC journalist how Scarlett had "sexed up" the Iraq intelligence. Scarlett was still "sexing up" the post-invasion intelligence, Barton shows, but has been made chief of Britain's famous spy service, MI6. Barton shakes his head: "John Scarlett should not head any intelligence organisation." In the CIA, the medals, cash bonuses and promotions go to agents who tell their chiefs about new weapons threats, not the ones who caution the evidence is weak.

In Australia, Barton sees a general culture of compliance in the public service spreading to the intelligence agencies. "You know you're not going to get promoted if you tell the Government something that's unpopular," he says.

Thanks to Greg Cochran for the tip.

Steve Sailer points to a recent Tom Wolfe lecture on human nature that seems very apropo.

Even before I left graduate school I had come to the conclusion that virtually all people live by what I think of as a "fiction-absolute." Each individual adopts a set of values which, if truly absolute in the world--so ordained by some almighty force--would make not that individual but his group . . . the best of all possible groups, the best of all inner circles. Politicians, the rich, the celebrated, become mere types. Does this apply to "the intellectuals" also? Oh, yes. . . perfectly, all too perfectly.

The fictions our elites live by have become too damaging to America and other Western nations.

By Randall Parker    2006 May 14 10:01 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2005 May 29 Sunday
Iraq Aluminum Tubes Intelligence Analysts Rewarded

Two intelligence analysts were very wrong on a question of great importance and were rewarded for their troubles.

Two Army analysts whose work has been cited as part of a key intelligence failure on Iraq -- the claim that aluminum tubes sought by the Baghdad government were most likely meant for a nuclear weapons program rather than for rockets -- have received job performance awards in each of the past three years, officials said.

The civilian analysts, former military men considered experts on foreign and U.S. weaponry, work at the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), one of three U.S. agencies singled out for particular criticism by President Bush's commission that investigated U.S. intelligence.

The government has failed to punish anyone who carried out the will of George W. Bush.

Despite sharp critiques from the president's commission and the Senate intelligence committee, no major reprimand or penalty has been announced publicly in connection with the intelligence failures, though investigations are still underway at the CIA. George J. Tenet resigned as CIA director but was later awarded the Medal of Freedom by Bush.

Part of the problem here is the normal propensity of government bureaucracies to resist rewarding and punishing based on the quality of work performed. But the Bush Administration places such a high value on loyalty that punishment is unlikely for those who did work which advanced the President's agenda.

My guess: They will find some internal Bush critics and punish them for supposed errors in their analyses. No one loyally serving the President, no matter how incompetently or dishonestly, will be punished.

As for intelligence agencies: We should not expect great performance from them because few of the best minds want to work for the government in general and for intelligence agencies in particular. Plus, their political masters all too often do not want to know the truth.

Update: Back in August 2003 Paul Sperry of World Net Daily reported that the Energy Department official who was put in a powerful position for deciding on Iraq WMD intelligence had no intelligence experience.

The official who represented the Energy Department at a key prewar intelligence meeting on Iraq's alleged new nuclear-weapons program was a human resources manager with no intelligence experience, and was easily swayed by Bush administration hawks, say department insiders.

Though Energy disputed a critical piece of evidence – that Baghdad sought aluminum tubing to make nuclear materials – it nonetheless agreed with the White House's conclusion that Baghdad was reconstituting a nuclear-weapons program. The State Department, in contrast, dissented on both counts.

The conclusion formed the cornerstone of last fall's 90-page Top Secret intelligence report used to justify preemptive war on Iraq.

Ryder overrode energy department analysts who did not think that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program.

A former Energy Department intelligence chief who agreed with the White House claim that Iraq had reconstituted its defunct nuclear-arms program was awarded a total of $20,500 in bonuses during the build-up to the war, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Thomas Ryder, as acting director of Energy's intelligence office, overruled senior intelligence officers on his staff in voting for the position at a National Foreign Intelligence Board meeting at CIA headquarters last September.

His officers argued at a pre-briefing at Energy headquarters that there was no hard evidence to support the alarming Iraq nuclear charge, and asked to join State Department's dissenting opinion, Energy officials say.

Ryder ordered them to "shut up and sit down," according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Was he just an incompetent who was accidentally put in charge of something he wasn't qualified to handle? Or did the Bush Administration, having already decided to invade Iraq, fix it so that the Energy Department would give the answer Dubya wanted to hear?

Update: Here's a link to the full text of the Downing Street Memo which shows the Bush Administration decided to overthrow Saddam and then went looking for justiification for their decision. "C" of course is the head of MI6.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

The decision on the Iraq invasion was not based on real evidence.

By Randall Parker    2005 May 29 03:02 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2005 March 11 Friday
China Iran Ties Undermining US Leverage On Iran

Kenneth Pollack thinks the US and Europe could stop Iran's nuclear program with the threat of economic sanctions combined with an offer of great trade ties if Iran would just give up ints nuclear weapons development efforts.

Although Iranian leaders agree on the strategic value of a strong nuclear program, they are divided over just how strong it should be. Conservative ideologues press for a nuclear breakout in defiance of international opinion, whereas conservative realists argue that restraint best serves Iran's interests. The ideologues, who view a conflict with the United States as inevitable, believe that the only way to ensure the survival of the Islamic Republic—and its ideals—is to equip it with an independent nuclear capability. Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, a conservative presidential candidate in 1997 and now an influential adviser to Khamenei, dismissed Tehran's recent negotiations with the Europeans, noting, "Fortunately, the opinion polls show that 75 to 80 percent of Iranians want to resist and [to] continue our program and reject humiliation." In the cosmology of such hard-liners, nuclear arms have not only strategic value, but also currency in domestic politics. Iranian conservatives see their defiance of the Great Satan as a means of mobilizing nationalistic opinion behind a revolution that has gradually lost popular legitimacy.

In contrast, the clerical realists warn that, with Iran under intense international scrutiny, any act of provocation by Tehran would lead other states to embrace Washington's punitive approach and further isolate the theocratic regime. In an interview in 2002, the pragmatic minister of defense, Ali Shamkhani, warned that the "existence of nuclear weapons will turn us into a threat to others that could be exploited in a dangerous way to harm our relations with the countries of the region." The economic dimension of nuclear diplomacy is also pushing the pragmatists toward restraint, as Iran's feeble economy can ill afford the imposition of multilateral sanctions. "If there [are] domestic and foreign conflicts, foreign capital will not flow into the country," Rafsanjani has warned. "In fact, such conflicts will lead to the flight of capital from this country."

While Pollack places great importance on the power of economic sanctions to bring Iran to shelve its nuclear weapons development program trends in trade are well along the way toward making that threat very hollow. The United States and the EU are going to become less important in world trade as China, India and other south and east Asian countries develop.

The Iranians are moving to reduce their reliance on customer countries that are allied with the United States. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh says Iran is going to replace Japan with China as Iran's biggest oil customer.

"Japan is our number one energy importer for historical reasons . . . but we would like to give preference to exports to China," Zanganeh was quoted as saying in China Business Weekly magazine.

China is protecting Iran from sanctions in the UN Security Council.

Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, who has just crowned a year of negotiations between the two countries, paid a rare visit to Tehran. In a meeting with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Li said Beijing would oppose US efforts to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program.

China would probably be joined by Russia and perhaps even France in voting in the UN Security Council against trade sanctions on Iran.

China will increasing be able to supply Iran with any goods that the EU and America refuse to sell.

In turn, China has become a major exporter of manufactured goods to Iran, including computer systems, household appliances and cars. "They have industry and we have energy resources," said Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's former representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

China's trade with Iran also is weakening the impact on Iranian policy of various U.S. economic embargoes, analysts here say. "Sanctions are not effective nowadays because we have many options in secondary markets, like China," said Hossein Shariatmadari, a leading conservative theorist and editor.

China's demand for energy is rising very rapidly.

In 2003, China raced past Japan to become the world's second biggest consumer of petroleum products after the US.

In 2004, its thirst grew by 15%, while its output only rose 2%.

China is helping Iran develop a stronger weapons manufacturing capability.

The US Central Intelligence Agency has submitted a report to US Congress stating that Chinese companies have "helped Iran move toward its goal of becoming self-sufficient in the production of ballistic missiles". In the ongoing controversy over Iran's uranium enrichment program, China has also opposed bringing the issue before the UN Security Council, and has even threatened to veto any resolution that is brought against Iran.

China and Iran are signing massive oil and natural gas development deals.

TEHRAN -- Speaking of business as unusual. A mere two months ago, the news of a China-Kazakhstan pipeline agreement, worth US$3.5 billion, raised some eyebrows in the world press, some hinting that China's economic foreign policy may be on the verge of a new leap forward. A clue to the fact that such anticipation may have totally understated the case was last week's signing of a mega-gas deal between Beijing and Tehran worth $100 billion. Billed as the "deal of the century" by various commentators, this agreement is likely to increase by another $50 to $100 billion, bringing the total close to $200 billion, when a similar oil agreement, currently being negotiated, is inked not too far from now.

US influence on the world has peaked. Rumoured plans for a US air strike against Iran's nuclear weapons development facilities are probably the only practical option available for delaying Iran's nuclear program. But even air strikes will not prevent Iran from eventually developing nuclear weapons. Also those air strikes will cost the United States diplomatically. My guess is that the Bush Administration will probably carry out those air strikes. Though I'm unsure on this point.

The Bush Administration is unlikely to strike hard at Iranian oil and natural gas production facilities because to do so would cause skyrocketing energy prices. The US economy would suffer along with the rest of the world and the United States would be widely (and correctly) seen as responsible for bringing on a world economic recession. My guess is that even Bush will shrink from making such a move.

By Randall Parker    2005 March 11 12:09 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2005 February 03 Thursday
North Korea Or Pakistan Supplied Uranium To Libya?

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration says North Korea exported weapons-grade plutonium to Libya.

North Korea has reprocessed 8,000 spent fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium and appears to have exported nuclear material to Libya, U.S. officials informed Asian allies this week.

The New York Times also passes along the claims of a high level of confidence in this conclusion. Though some in the US government see problems with the analysis.

It is unclear if there are any dissenting views in the government, though some outside experts have accused the administration of overstating intelligence on North Korea. Officials cautioned that the analysis of the uranium had been hampered by the fact that the United States has no sample of known North Korean uranium for comparison with the Libya material. The study was done by eliminating other possible sources of uranium, a result that is less certain than the nuclear equivalent of matching DNA samples.

A day later Glenn Kessler and Dafna Linzer report on dissenters from the official Bush Administration position. A number of experts in the US government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) do not see the evidence as conclusive by any means.

The Bush administration's claim this week that North Korea appears to have been the supplier of converted uranium to Libya is based on evidence that could just as easily point to Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, as the source, according to analysts and officials familiar with the data.

The Bush Administration does not have a good track record examining evidence about nuclear proliferation. Look at their wildly unrealistic analyses of various pieces of bogus evidence from Iraq's supposed nuclear weapons development efforts before the US invasion of Iraq.

Read the full articles. My interpretation: Pakistan as the source of the uranium is not politically acceptable in the Bush White House. Pervez Musharraf is our friend. He is a friend of democracy. Never mind that he is a dictatorship. He's a good guy who went to Harvard just like Bush did. He's letting us fly over his country to get to Afghanistan. We have agents operating in his country hunting down Al Qaeda. So Pakistan is not and has not done much bad.

By contrast, Kim Jong Il, being pretty blatantly a very bad guy in reality and running an odious regime where lots of people unnecessarily die from hunger, makes a far better choice to blame as a source of enriched uranium. Also, it fits with a larger Bush Administration agenda:

But Albright did not discount the possibility that North Korea may have been the source. "That has been a theory since last spring," he said. "What amazes me is why this is coming out again now, and the timing has to make one suspicious that the information is being used to pressure allies to take a tougher line with North Korea."

We don't know what the level of expertise was of the Department of Energy technicians who examined the samples from Libya. We do not know how politically pressured anyone was to serve up a desired conclusion. But certainly the Bush Administration track record is that the higher ups are willing to lean on the CIA and other agencies to produce desired conclusions. So I do not know what to make of this story.

By Randall Parker    2005 February 03 01:17 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 January 17 Monday
Seymour Hersh On Bush Plans Against Iran And Terrorists

Seymour Hersh has a new article out in The New Yorker about aggressive Bush Administration second term plans against terrorist networks and Iran. (worth reading in full!)

The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.

The President’s decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books—free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees.

What Hersh says explains something that has been puzzling to me: Former CIA agent Howard Hart sees covert operations undertaken by the US military as riskier and harder to deny for the United States than the same sorts of operations undertaken by the CIA. So Hart argued against moving paramilitary capabilities from the CIA to the US military. Yet here we see at least one reason why it was done: the movement of those operations (relabelled "black reconnaissance" to avoid the loaded term "covert ops") to the DOD removes the need to tell Congress or ask Congress for permission.

Hersh says Iran is the next target.

In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. “Everyone is saying, ‘You can’t be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,’” the former intelligence official told me. “But they say, ‘We’ve got some lessons learned—not militarily, but how we did it politically. We’re not going to rely on agency pissants.’ No loose ends, and that’s why the C.I.A. is out of there.”

But what does that mean? Covert ops? An attempt to overthrow the regime? Or preparations for an invasion? How much do Bush's people think they can accomplish in Iran without invading the place?

I do not think the Iranians can be induced to enter into a negotiated deal to stop their development of nuclear weapons. Also, in spite of the aggressive attitude within the Bush Administration that Hersh reports I continue to be skeptical that there is a viable covert or overt military option that can stop Iran's nuclear program. Possibly the reconnaissance operations that Hersh claims US special forces (Hersh refers to them as commandos) are carrying out in Iran will allow precise targetting of all Iranian nuclear facilities for a massive set of airstrikes. But I'm not confident that the top management running this show will be able to recognize whether their intelligence is sufficiently complete and accurate to guide an air strike campaign.

Hersh says neoconservative Douglas Feith, number 3 man in the Defense Department, is coordinating cooperation with Israel in conducting operations in Iran. That is not exactly confidence-inspiring.

So are the neocons still foolish? Might they actually know what they are doing now having had Iraq as a huge mistake to learn from? Here comes the worse part: Nope, not a chance. They think they can bomb Iran to loosen the control of the mullahs and bring about a secular revolution.

The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership.

I have a bridge to sell to anyone who believes that one.

I agree with the expert that Hersh quotes who argues the nuclear weapons program in Iran is widely popular and that the country is not in any way pre-revolutionary. See my previous posts "Iranian People Not In Pre-Revolutionary Frame Of Mind" and "Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program Seen As Broadly Popular".

Bush's latest pronouncement on Iraq shows that he's still supremely confident that he knows what he's doing, that his basic strategy is sound, and that he believes the populace of the United States support him in his plan to democratically and culturally transform the Middle East. Bush thinks his reelection signals that he has made no major mistakes.

President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

I'm reminded of my favorite line from a friend: "There's no stopping the invincibly ignorant."

By Randall Parker    2005 January 17 02:29 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (54)
2004 May 25 Tuesday
The Problem Of Just-In-Time Nuclear Proliferation

Writing for the New York Times William J. Broad reports on the growing problem of states that are developing nuclear power industries which can use those industries as a starting point for nuclear weapons development.

Experts now talk frankly about a subject that was once taboo: "virtual" weapon states - Japan, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Taiwan and a dozen other countries that have mastered the basics of nuclear power and could, if they wanted, quickly cross the line to make nuclear arms, probably in a matter or months. Experts call it breakout.

...

"If you look at every nation that's recently gone nuclear," said Mr. Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute, "they've done it through the civilian nuclear fuel cycle: Iraq, North Korea, India, Pakistan, South Africa. And now we're worried about Iran."

The moral, he added, is that atoms for peace can be "a shortcut to atoms for war."

Canada and Belgium are of course unlikely to build nuclear weapons. But at least one "virtual" weapons state has a strong and growing incentive to develop nuclear weapons: Taiwan. Faced with a Beijing government and nationalistic sentiment on the mainland determined to force Taiwan to submit to mainland control and with China's continued economic growth translating into steadily increasing military capabiities Taiwan's only realistic possibility for continued independence may be the nuclear option.

Broad mentions work on efforts to develop more proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel cycles. But it seems unlikely that Iran will accept getting its nuclear fuel from abroad or sending its waste to another country. Even if it did it could cheat on such an agreement.

Mitchell Reiss, the State Department’s director of policy planning, says the problem is that many non-nuclear states could embark on a project to build nuclear weapons and succeed before inspections programs could detect the effort.

Drawing an analogy to manufacturing and distribution techniques that were pioneered commercially by Japanese manufacturers and are now used worldwide, Reiss said he is concerned that nuclear proliferators could soon follow suit. Such “just-in-time” proliferation he said, would mean that materials for nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons materials would no longer be stockpiled but only brought together when they need to be used.

“The concept works beautifully in the private sector, and there’s no reason why it can’t work for the bad guys,” Reiss said. “But this will create enormous challenges for the [International Atomic Energy Agency], for the Nuclear Suppliers Group [an export control clearinghouse for most of the major countries with civilian nuclear industries], for all the countries of the world, in order to prevent continued nuclear proliferation.”

In particular, Reiss said this strategy might pose particular problems for on-site inspections—a key tool of international nonproliferation regimes.

“I think on-site inspections certainly are important—essential in some cases,” Reiss said. ”Still, there is a concern that you can inspect a place one day and there will be nothing there, and you come back the next week and everything will be there.”

If you are interested in more policy proposals for controlling nuclear proliferation see a recent presentation by Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in which he makes seven proposals to make nuclear proliferation more difficult (PDF format). Keep in mind when reading it that these are seven proposals on top of many other he and others have made in the past. Also see my previous post Henry Sokolski: Taking Proliferation Seriously.

I am still betting on Iran successfully building nuclear weapons within a few years. Iran would need to be offered much bigger carrots and sticks before it would halt and reverse its drive to build nuclear weapons.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 25 11:12 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2004 May 23 Sunday
Libya's Uranium May Have Come From North Korea

Two tons of uranium which Libya turned over to the United States and the IAEA may have been sold by North Korea's regime.

Evidence gathered by the UN atomic agency suggests North Korea was the source of nearly two tons of uranium to Libya as part of attempts by Colonel Gaddafi to build nuclear warheads, diplomats said today.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cautioned that the investigation was not yet complete and other sources still could not be ruled out.

The uranium in question was not enriched. Libya had centrifuges it had bought from A. Q. Khan's nuclear black market ring for purifying the uranium into weapons grade.

Abdul Qadeer Khan is billed as the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb. But he's not a physics genius in the league of Oppenheimer, Feynman, and other great physicists who worked on the US nuclear weapons program during World War II. Khan's achievement was really as a coordinator of manufacturing and services outsourcing and s stealer and purchaser of needed technologies. Khan's abilities are far more common than those of the best physicsts and best engineers. Various pieces of the needed expertise and component manufacturing capabilities can be found in many countries.

A lot of intelligence services are trying to figure out what other countries might have purchased uranium from North Korea.

The classified evidence — many details of which are still sketchy — has touched off a race among the world's intelligence services to explore whether North Korea has made similar clandestine sales to other nations or perhaps even to terror groups seeking atomic weapons.

If North Korea really did supply uranium to Libya then this, on top of other North Korean weapons and weapons technologies increases the likelihood that North Korea would sell complete bombs.

Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA is most worried about North Korea.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons "sends the worst signal to the would-be proliferators" that if they accelerate their weapons programs, powerful countries will negotiate with them.

"We need to make sure that that is not the lesson that people would learn from North Korea," he said. "I think it's the No. 1 international security concern. The way we deal with it, the way the international community responds to North Korea, is very important for the future precedent-setting."

The problem with North Korea is that if the United States threatens North Korea the regime will see that as a reason to develop nukes. But if the US does not threaten then the regime will pursue nuclear development anyhow. Nuclear weapons are seen by the regie as a way to become more powerful to fend off potential future threats and also probably as a tool to use as leverage to extort badly needed foreign aid to prop up a terrible economy.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 23 10:43 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 April 13 Tuesday
A.Q. Khan Saw Nuclear Weapons In North Korea In 1999

David Sanger of the New York Times reports that Pakistani nuclear weapons developer A. Q. Khan was shown nuclear weapons while on a visit to North Korea in 1999. (same article here)

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist who sold nuclear technology around the world, has told his interrogators that during a trip to North Korea five years ago he was taken to a secret underground nuclear plant and shown what he described as three nuclear devices, according to Asian and U.S. officials who have been briefed by the Pakistanis.

Of course we have no way of knowing whether the devices that Khan saw are real functional nuclear weapons. But what Khan has revealed supports the idea that North Korea has managed to purchase a lot of the pieces it needs to make nuclear weapons. Khan says he began shipping equipment and designs to North Korea in the late 1980s.

Pakistan admits to sharing information from Khan's interrogation but won't reveal what the Pakistani government is telling other countries.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Tuesday that Pakistan had shared information arising from its investigations of Khan to other countries, but he did not elaborate.

"We have investigated scientists. We are in touch with the world," he told a press conference in Islamabad.

The Pakistanis are suspected of holding back many crucial details that are being revealed by the interrogations. The US is not allowed direct access to Khan. Khan may have been dealing with more countries than just North Korea, Iran, and Libya. If North Korea had 5 nukes in 1999 then how did they get enough uranium or plutonium? Is there a large enough international black market for nuclear material that North Korea was able to purchase enough to make bombs?

A number of other countries might have purchased nuclear technology from Khan's group.

Paris-based expert Bruno Tretrais says: "I would not be surprised if at least one other country was involved, like Syria, Egypt or Algeria."

If Egypt is involved then that might be hushed up. It is likely that the Bush Administration is not eager to see evidence of Egypt's purchase of nuclear technology made public.

This latest report serves as a useful reminder that nuclear proliferation control is not receiving the amount of attention it deserves. Current US policy toward North Korea is unlikely to stop North Korea's continued efforts to develop nuclear weapons. However, to the extent that these revelations make it harder for the governments of China, South Korea, and Japan to ignore the problem it is more likely that the US will get cooperation for tougher sanctions and pressure on North Korea. Still, even these revelations are unlikely to push China to make life tougher for Kim Jong-il and the Pyongyang regime.

Another aspect of this story that so far as gone unappreciated in the press is that A. Q. Khan is only a metallurgist and his real claim to fame is as a technology broker and manufacturing outsourcer. Khan is not of the intellectual caliber of, say, Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, and the other geniuses who originally solved the manufacturing and design problems for the first American nuclear weapons during World War II. What is the significance of this fact? It is possible for non-geniuses to steal and buy technology to put together nuclear weapons programs. This is demonstrated by Khan's theft of centrifuge design information from European Urenco consortium, his purchase of parts from Europe, his purchase of parts elsewhere, and also Pakistan's acquisition from China of a nuclear weapon design and Khan's sale of that design to one or more other nations.

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.

Khan operated like any American enterprise that outsources various functions all around the world. Khan used a British citizen to coordinate outsourcing training of Libyans to a site in Spain.

One operative named as working for Khan is Peter Griffin, a Briton whom Tahir alleged designed the Libyan workshop and sent eight Libyan technicians to Spain to learn how to use lathes for centrifuge parts.

According to the report, two others were Freidrich Tinner, a Swiss engineer whom Khan met in the 1980s, and his son, Urs Tinner, 39, who allegedly worked with Tahir in getting Malaysian company Scomi Precision Engineering, or SCOPE, to produce centrifuge parts.

Khan used a Sri Lankan outsourced some of his manufacturing to Malaysian company Scomi Precision Engineering.

Malaysia confirmed that it has no plans to arrest or take any other action against a man who has confessed to a key role in a conspiracy to sell nuclear weapons technology to rogue states.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told a news conference that Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a Sri Lankan who holds permanent residence in Malaysia, had "not violated any regulations" according to the police.

Note the ease with which technology can spread and how easy it is to outsource manufacturing and training. With enough money even people with limited scientific skills can organize and stock nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities and train nuclear weapons manufacturing workers.

Khan is billed as father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. He was more like chief purchasing agent for nuclear weapons technology. He helped spread nuclear weapons technology even further through his broker role selling technology, parts, and training to other countries.

For more on this see my previous post on Libya, Pakistan, and nuclear weapons technology sales. Also see the Wikipedia entry on Khan.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 13 01:10 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 March 17 Wednesday
China To Sell Pakistan Another Nuclear Reactor

Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, reports on attempts by the US, Japan, and France to sell nuclear reactors to China even as China is going to sell another reactor to Pakistan.

Westinghouse in the U.S., Japan's Mitsubishi, and the French firm Areva are so eager to sell China nuclear-power plants that they and their governments are turning a blind eye to an even more troubling nuclear export — a Chinese deal to sell Islamabad a large reactor. This sale, revealed in the press last week, defies the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines — rules China says it wants to adhere to and that President Bush is anxious to bolster.

Is this a case of the Bush Administration being more interested in helping to generate sales for Westinghouse? Or does it represent an admisison that if the US doesn't sell reactors to China that our non-ally France will instead? If the US government is going to stop the spread of nuclear weapons it is going to have a play a harder game of diplomatic and economic hardball than it so far has been willing to play. The invasion of Iraq looks to me increasingly like a distraction from the goal of stopping nuclear proliferation while the Bush Administration fails to pursue that important goal with policies sufficient to achieving it.

Here are some details on the China-Pakistan nuclear reactor deal.

The reported conclusion of Pakistan's 'technical negotiations' with China for the proposed sale of a new nuclear reactor, has brought the two countries close to finalising a deal.

The proposed reactor to be known as 'Chashma-2' marks only the second time that Pakistan has bought a nuclear reactor from China following the purchase of the 'Chashma -1' reactor.

Here is a Federation of American Scientists report on Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and the role that China played in it.

In the 1990s, China designed and supplied the heavy water Khusab reactor, which plays a key role in Pakistan's production of plutonium. A subsidiary of the China National Nuclear Corporation also contributed to Pakistan's efforts to expand its uranium enrichment capabilities by providing 5,000 custom made ring magnets, which are a key component of the bearings that facilitate the high-speed rotation of centrifuges.

According to Anthony Cordesman [ParaPundit note: PDF file] of CSIS, China is also reported to have provided Pakistan with the design of one of its warheads, which is relatively sophisticated in design and lighter than U.S. and Soviet designed first generation warheads.

China also provided technical and material support in the completion of the Chasma nuclear power reactor and plutonium reprocessing facility, which was built in the mid 1990s. The project had been initiated as a cooperative program with France, but Pakistan's failure to sign the NPT and unwillingness to accept IAEA safeguards on its entire nuclear program caused France to terminate assistance.

Note that Pakistan's nuclear blackmarketeers sold a Chinese nuclear warhead design on to Libya and may also have sold it to Iran.

The warhead designs were the first hard evidence that the secret network provided its customers with far more than just the technology to turn uranium into bomb fuel. Libyan officials have told investigators that they bought the blueprints from dealers who are part of that network, apparently for more than $50 million. Those blueprints, along with the capability to make enriched uranium, could have given the Libyans all the elements they needed to make a nuclear bomb. What the Libyans purchased, in the words of an American weapons expert who has reviewed the program in detail, was both the kitchen equipment "and the recipes."

Experts familiar with the contents of the box say the designs closely resemble the warheads that China tested in the late 1960's and passed on to Pakistan decades ago.

Pakistan sold nuclear tech designs to Libya even after 9/11.

The timing of the transfer of the centrifuge design from Pakistan calls into question General Musharraf's ability to make good on his vow to President Bush that he would rein in Pakistani scientists selling their nuclear expertise around the globe. The general made that pledge shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States. Yet the main aid to Libya appears to have come since those attacks, suggesting that Pakistani scientists may have continued their trade even after the explicit warning.

While the Pakistanis deny this it is likely that Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered to be the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, probably sold designs and parts with the knowledge of rulers of Pakistan. Also note that Khan's great achievements appear to be the stealing and buying of weapons technology from elsewhere. His biggest accomplishments are not from his own scientific work but rather the acquiring of nuclear technology elsewhere.

The US nuclear reactor that Sokolski mentions as being offered to China is the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design which was designed with the help of a half billion dollars of US taxpayer money. (same story here)

Economic concerns may outweigh worries about China's role in the spread of nuclear weapons.

Westinghouse developed the AP1000, which can generate 1,100 megawatts, with half a billion dollars of support from the federal government, and the government would collect tens of millions of dollars in royalties from any such plant in China, a senior United States energy official said. Credit support from the Import-Export Bank may also be used to finance the plants, he said, and Chinese officials had sought assurances that China would receive an export license for the plant.

The passive safety approach to the design of the AP1000 makes it much safer.

As in AP600, the AP1000 design uses passive safety systems to enhance the safety of the plant and to satisfy the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) safety criteria. These systems use only natural forces, such as gravity, natural circulation, and compressed gas. No pumps, fans, diesels, chillers, or other rotating machinery are used in the passive safety sub-systems.

The passive safety systems include passive safety injection, passive residual heat removal, and passive containment cooling. All these passive systems have been designed to meet the NRC single-failure criteria and its recent criteria, including TMI (Three Mile Island) lessons-learned and unresolved/generic safety issues. Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) tools have also been used to quantify the safety of the design.

So the AP1000 is a wonder of American engineering which may be sold to China saving them the expense of developing the same technology. This may happen even as China continues to assist Pakistan's building of a larger nuclear program and even as Pakistan provides little cooperation to allow the US to discover what Pakistan sold to Iran and perhaps to other countries as well. Is this a sign of just how weak the United States is and just how little influence the United States has in the world?

Meanwhile, highly purified weapons-grade uranium traces have been discovered by IAEA inspectors in Iran.

United Nations nuclear inspectors have found traces of extremely highly enriched uranium in Iran, of a purity reserved for use in a nuclear bomb, European and American diplomats said Wednesday.

Among traces that inspectors detected last year are some refined to 90 percent of the rare 235 isotope, the diplomats said. While the International Atomic Energy Agency has previously reported finding "weapons grade" traces, it has not revealed that some reached such a high degree of enrichment.

Also, Libya is now thought to have spent at least $100 million to acquire weapons technology and equipment from Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear black market.

``The Khan network's finances were deliberately complex, and we do not have a complete picture,'' said Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Bush administration's National Security Council. ``The developing picture, however, indicates that the Khan network received at least $100 million for supplying technology, equipment and know-how.''

Iraq was the least WMD-capable of the dangerous governments. Libya was second least capable. At this point the worst threats are still working on nuclear weapons. Iran and North Korea have not yet been stopped. Pakistan has many nuclear weapons and only military rule is barely preventing Islamists from seizing power. Even in Pakistan the Islamists are found in the government.

Update: China's role as a nuclear proliferation is very long standing.

Declassified papers reviewed by the National Security Archive, an institute at George Washington University, show U.S. unease over secret China-Pakistan security and military cooperation dating to the late 1960s, and examples of Chinese assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons-related projects in the late 1970s, the researchers said.

By Randall Parker    2004 March 17 02:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (41)
2004 March 10 Wednesday
Iran May Be Activating Secret Uranium Enrichment Plants

Iran has secret uranium enrichment plants which can produce enriched uranium to use in nuclear bombs.

An exile who has previously released key nuclear information about Iran said on Tuesday Iranian leaders decided at a recent meeting to seek an atom bomb "at all costs" and begin enriching uranium at secret plants,

Alireza Jafarzadeh, who disclosed in August 2002 that Iran had a hidden uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy-water plant at Arak, told Reuters his new information came from the same "well-informed sources inside Iran."

Iran's foreign minister has made it clear that Iran is going to resume uranium enrichment.

"It's our legitimate right to enrich uranium," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Tehran. "We suspended uranium enrichment voluntarily and temporarily. Later, when our relations with the IAEA returns to normal, we will definitely resume (uranium) enrichment," Kharrazi said.

If reports that Iran has the ability to make its own uranium enrichment centrifuges are correct then Iran doesn't have to try to purchase parts on the international black market to the most important step in nuclear weapons development.

So far the Bush Administration has been unwilling to carry out attacks on Iran in order to stop Iran's nuclear program. But it increasingly seems that nothing short of a military attack is enough to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

By Randall Parker    2004 March 10 02:41 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 March 03 Wednesday
On Iran's Nuclear Program And The Larger Conflict

Iran claims it never managed to make working centrifuges from the more sophisticated European uranium enrichment centrifuge design it acquired from Pakistan after Pakistan stole the design from Europe.

According to Iran, after June 2003 "all of the [P-2] centrifuge equipment was moved to the Pars Trash Company in Tehran," says the IAEA's recent Iran report.

Centrifuges in the trash? Right.

The IAEA - not to mention the Bush administration - isn't buying this part of the story. They want the Iranians to talk more about what they really have in terms of P-2 equipment.

But Iran continues to insist that its nuclear program is meant only to produce electricity. Squeezing them too hard at this point might be counterproductive, say some experts. They're like someone hauled in by law enforcement for an interview who can leave at any moment, since they haven't officially been charged with a crime.

"We want them to continue cooperating with the police," says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Agency.

The Bush Administration is not willing or able to escalate the confrontation with Iran over nuclear proliferation. The mullahs in power in Iran may be betting they can give themselves enough wiggle room to continue to develop nuclear weapons by pretending to reveal all.

As we watch the slow diplomatic dance and the continuing series of revelations about black market nuclear weapons technology it is worth reviewing how the Bush Administration is doing in dealing with the problems of Islamic terrorism, the spread of the more radical strains of Islam, and with the problem of nuclear proliferation. Here are some measures I think are worth keeping in mind when watching the Bush Administration execute its foreign policy:

  • Have the potentially most dangerous countries (notably North Korea and Iran) which are seriously trying to develop nuclear weapons being stopped from doing so? So far it doesn't look like the Bushies have stopped either Iran or North Korea from doing nuclear weapons development. Though it is possible the Bushies have slowed them down to some extent. But if the Bush Administration has a good plan to entirely stop both countries from developing nuclear weapons the outlines of that plan are not clear to me and I do not see how the current direction of US foreign policy is going to accomplish that goal.
  • Is funding for the spread of Wahhabi Islam increasing (that would be really bad if so), staying the same (still pretty bad), or decreasing? There are no obvious signs that the funding is going down. The Bushies do not seem to be even trying on this score. Importantly, they have not made any moves to reduce the long term demand for oil. Therefore the problems caused by oil money feeding the spread of a hostile religious ideology are going to get worse.
  • Is the number of kids being indoctrinated in Madrassahs going up, down, or sideways? In Pakistan at least the religious schools are totally unreformed. The number of kids attending Madrassahs is not going down and the curricula of those schools has not changed, from our perspective, for the better.
  • Are the various pieces of Al Qaeda getting whacked, chopped up, and generally made less effective? My guess is that considerable progress is being made on this front now that the US government is seriously awake to the threat post-9/11. But since Al Qaeda has historically spent years preparing major attacks only time will tell how successful the US and other nations are being in cutting into worldwide terrorist networks.
  • Is the Bush Administration implementing changes on a sufficient scale to make it harder for terrorists to enter the country either legally or illegally? The answer here is no. The Bush Administration is unwilling to make changes in border control or immigration policies on a sufficient scale to make it extremely difficult for terrorists to enter the United States. Karl Rove and George W. Bush are more interested in appealing to Hispanic immigration activists than in the security of the United States.

As you can see from the above list I do not think the United States is doing enough to deal with the Islamic threat or with the related nuclear weapons proliferation threat.

So far the Bush Administration has managed to knock out or stop the weakest nuclear proliferator wanna-bes with the invasion of Iraq and the deal with Muammar Qaddafi/Kadaffy/Khadafy/Ghadafi (can't we just rename him Gandolf or Rudolph or something?) of Libya for him to cry uncle and tell all about his nuclear efforts in exchange for being allowed back into polite society. The Libya deal was probably facilitated by the invasion of Iraq (though there are some who argue otherwise I do not find their arguments persuasive) and that deal helped to bring to light many elements of a black market in nuclear weapons technology. That is a big plus. But is the resulting intelligence bonanza going to enable the United States and its allies to create enough obstacles to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program? It is hard to tell but maybe not. Perhaps the Iranians have already acquired everything they need from the nuclear technology black market and the information from Libya is coming too late to make a difference.

More generally, the Bush Administration's general response just isn't attacking the general threat on enough different levels and layers. There should be a strategy for defunding the Wahhabis because Saudi Arabia isn't going to get better left to its own devices. The borders of the US should be actively defended to prevent hostile outsiders from getting in. While it is not politically correct to admit it not all religious ideologies are compatible with a free society. If we can't clearly identify the nature of the conflict we are not going to fight it effectively. In this respect the Cold War was an easier battle to fight because even though many on the Left argued that communism wasn't a threat most people clearly saw it as a dangerous ideology. Today that clarity of understanding is missing among most leaders in the government and among most of the talking heads.

By Randall Parker    2004 March 03 01:24 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 January 23 Friday
Iran Continues To Work On Nuclear Weapons Development

Western government officials say the Iranian government is still building nuclear equipment useful for making nuclear weapons.

The Iranian undertaking, given three months ago, was hailed at the time as marking a new approach to the disarmament of rogue states through diplomacy rather than war but western officials said Teheran was still buying and assembling machines to enrich uranium. "The Iranians are definitely still out procuring equipment," said one senior western source.

Iran is interpreting the meaning of its agreement with European governments very narrowly.

Now, diplomats told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, even key European nations who negotiated the deal with Tehran have started to question Iran's commitment because it appears to be using semantics -- the meaning of the word suspend -- to keep some of its nuclear enrichment program operational.

France, Germany, and Britain should have insisted on more precise wording when they negotiated their deal with Iran.

One of the diplomats suggested an oversight on the part of France, Germany and Britain when they made their deal with Iran.

"Right from the beginning, everybody asked, 'what is suspension,' but the Europeans and Iranians never defined it," he said.

To get a sense of the word games and negotiating strategies used by the Iranian government see Amir Taheri's recent article on an Egyptian-Iranian diplomatic row.

The centrifuges are being built by Iranian companies.

Although Iran has shut down its nuclear facility in Natanz and has stopped installing new centrifuges to enrich uranium, the officials said Wednesday, Iran has indicated it will continue to honor existing contracts with local companies who produce the equipment.

UN IAEA directory Mohamed ElBaradei says he is not alarmed by recent developments in Iran and still expects to achieve a binding deal.

But International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Thursday the U.N. agency had seen no indications Iran had reneged on its promise. He spoke on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

Whether a binding deal is achieved depends in large part on whether the United States is perceived as a credible threat to the continued existence of the Mullahocracy in Teheran. The Mullahs might be willing to gamble that they can get away with developing nuclear weapons. The US has most of its troops tied down in Iraq and other countries. Domestically the Bush Administration is facing sustained criticism for not finding more WMD technology and weapons in Iraq. Can the US credibly threaten Iran with a preemptive attack? If not then why should Khamenei and his associates hold back from developing nuclear weapons? Are the economic carrots being offered by Europe big enough to persuade the Iranians? Can the US and EU get a sanctions regime thru the UN Security Council? At this point the Iranians are not yet convinced that they have all that much to lose by continuing to develop nuclear weapons.

The Iranians got so far along on their nuclear weapons program with various forms of intentional help from Pakistan, Russia, and other countries. But leakage of technology from Western countries has been important as well. Iran acquired a gas centrifuge design from a willing Pakistan but Pakistan acquired that design from Europe surreptitiously. Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan probably acquired gas centrifuge designs while working for a German-Dutch-British consortium Urenco in the Netherlands in the 1970s. There is a lesson here about the dangers of letting foreigners in to work in a country's civilian nuclear power program.

Meanwhile, the Dutch government yesterday said there are indications that North Korea and Libya may also have acquired centrifuges that were developed in Europe and which both Pakistan and Iran are known to possess.

Khan said everything he did had the approval of the commander of the Pakistani army.

The official said the scientist who had led the effort to build an atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had told investigators that any sharing of nuclear technology with Iran had the approval of Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the commander of Pakistan's army from 1988 to 1991.

The availability of designs of equipment that is useful for making nuclear weapons is going to steadily rise. The ever rising density of computer data storage media and rising speeds of computer networks makes it ever easier to transfer large amounts of design data. At the same time, advances in design software make it much easier to develop complex designs with smaller engineering teams. Plus, advances in machining tools and other methods of fabrication are making it steadily easier for even less sophisticated operators of manufacturing equipment to produce complex designs. A country like Iran that intends to develop nuclear weapons will find the task of doing so to get continually easier in future decades. Given that the will of Western countries to stop countries with nuclear weapons ambitions is not going to always be strong it seems inevitable that more countries will succeed in becoming nuclear powers. Still, efforts to delay the spread of nuclear weapons are worth pursuing.

By Randall Parker    2004 January 23 09:36 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 December 26 Friday
The Invasion Of Iraq And Libya's Nuclear Capitulation

Charles Krauthammer argues the timing of the Libyan abandonment of nuclear weapons development is too much a coincidence to have been an accident.

Yeah, sure. After 18 years of American sanctions, Moammar Gaddafi randomly picks Dec. 19, 2003, as the day for his surrender. By amazing coincidence, Gaddafi's first message to Britain -- principal U.S. war ally and conduit to White House war councils -- occurs just days before the invasion of Iraq. And his final capitulation to U.S.-British terms occurs just five days after Saddam Hussein is fished out of a rathole.

As Jay Leno would say, what are the odds? The nine months of negotiations with Libya perfectly frame the war on Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein. How is it possible to ignore the most blindingly obvious collateral benefits?

John O'Sullivan argues that the Bush doctrine of preemption and the invasion of Iraq helped secure Muammar Khadafy's capitulation on nuclear weapons development.

First, the timing. Gadhafi approached the British to open talks on this one week before the invasion of Iraq when it was plain that Saddam was about to fall over WMDs. He hurried the announcement after Saddam was captured. At the very least, this behavior makes it look as if he was afraid of suffering the same fate.

Second, there actually was military intervention against Libya -- and Gadhafi remained silent about it. A U.S.-led coalition halted Libyan ships containing WMD contraband on the high seas under the president's Proliferation Security Initiative. That told the Libyan that the United States knew a great deal about his WMD programs and was prepared to halt them by military means if necessary.

Third, Gadhafi obligingly told Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi that after the invasion of Iraq he was afraid of the United States.

This analysis rings true to me. We are still left Iran's quite a bit less than full abandonment of the ambitions of the mullahs to construct nuclear weapons. Plus, Kim Jong-il of North Korea is still attempting to build a nuclear arsenal. But if the invasion of Iraq helped secure Libya's capitulation then that alone justifies the invasion of Iraq in my mind.

Libya has revealed North Korean and Iranian scientists and engineers were working in Libya.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took the decision to renounce all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on Friday night, but while at first it was thought this only had implications for Libya it is now clear that his decision has scuppered a secret partnership between Libya, Iran and North Korea formed with the intention of developing an independent nuclear weapon. New documents revealed yesterday show that the three were working on the nuclear weapons programme at a top-secret underground site near the Kufra Oasis of the Sahara in southeastern Libya. The team was made up of North Korean scientists, engineers and technicians, as well as some Iranian and Libyan nuclear scientists.

There have been rumors to the effect that nuclear weapons designers from North Korea, Iran, and Libya were cooperating. But the rumors came from single sources in less prestigious publications. Turns out they were right. The nuclear weapons development cooperation between Iran, North Korea, and Libya makes the capitulation of Libya even more important.

Attention is now going to become more focused on North Korea as a result of the deal with Libya. Some Bush Administration critics claim Bush's public posture toward North Korea makes it harder to come to a similar deal with North Korea. However, Balbina Hwang, a Korea analyst for the Heritage Foundation, points out that North Korea's regime sees a high profile disagreement and intentionally provocative moves as key elements of its negotiating strategy.

"I wish the (North Korea) negotiations were more quiet and under the radar," Hwang said, but claimed that Pyongyang's negotiating strategy was based on "showmanship" and portraying the crisis as a standoff between itself and Washington.

Hwang thinks the leaders of North Korea should learn a lesson from Libya's capitulation.

"I hope they (North Korea) are learning an important lesson from this," said Balbina Hwang, a Korea analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. "North Korea should learn what Libya has ... Ghaddafi saw what the future was, that if he did not relent and co-operate with the international community, life was going to be very difficult."

Will Kim Jong-il wise up and end his nuclear ambitions? It still seems unlikely. The reason is that North Korea faces a different set of problems and opportunities than Libya. Libya has one factor going for it that the regime in Pyongyang North Korea lacks: oil. Free of sanctions the Libyans can make a lot of money and modernize without jeopardizing the regime's control. The North Korean regime sees a continuing crisis as a necessary means to try to extract aid from other countries. Absent high tensions North Korea might be ignored and a large decline in aid would pose an existential crisis for the Pyongyang regime. The path of economic reform is seen by Kim Jong-il as a process that could easily spin out of control and result in his overthrow. So North Korea still looks like a tough nut to crack.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 26 02:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2003 December 23 Tuesday
Pakistani Weapons Scientists Gave Iran Nuclear Technology

The IAEA has received information from Iran that points to Pakistani involvement in the Iranian nuclear weapons development program.

Pakistan has secretly supplied Iran with technology crucial to developing a nuclear weapons programme, international inspectors believe.

There is also evidence it has given information to North Korea and other countries.

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency - the United Nations nuclear watchdog - have recently uncovered a huge procurement network developed by Iran in the past 17 years to access materials, tools and specialist knowledge.

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered to be the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, is among the scientists suspected of helping Iran. He is a national hero in Pakistan and is being subjected only to house arrest for his suspected involvement.

The Washington Post has a lengthy article reporting on an extensive Iranian effort that procured supplies for its nuclear weapons development program from a large list of countries.

Documents provided by Iran to U.N. nuclear inspectors since early November have exposed the outlines of a vast, secret procurement network that successfully acquired thousands of sensitive parts and tools from numerous countries over a 17-year period. While Iran has not directly identified Pakistan as a supplier, Pakistani individuals and companies are strongly implicated as sources of key blueprints, technical guidance and equipment for a pilot uranium-enrichment plant that was first exposed by Iranian dissidents 18 months ago, government officials and independent weapons experts said.

...

The disclosures offer a striking illustration of the difficulties faced by U.S. officials in trying to detect and interdict shipments of contraband useful in making weapons of mass destruction. Iran appears to have obtained the equipment by exploiting a gray zone of porous borders, middlemen, front companies and weak law enforcement where the components of such weapons are bought and sold.

It is very difficult to stop a government with sufficient financial and technical resources from pursuing a nuclear weapons development program.

The government of Pakistan claims the Pakistani scientists helped Iran before Pervez Musharraf came to power and that the scientists acted to help Iran without government approval.

In an interview, Information Minister Rashid Ahmed confirmed the thrust of a report in Sunday's Washington Post that the scientists had been detained for questioning on the basis of information provided to Pakistan by U.N. nuclear inspectors probing Iran's secret procurement network.

Rashid asserted that if there was any sharing of nuclear technology, it was done without the Pakistani government's knowledge or approval. Investigators, he said, are trying to determine whether the scientists may have offered their services as individuals.

It is noteworthy that both Iran and Libya decided to reveal their activities in the aftermath of the American-led invasion of Iraq. The overthrow of Saddam's regime has had a profound impact on the thinking of governments in the Middle East. As a result of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq the US has much more leverage than would otherwise have been the case.

At the same time, the US and its allies are far from putting a total permanent stop to nuclear weapons proliferation. Iran's mullahs are still stating that their temporary halt of at least some of their efforts to develop nuclear enrichment capability will not turn out to be permanent. Also, it is far from clear what exactly the North Korean regime is up to or what level of nuclear capability it has achieved to date.

One problem the US faces in preventing long-term nuclear proliferation is that each country that halts nuclear development efforts under US and allied pressure can easily hide extra copies of design documents and research findings to reuse at a later date to reconstitute their nuclear weapons development efforts. Also, each country that possesses valuable design information becomes another potential source of technology proliferation to still other countries.

As a side note, it is curious that while the recent revelations of Libya's advanced nuclear weapons program were viewed as a surprise by Western governments Debka was reporting well over a year ago that the Israeli government saw the Libyan nuclear program as well advanced.

In one of the first surface Indicators of this unease, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, in one of his pre-New Year interviews earlier this month, suddenly came out with a revelation – not about Iraq or even Iran, but about Egypt’s previously unheard of nuclear program. He informed an unsuspecting American and Israeli public that a Libyan program was well advanced to build the first Arab-Muslim nuclear bomb as a joint Egyptian, Iraqi enterprise funded by Saudi Arabia.

There may well still be hidden mysteries of concealed nuclear weapons development programs waiting to be revealed.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 23 05:48 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 December 21 Sunday
Libya Abandons Nuclear Program That Was More Advanced Than Expected

George W. Bush and Tony Blair have come in for a great deal of criticism for overhyping the threat of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) development programs. My own view of much of this criticism is that it misses the point that it is very difficult and probably impossible to accurately assess the state of a closed secretive society's weapons programs. In the aftermath of Gulf War I the US government was very surprised at the highly advanced state of Saddam's nuclear weapons program. Saddam was able to conceal much of what was going on. This intelligence lapse caused the Bush Administration and other governments as well to expect that Saddam still had a lot going on that was hidden. Now after Gulf War II it is still not clear what all Saddam was or was not up to. There remains the possibility that he could have had a lot of evidence destroyed or hidden.

Buttressing this argument that it is hard to know what closed secretive societies are up to are revelations of what Muammar Ghadafy was doing with his recently disclosed nuclear program. Libya has struck a deal with the United States and Great Britain to abandon its WMD development programs in exchange for a dropping of sanctions against Libya and in the process of striking this agreement Libya has revealed to US and British intelligence and weapons experts a nuclear program that was further along than US intelligence expected it to be.

Libya, which agreed to give up its weapons programs Friday, told the agents that it possesses tons of mustard gas and other chemical weapons materials, facilities that could manufacture germ weapons, Scud missiles, and a more advanced nuclear weapons program than previously known, the officials said. They briefed reporters on condition that they not be identified.

The economic pressure of sanctions and the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to let the Libyans free of the sanctions without first abandoning their WMD programs were essential in bringing the Libyans to agreement.

Congress and the Bush administration, however, said sanctions would be maintained until Libya gave up its illicit weapons programs and links to terrorist organizations. That position, American and British officials said, forced Libya -- economically crippled and desperate for the return of foreign oil companies -- to consider the new concessions.

A State Department official said Libya felt an urgency to act because of the U.S. stances on Iran and North Korea and the war in Iraq. An intelligence official said Khadafy was also concerned about the threat to his government from militant elements in the country.

The CIA sees the revelations coming out of Libya as confirming the accuracy and prowess of the CIA analysts who try to monitor WMD developments in rather closed societies.

Though the country's uranium-enrichment capabilities were further along than expected, the intelligence officials said that much of what the CIA saw confirmed its analysts' projections, which they hailed as a vindication of the agency's ability to monitor weapons programs around the world. That ability has been called into question by the failure of the U.S. hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Is the CIA just spinning? Or do the CIA folks really believe that even though Libya was further along toward developing nuclear weapons than the CIA suspected that these revelations demonstrate the CIA's prowess in monitoring weapons development programs? Perhaps they view a partial success in figuring out an enemy WMD program as an excellent performance for an intelligence agency. That might even be true. It is hard to figure out what a fairly closed society's government is up to.

My guess is that the CIA analysts who are patting themselves on the back are missing the point that this level of performance is not sufficient to allow a US President intent on a strategy of preemption to stop the spread of WMD to make correct decisions about when to intervene in other countries with military force. A President is bound to either wait too long before intervening or to intervene and then not find enough evidence to justify that rationale for intervention.

By Randall Parker    2003 December 21 10:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 November 19 Wednesday
Iraq, Weapons Of Mass Destruction, And The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Mark Hosenball, Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas have written an article about Cheney's influence on Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.

One such moment came at the end of the first gulf war in 1991. Cheney was secretary of Defense, and arms inspectors visiting defeated Iraq had discovered that Saddam Hussein was much closer to building a nuclear weapon than anyone had realized. Why, Cheney wondered aloud to his aides, had a steady stream of U.S. intelligence experts beaten a path to his door before the war to say that the Iraqis were at least five to 10 years away from building a bomb? Years later, in meetings of the second President Bush's war cabinet, Cheney would return again and again to the question of how Saddam could create an entire hidden nuclear program without the CIA's knowing much, if anything, about it.

The surprising nature of this discovery has been overshadowed by the far smaller finds of WMD evidence at the end of Gulf War II. If Saddam Hussein had been pursuing a bigger nuclear weapons development effort in the late 1990s would the US government have known? Or is there simply a limitation on how much the US can know about what is going in a regime such as Hussein's short of actually invading the place?

One can always play monday morning quarterback and point to all sorts of errors after the fact. Also, before the fact there will be people lining up with so many different estimates of the activities of, say, Iraq or North Korea or some other rather closed and secretive society that someone after the fact will be able to claim that they are right. But if public statements of various European government leaders and even some former Clinton Administration officials (e.g. Kenneth Pollack) are anything to go by the Bush Administration was not alone in its assessment that Saddam's Iraq had a substantial WMD development effort in the late 90s and later.

The troubling thing about all this is that my guess pre-war was that Iraq's WMD programs were smaller than Iran's or North Korea's. Now that so much criticism has come down on the Bush Administration about their Iraq WMD predictions the Bushies find themselves in the position of being seen as the boy that cried wolf. But the story from Aesop's fable is being ignored by partisans intent on scoring points against the Bushies: the wolf eventually came.

Update: A New York Times report underscores the extent to which the CIA is becoming more skeptical in its viewing of evidence of biological and chemical weapons programs.

As an example of the danger of supposition, a second official cited Iraq, saying the absence of evidence that Iraq had destroyed its chemical and biological weapons appeared to have been interpreted by intelligence agencies as evidence that it still possessed them.

...

Even though officials said changes were not being made as a direct result of the Iraq experience, the emerging conclusions seem to reflect fresh caution by intelligence analysts, whose prewar certainty that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons has been cast in doubt by the failure of American investigators to find any evidence of Iraqi stockpiles.

When attempting to puzzle out what is happening in closed secretive societies there is always going to be a fair amount of uncertainty. The danger is that the admission of uncertainty in intelligence estimates will become a justification for inaction until the threat has become much greater.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 19 10:35 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 November 14 Friday
Iran, IAEA, US, Europe, And Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

Iran is developing nuclear reactors that can generate electricity for civilian purposes. Iran also has large reserves of oil and natural gas and can generate electricity far more cheaply using fossil fuels. Iran has also admitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it has pursued a number of efforts to develop nuclear weapons over the last 18 years and has revealed to the IAEA a number of details about those efforts. The IAEA concludes that Iran is not currently trying to make nuclear weapons but that Iran has concealed a lot of activities that violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report this week that Iran had been involved in numerous cases of covert nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment and the production of small amounts of plutonium that effectively put the nation in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But it also praised Iran for cooperation and openness and said it had found no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA has effectively given the Europeans the diplomatic space they need to be able to pretend that the threat posed by nuclear weapons development in Iran is a problem that has been solved by an Iranian agreement with the IAEA to allow instant inspections of various Iranian nuclear facilities..

The British government reaction fits with the general European reaction.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said Britain’s analysis of a United Nations report into the country’s nuclear programme differed from that of the US.

The US government reaction is not so favorable.

"I must say that the report's assertion is simply impossible to believe," Undersecretary of State for Non-proliferation and Arms Control John Bolton said.

Bolton points to the scale and length of the various deceptions the Iranians have conducted.

``It attempts to cover its tracks by repeatedly and over many years neglecting to report its activities and in many instances providing false declarations to the IAEA,'' Bolton said in a speech at a dinner of The American Spectator magazine.

A number of experts outside of government share the US government's concern.

Weapons experts described the report as deeply troubling, mostly because of the disclosures about how Iran hid its activities from nuclear inspectors.

"It's quite clear now that Iran was engaged in willful and systematic deception," said Michael Levi, a science fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The Iranians were working toward becoming fully proficient in all stages of processing nuclear materials.

The 29-page IAEA report, obtained by The Independent, concludes that "while most of the breaches identified to date have involved limited quantities of nuclear material, they have dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing".

The New York Times, in an article that also highlights a CIA report on increased North Korean weapons production, points to the bottom line: Iran lags North Korea but has made a lot of progress and seeks to retain the ability to resume making progress.

But the essence of the Central Intelligence Agency report about North Korea is that that country is speeding up its weapons production. And Iran's decision to allow the international agency into facilities that were previously closed to inspectors may, diplomats said, blunt Mr. Bush's effort to seek some kind of sanctions in the United Nations, leaving Iran with an advanced nuclear infrastructure that could be restarted at a moment's notice.

Taken together, the reports show that Iran and North Korea have each dabbled in separating plutonium — one path to a bomb — and have each set up centrifuges to enrich uranium.

It is questionable whether a fully empowered IAEA inspection team can even entirely halt Iranian progress at its current stage - especially if the result is the continued construction and eventual operation of a nuclear reactor which the Iranians say is solely for making power for civilian purposes. An operational reactor will put the Iranians in a position of being able to throw out the inspectors at some later point so that Iran can take materials from the "civilian" reactor and use them for nuclear weapons making.

Because the small amounts of WMD-related materials found in Iraq the Bush Administration is now in the position of the girl who cried wolf. Iran's nuclear program has been a greater threat than Iraq's since Gulf War I led to the seizure of some of the nuclear weapons related equipment that Saddam had. North Korea is even further along in nuclear weapons development. But Iran and North Korea are harder nuts to crack and the public and international reaction to the US occupation of Iraq leaves the Bush Administration already fighting politically just to win support for its Iraq policies. The Bush Administration has a limited supply of political capital to expend to win support for its policies and doesn't have enough to win support for brinksmanship with Iran. The approach of the 2004 election is even more problematic for anti-nuclear proliferation efforts because the Democrats are inclined to criticize any initiatives the Bush Administration might make against countries that are developing nuclear weapons and the Democrats simply don't support hardline foreign policies.

Amir Taheri, an Iranian living in Paris, has written an excellent article on the topic of Iran's nuclear program. Taheri says that the problem is that Iran is trying to get very close to being able to make nuclear weapons fairly quickly.

The real issue is not the bomb," he says. "Regardless of who rules in Tehran, Iran is sure to have nuclear weapons whenever its leaders decide to have them. The real issue is who will be in control of those weapons and who will be their target."

The view is echoed by Gary Samore, the nuclear expert in the Institute for International Strategic Studies in London.

"There is no doubt that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme," he says. "No amount of diplomatic manoeuvring and political pressure is likely to persuade Iran to drop what has become a top national priority."

Taheri says that Iran can maneuver itself to being within 18 months of being able to produce a nuclear bomb even while under an IAEA inspections regime.

The revelation of a laser uranium enrichment program as part of the IAEA report is more important than the small amount of enriched uranium it produced because laser uranium enrichment demonstrates considerable technical skill. (same article here)

"People were saying, 'So Iran's pursuing laser enrichment? Ha-ha-ha, Let's let them do it,'" recalled David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and enrichment expert.

No one's laughing this week. In a confidential report Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran's atomic executives have acknowledged that they fired up a pilot laser-enrichment plant late last year and enriched tiny amounts of uranium to low levels.

The Israelis have an even more pessimistic take on the Iranian nuclear program.

Iran will have nuclear capability in one year, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Wednesday.

My guess is that Iran will either manage to make nuclear weapons while under an IAEA inspections regime or will continue to develop nuclear technologies while under IAEA supervision and then eventually throw out the IAEA and then make a quick sprint for nuclear power status while it attempts to delay a response from the United States. The Bush Administration at this point probably doesn't have enough political support to maintain a harder line toward Iran in order to force the Iranians to surrender or destroy some of their nuclear equipment. So the Iranians just have to play for time and wait for some future point where the US has an even more distracted and less confrontational leadership. At that point the Iranians will be able to throw out the IAEA and sprint for the nuclear finish line.

Update: Look at the broader context of the IAEA report on Iraq: The Bush Administration has not sought to increase the size of the US military to make it big enough to properly run a counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq. One reason it hasn't done so is because some of its more Panglossian neoconservative hawks think the US military can prevail with small numbers equipped with modern technology. But another reason for the reticence is that it would be very hard to win an increase in defense spending of the size required and it would take years to build up the force. The US ground forces are already overstretched in Iraq. That alone puts Iran's leaders in a stronger position to continue to pursue nuclear ambitions. But even if the US troops were not on the ground in Iraq the US would be hard pressed to stop Iran. A ground invasion would be much harder than was the case in Iraq and the building of political support for an attack on Iran would be much harder than was the case with the war against Saddam.

Limitations in US intelligence abilities, an overstretched Army, a US federal budget deficit already at a half trillion dollars, and a public that does not appreciate the size of the threat combine to place severe limits on US efforts to stop nuclear weapons proliferation. Throw in a European elite opinion that has a greater desire to challenge the US than it does to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and the outlook for nuclear anti-proliferation efforts seems bleak.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 14 02:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 October 23 Thursday
Saudi Arabia May Go Nuclear In Response To Iranian Nuke Program

UPI Editor in Chief Arnaud de Borchgrave reports that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have have just agreed to a secret program for nuclear weapons cooperation. (and see a slightly different version of the article)

"It will be vehemently denied by both countries," added this ranking Pakistani source known to this correspondent for more than a decade as a knowledgeable insider, "but future events will confirm that Pakistan has agreed to provide KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) with the wherewithal for a nuclear deterrent."

...

"Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia," the Pakistani source explained, "see a world that is moving from non-proliferation to proliferation of nuclear weapons."

...

The Sunni Saudis have concluded that nothing will deter Shiite Iran from continuing its quest for nuclear weapons. Pakistan, on the other hand, is openly concerned about the recent armaments agreement between India, its nuclear rival, and Israel, a long-time nuclear power whose inventory is estimated at between 200 and 400 weapons. Iran and India, located on either side of Pakistan, have also signed a strategic agreement whose aim is regarded with suspicion in Islamabad.

Pakistan (justifiably in my view) fears closer Iranian-Indian cooperation. The Saudis fear the Iranians. The Saudis have oil to give to the Pakistanis in exchange for Pakistani nuclear protection while the Pakistanis also gain another location from which to base missiles that will be able to reach India and Iran.

Of course this has been denied by the Saudis and Pakistanis with the Saudis saying the meeting was about Pakistani troops coming to Saudi Arabia. UPI reporter Martin Walker asks the obvious question:

Why would the Saudis want Pakistani troops on their soil anyway -- unless they were guarding something highly important to Pakistan?

And why do the Saudis think they need the Pakistanis to protect them? The Saudis no longer have faith that they can count on Washington DC to protect their perceived interests. On that note see my previous post Without US As Ally Saudi Arabia Could Go Nuclear. Those who have been so intent on the US taking a harder line with Saudi Arabia may not like the result. The Saudis will no doubt continue to fund Pakistani Madrassahs as the Pakistanis continue to spend little government money on schools.

What me worry? The US government is treating the latest rumours as unsubstantiated allegations.

"We've seen them (the reports), we've seen the allegations. We have not seen, however, any information to substantiate what would seem to us to be rather bald assertions," State Department deputy spokesman J Adam Ereli said at his regular briefing in Washington.

He said, "We are confident that Pakistan clearly understands our concerns regarding proliferation of nuclear technology, and we would also note that Saudi Arabia is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which it has agreed not to obtain nuclear weapons."

The State Department's continued faith in NPT is unfounded in reality. As Henry Sokolski argues the NPT has major holes and countries are free to leave the NPT anyhow.

An Israeli general has told an Israeli Knesset parliamentary committee that the Saudis are reacting to the increasing likelihood that Iran will become a nuclear power.

The secret Saudi effort is designed to meet the imminent threat from an Iranian atomic arsenal, Israeli Major Gen. Aharon Zeevi told a parliament committee.

You might be thinking that the recent deal between some European countries and Iran to put tighter safeguards on Iran's nuclear program will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Iran has, after all, tentatively agreed to stop doing uranium enrichment and to allow international inspectors to monitor suspected nuclear weapons development activities. Iran is going to allow more intrusive inspections. But New Scientist reports that Iran could continue enriching uranium clandestinely or it could build a covert underground reactor to produce plutonium for bombs.

Bunn, now at the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, told New Scientist that Iran could still hide a facility to enrich uranium for weapons. And he thinks it could still carry on building the gas centrifuge enrichment plant at Natanz.

James Goodby and Kenneth Weisbrode believe the United States doesn't have the stomach to do what it takes to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power (I certainly agree) and foresee that other Middle Eastern states will follow Iran and become nuclear powers as well.

If Iran joins Israel as a de facto nuclear weapon state, with three other nuclear weapon states — Russia, India and Pakistan — nearby, it is very unlikely that other nations in the vicinity will be able to resist launching or accelerating their own nuclear weapon programs. It is not at all inconceivable that a Middle East with four, five, or six nuclear weapon states — including Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — will be the reality of the early decades of the 21st century.

The domestic political scene in the United States is such that it seems very unlikely that the US will undertake any major initiatives to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Brit Hume reports that Democrats in key primary states do not attach much importance to the battle to fight terrorism.

A new poll taken in Iowa -- a key election state because it's hosting the first caucus -- shows that fighting terrorism ranks last among Iowa Democrats' biggest concerns, with one percent of respondents saying it worries them the most.

The thought of fighting nuclear weapons proliferation is probably even lower than terrorism in the ranking of what Democrats see as important.

There was a report a year ago that Saudi Arabia was trying to buy nuclear weapons. See my previous post FrontPage: Saudis Trying To Buy Nukes. Saudi Arabia has been rumoured to have funded the development of Pakistan's nuclear program in the first place: Former DIA Analyst: Saudi Arabia Bankrolled Pak Nukes. The idea of Pakistan maintaining control of nukes placed in Saudi Arabia has also been discussed previously: Henry Sokolski: Iran Watching Bush Handling Of North Korea. Are these continuing rumours indicative of an underlying activity on the part of the Saudis to cooperate with the Pakistanis and to have Saudi Arabia protected by a Pakistani nuclear umbrella? It seems highly plausible.

The world is becoming a more dangerous place. North Korea is helping Iran's nuclear program. China's continued economic growth promises to give China the economic and military might to build alliances with some Muslim countries. But the Muslim countries are divided between Shias and Sunnis. The United States and Europe can ill afford to be split and slow moving in responding to all these developments and yet the EU mandarins are so interested in building a counterweight to the United States that they don't recognize the extent to which the West as a whole is destined for demographic reasons to decline in power relative to the rest of the world. Also, US success on the battlefield is not translating into success in achieving its grand strategic objectives and it seems doubtful that US leaders even have a clear idea what its grand strategic objectives ought to be. It is even more obvious that the Europeans, too jealous of American power to think clearly about their own predicament, do not recognize where their own best interests lie.

See my recent post on the thoughts of William H. McNeill and Samuel P. Huntington on clashes within and between civilizations for a sense of a larger historical context in which to interpret current events.

Thanks to Trent Telenko for the heads up on the latest rounds of rumours about Saudi nuclear intentions.

Update: Hassan Rohani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, says Iran is not committing to permanently stop uranium enrichment or other nuclear development efforts. (same article here)

But Rohani was non-committal on how long Iran would maintain the freeze on uranium enrichment.

"We voluntarily chose to do it, which means it could last for one day or one year, it depends on us," he said. "As long as Iran thinks this suspension is beneficial it will continue, and whenever we don't want it we will end it."

The official Iranian news agency later quoted him as saying Iran was not prepared to abandon totally its uranium enrichment programme.

The Iranians are driving to drive a wedge between US officials who realize how little the Iranians conceded and European officials who will claim that the Iranians have made a big concession. The Iranians are playing for time. They are still determined to develop nuclear weapons. The Saudis and the Israelis know what the Europeans don't want to believe.

Besides placating assorted Western governments Iran also gets valuable technology out of the deal.

Hassan Rowhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said in Tehran that the government had decided to sign the protocol so that it could continue its civilian nuclear activities, which it said were for generating electricity. In exchange, Iran would be allowed to buy new nuclear technology kept out of its reach by 20 years of sanctions.

Civilian nuclear technology helps build up the fuel cycle that provides the materials needed for bomb making. It moves the Iranians ever closer to having a bomb. This deal is not progress.

Update II: Iran is already backpedalling on their agreement with the Euros to stop uranium enrichment efforts.

Iran appears to be having second thoughts about its promise to the European Union to suspend its uranium-enrichment effort -- a central part of the international crisis over Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program. The Foreign Ministry now says Tehran will have to consider the "modalities of a suspension" before taking action, while the arms-control community remains determined that Iran renounce its enrichment activities.

...

Iran's uranium-enrichment effort worries international arms-control experts because it could provide the direct means for developing a nuclear bomb. Iran's enrichment activities first came to light in the summer of last year when an exiled Iranian opposition group reported the existence of a secret pilot enrichment plant at Natanz, south of Tehran. A visit to the site by IAEA inspectors earlier this year revealed Iran had constructed some 160 operational gas centrifuges for enriching uranium in fortified facilities largely being built underground.

Fred Wheling, an arms control expert at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, said the secret nature of the site casts doubt on Tehran's subsequent explanations that it is purely intended to develop fuel for commercial reactors. "If Iran was to develop an indigenous enrichment capacity, it could eventually make its own fuel, which could then be used in [Iran's planned commercial reactor at] Bushehr," Wheling said. "But if that were really the case, then you wouldn't need to go to all the trouble of having a clandestine facility and acquiring uranium under the table to test it and so on."

Only regime change will stop the Iranian nuclear program. Ditto for North Korea.

The Europeans thought they had a diplomatic deal.

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Ministers urged Iran on Monday to follow through on its recently announced commitment to suspend uranium enrichment efforts and allow increased international inspections of its nuclear program.

What, we can't make a safer world just by making diplomatic deals?

Update III: Here are more details on the Democracy Corps poll of the Democratic Party primary voters done on October 2-13, 2003 in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The first is an analysis by Byron York.

But what is perhaps more important is that most analysts have ignored what may be the poll's most stunning finding.

The survey focused on Democrats who take part in the nominating process in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. And, Iraq aside, what it found was that Democrats, at least those who are most active in politics, simply don't care about terrorism.

September 11, 2001 had far less impact on public thinking than did December 7, 1941. Terrorists slamming airplanes into skyscrapers just are not seen to be as clear of a threat to a substantial portion of the American population today as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Guam, and other American Pacific holdings was seen by the American public of 1941. Has the public changed? Or is a terrorist attack harder for the public to see as part of a bigger threat? Probably a combination of both. The bottom line result is that the United States will not execute the strategy of preemption well enough to prevent the threat of catastrophic terrorism from growing.

The full text results of the Democracy Corps Democratic primary voter poll is downloadable in PDF format. It makes for grim reading for those of us who see a very dangerous future ahead for America because the advance and spread of technology will make terrorist groups more capable of acts of what the CIA calls "catastrophic terrorism".

By Randall Parker    2003 October 23 11:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 October 18 Saturday
Henry Sokolski: Taking Proliferation Seriously

Henry Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, has written an excellent lengthy article in the October issue of Policy Review about current interpretations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), gaps in its coverage, and the inadequacy of current measures for stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The essay (which you should go read in full) is entitled Taking Proliferation Seriously

Instead, Ireland’s original call for a nuclear nonproliferation treaty was premised on the fear that the further spread of nuclear weapons to additional states would make nuclear disarmament and reductions less likely and accidental or catalytic wars — ones instigated by smaller powers to draw the superpowers to their defense — more probable. Against this threat, the Irish representative urged adoption of the most basic restraint: States that had weapons should agree not to share or spread them, and states that lacked them should agree not to acquire them. As for the sharing of nuclear technology for civilian purposes, the Irish recognized that the further spread of such civilian capabilities would actually make the spread of nuclear weapons more likely and that, therefore, the proliferation of such technology had to be controlled. Finally, the Irish downplayed the idea that the superpowers had to disarm themselves before any progress could be made to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons to other states.7

Clearly, this original Irish Resolution view of the npt is the one to which we need to return if we are to keep the NPT as an agreement that will reduce rather than fan further nuclear proliferation. In the first instance this will require that the U.S. and other nuclear technology-exporting states recognize that too much of what they are willing to share is too close to bombmaking to be safeguarded against quick diversion to military ends. Certainly, light water reactors in Iran will bring it dangerously close to having a large arsenal of near-weapons-grade plutonium after only 15 months of operation. The same is true of North Korea if either of the two light water reactors the U.S., Japan, and South Korea are helping to build are completed. It is even clearer that Russia’s, Pakistan’s, and China’s sharing of fuel fabrication, plutonium separation, and uranium enrichment technology and hardware with Iran and North Korea is simply too close to bombmaking ever to allow for any monitoring to be able to afford timely warning of a possible military diversion.

Unfortunately, America is still pushing international cooperation on advanced fuel cycles and reactors that includes cooperation on “proliferation resistant” breeder reactors and reprocessing (because of the addition of several steps that could just as easily be subtracted as not). This cooperation is being proposed for Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, and Argentina — states that only recently gave up nuclear weapons programs of their own.

It is naive to act as if a country that wants nuclear weapons that develops a civilian nuclear power program isn't maneuvering itself to be incredibly close to possessing nuclear weapons. The technology and equipment needed for a civilian nuclear power program brings countries too close to the development of nuclear weapons for the current NPT enforcement practices to be adequate for preventing proliferation.

Absent the development of nuclear reactors that do not use or produce materials useful for making nuclear nuclear weapons the spread of nuclear power for electricity generation is inevitably going to facilitate and accelerate the spread of nuclear weapons. For this reason alone I am a much bigger supporter of basic research into non-nuclear substitutes for Middle Eastern oil such as photovoltaic materials and ways to burn coal without generating pollution.

Sokolski argues for changes in international norms so that activities that have the effect of facilitating nuclear proliferation are

To move away from such a future, then, is worth some effort. But what step should be taken first? Cleary, it would be helpful if the U.S. and its allies backed country-neutral rules that would close some of the worst loopholes in the NPT. These gaps principally consist of the NPT’s non-application to weapons states outside the treaty, the NPT’s lack of any serious enforcement measures, its generous inattention to risky “peaceful” nuclear cooperation, and its allowance of nuclear weapons transfers between states so long as the weapon transferred remains under the control of the exporting nation (e.g., U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Germany).

Current Bush Administration policies toward nuclear proliferation are inadequate to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Current international norms and treaties with regard to nuclear power and nuclear weapons proliferation are similarly inadequate. This ought to be a much bigger issue than is currently the case. Technological advances will only make the development of nuclear weapons increasingly easier throughout the world. Therefore the spread of nuclear weapons and the eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorist groups may be inevitable. But I for one would like to delay that day by as many years as possible. Much better policies could delay and slow the spread of nuclear weapons for many years.

See also these previous posts that link to articles by Henry Sokolski: Henry Sokolski: Iran Watching Bush Handling Of North Korea, North Korean Uranium Enrichment Program Fairly Advanced, and Melana Zyla Vickers On Clintonite Dominance Lite.

Update: Also see Gabriel Schoenfeld's article The Terror Ahead: A nuclear attack? Be very afraid.

Yet in the absence of airtight verification procedures, the only countries thereby restrained are the law-abiding ones, which are not themselves a menace. In the meantime, determined cheaters like Iraq, Iran and North Korea make use of loopholes to pursue their objectives. Though the NPT appeared to work well in its early years, when the relevant technology was more difficult to acquire, now it serves mostly as a cover for would-be proliferators, offering assurances to the world that everything is fine and encouraging Washington to slumber when it needs most to be alert.

The NPT also exhibits structural defects specific unto itself. IAEA inspectors, of whom there are only several hundred responsible for policing approximately 1,000 nuclear facilities around the world, can barely do their job as it is. They are spread even thinner by the need to devote the same amount of attention to wholly innocuous programs in countries like Canada as they do to suspicious ones in countries like Iran. At the same time, IAEA officials lack the freedom to conduct unfettered inspections of any site they choose; they can only visit sites declared (by the signatory nation) to be under the IAEA's "safeguard." And even if they were granted more sweeping rights, the idea that they could find undeclared facilities on their own in a country attempting to conceal them is a delusion. Finally, a glaring loophole in the treaty exempts states from declaring a nuclear installation until 180 days before introducing radioactive material into it; this is precisely the escape mechanism that Iran has exploited to build the uranium and plutonium facilities it has only now disclosed.

As long as there are closed societies whose governments have the resources and the will to develop nuclear weapons no treaty is going to stop them.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 18 02:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 August 24 Sunday
Henry Sokolski: Iran Watching Bush Handling Of North Korea

Henry Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, says the Iranian leaders are watching very closely how the Bush Administration handles North Korea.

Earlier this summer, I attended a meeting in Geneva that included Tehran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and several members of Iran's Expediency Council. After the formal session, they pulled me aside. The one question -- the only question -- they pressed me about was what Washington planned to do about North Korea.

The Iranians want to know whether the US is going to let the North Korean regime become a nuclear power and nuclear proliferator. If the answer is yes then that is going to be a big green light for the Iranians to do the same.

As Sokolski makes clear, if North Korea and Iran go nuclear there are other potential nuclear powers waiting in the wings.

Saudi Arabia, who helped bankroll Pakistan's bomb project and has medium-range rockets of its own, has already had officials visit Islamabad's bomb factory in Kahuta. There's even been talk about Pakistan loaning some of its nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia, keeping them under Pakistani control (like the U.S. does with its weapons in Germany). Egypt and Syria, meanwhile, are planning nuclear desalinization plants (i.e., big reactors producing material which could be used for nuclear weapons).

Algeria, which was caught in 1991 covertly developing a reactor that might make bombs, now has it on line. Finally, Turkey, a close friend to Israel, has made it clear that Iran going nuclear would force Ankara to secure new "security assurances."

Sokolski thinks the United States is still sending mixed signals to North Korea in terms of just how serious the US is about stopping North Korea's nuclear weapons program. I have to agree with that assessment. The Bush Administration has not clearly indicated just how far it is willing to go to stop North Korea's nuclear program. The Bush Administration has not only been insufficiently clear with North Korea but with North Korea's number 1 and number 2 enablers South Korea and China as well. What price do the Chinese and South Koreans have to pay, if any, for continuing to supply and to conduct trade with North Korea? Nothing so far and there are no indications that the Bush Administration is going to make them pay a real price for their enabling roles.

Until the Bush Administration changes course we are going to continue to approach the point where there will be a total breakdown of efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 24 07:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 August 15 Friday
Israel Threatens To Strike Iranian Nuclear Facilities

Writing for the Washington Post Jim Hoagland says Israel is threatening to launch a preemptive strike against the Iranian nuclear weapons development facilities.

A grim warning from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to President Bush that Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than U.S. intelligence believes has triggered concern here that Israel is seriously considering a preemptive strike against Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor.

...

Sharon's description of the unacceptable risks of Iran's being able to launch "a nuclear holocaust" comes just as the Bush administration is making headway in constructing a diplomatic containment strategy for the nuclear weapons programs of Iran and North Korea.

A diplomatic containment strategy against Iran and North Korea? The Foggy Bottom diplomats in the US State Department are dreaming. Do they think their diplomatic strategy can stop Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons? How exactly? The US is trying to get the European Union to cut trade with Iran and to get the Russians to refuse to sell the uranium needed to make the Bushehr reactor operational. But the Iranians are operating their own uranium mines.

The prospects of stopping North Korea's nuclear weapons program diplomatically are even worse than those for stopping Iran's. As long as China and South Korea support North Korea the US is going to be hard pressed to stop North Korea's nuclear program. The Bush Administration's embrace of a diplomatic strategy is either a sign that they know their hand is weak and that they don't have the support and resources to pursue a more hardball strategy or maybe they think they see some advantage of going down a diplomatic route to demonstrate to other countries that it is a path that will not work. I'm inclined to the more pessimistic view that their hand is too weak and that they can not or will not stop either Iran or North Korea from going nuclear.

Writing for Haaretz Nathan Guttman reports on the Israeli view about a preemptive strike on Iran.

But attacking Iran's nuclear facilities would be far more complicated than the 1982 strike outside Baghdad. First, Iran's nuclear program is dispersed at several sites, some of which are protected from conventional weapons; the distance to fly is much greater; and perhaps most importantly, the Iranians could respond in a painful manner.

What exactly is "a painful manner"? How could the Iranians strike back at Israel? Anyone know? Chemical laden missiles perhaps?

If the threat of an Israeli strike forces the Bush Administration to take more forceful steps to stop Iran's nuclear weapons development program then the Israelis are doing the world a valuable service. Unfortunately, North Korea's nuclear weapons program is further along and the Israelis can not credibly threaten to launch a preemptive strike against it.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 15 11:48 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 August 11 Monday
WMD Proliferation Control Becoming More Difficult

The New York Times, in a story about the suicide of late Hyundai Asan chief Chung Mong Hun, mentions that South Korean trade with North Korea is growing rapidly.

Conservatives saw the project as a cash cow that funneled Pyongyang money that could be used for nuclear weapons. More to the liking of all South Koreans is straightforward inter-Korean trade, which jumped 25 percent in the first half of this year, to $269 million.

"I was in Kaesong a week ago, there were a lot of South Koreans there, still talking about details," said Tony Michell, president of Euro-Asian Business Consultancy, a British company that does business in North Korea. "They are checking the soils and surveying. Work is continuing on the road and railroad."

This makes it harder to apply economic pressure to North Korea.

South Korea is not the only country that is taking steps that make it harder to stop WMD proliferation of course. David Lampton of the Nixon Center says that the US is turning a blind eye on China's export of WMD technology to the Middle East in order to try to win Chinese cooperation on North Korea.

"Iran is a very worrisome problem and they're moving along on their nuclear program, but they're not as far as North Korea and I think we're just saying, 'Let's deal with this problem and then we'll take the next one.' There is no effective policy with respect to North Korea unless China cooperates," Lampton said.

This is a sign of the weakness of the hand the US leaders think they have to play with China on both North Korea and the Middle East.

In the face of a growing likelihood that North Korea will have nuclear weapons that can reach Japan the development of a nuclear arsenal is no longer taboo in Japan.

This month, The Shokun, a major right-leaning magazine, gathered essays from more than 40 prominent writers to debate the issue.

Even journalists with dovish reputations said the option was a valid card to play for political leverage, not only against North Korea but the United States and other nations. Some questioned whether Japan was ready for the responsibility; others preferred Japan to get a missile defense system.

Nuclear North Korea and Iran could set off regional arms races.

For instance, North Korea's testing of a nuclear device might persuade Japan to quickly go nuclear itself, arms-control experts suggest. A nuclear Japan, in turn, might force China to increase its arsenal. That could put pressure on Taiwan to seek such weapons.

A nuclear Iran, meanwhile, could make it harder to establish pro-American governments in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US is approaching a point where its attempts to stop WMD proliferation may become a complete failure. Technological and world economic development trends increase the number of countries that can supply relevant technology and the technology becomes steadily cheaper to acquire. Containment strategies based on trade controls and diplomatic agreements are simply inadequate. But so far the Bush Administration has been unwilling to use either trade sanctions to compel more countries (most notably China) to cooperate and the will does not exist to pursue a military option to remove regimes that are pursuing WMD development.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 11 03:12 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 July 25 Friday
Why Are Bush's 16 Words In SOTU Speech On Iraqi Uranium A Scandal?

I really do not understand the on-going flap about Bush's State Of The Union Address and the mention of Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium in some African nation. The Italian documents were, in all likelihood, forgeries. But Bush's statement was not based on the documents from Italy about Niger:

Though the British have not backed off that claim (a British official told NEWSWEEK that it came from an East African nation, not Niger), CIA Director Tenet publicly took responsibility for allowing a thinly sourced report by another country to appear in the State of the Union. (The White House last week denied that the Niger reference had ever shown up in an SOTU draft.) What Bush said in his address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Democrats looking to score partisan points along with those on the Right who actually opposed the war have motive to attack Bush on claims made based on the Niger documents. But since Bush's SOTU statement referenced a British intelligence source why the huge flap with the constant mention of Niger and the SOTU 16 words when the Brits say their info is not about Niger? Is there something here I'm missing? It seems simple enough. (really, can anyone explain this?)

Update: One lesson that the Bush White House has learned the hard way from the continuing flap about possible Iraqi attempts to get uranium is that it is unwise to try to blame the CIA.

What is unusual about this episode is that the combatants are officials at the White House and the CIA -- and that the White House has tried without success to resolve the controversy. The biggest lesson learned so far, said one administration official, is that "you don't pick a bureaucratic fight with the CIA." To which a White House official replied, "That wasn't our intention, but that certainly has been the perception."

That article has some pretty good insights into the battle within the Bush Administration over the pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice's reputation has suffered from this flap.

Still, these former officials said they would expect a national security adviser to give top priority to major presidential foreign policy speeches and an NIE about an enemy on the eve of a war. "It's implausible that the national security adviser would be too busy to pay attention to something that's going to come out of the president's mouth," said one. Another official called it highly unlikely that Rice did not read a memo addressed to her from the CIA. "I don't buy the bit that she didn't see it," said this person, who is generally sympathetic to Rice.

But there is still something basic here that is not clear: Is the CIA saying only that they have no credible evidence that the Iraqis tried to buy uranium from Africa? Or is the CIA also saying that the basis for British MI6 claims in this regard are based on weak evidence as well?

By Randall Parker    2003 July 25 12:32 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2003 July 22 Tuesday
Nuclear Armament Openly Debated In Japan

The threat of North Korea armed with nuclear missiles capable of hitting Japan is spurring changes in thinking about national security in Japan.

For the first time in three generations a shift in public opinion has rendered ordinary the discussion of a more assertive Japan and left defenders of the "peace Constitution" on the defensive.

While China's expanding power is a growing concern, the most immediate spur for this change has been a year of starkly increased tensions with North Korea, which already possesses ballistic missiles and is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Attitudes toward self defense are changing in Japan. Prime Minister Koizumi wants to rename the Self Defense Forces to a less peaceful sounding name. He also wants to organize a National Security Council patterned after the US equivalent. Japan is also spending to develop power projection capabilities include in-air refueling and pair of helicopter aircraft carriers which, due to opposition from Japanese pacifists, the Japanese government call destroyers.

It is not inconceivable that Japan and South Korea could go nuclear within a decade in response to North Korea's development of nuclear bombs. Taiwan would take this as justification for its own right to go nuclear. On the bright side this would effectively protect Taiwan from an attempt by China to force Taiwan to accept China's rule.

The biggest problem this outcome would pose for the United States is that a nuclear-armed North Korea would eventually have enough nuclear weapons to be able to sell some to Middle Eastern nations. This would effectively set off a nuclear arms buying spree in the Middle East as nations came to feel threatened by the possession of nuclear bombs by their neighbors.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 22 10:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 30 Monday
CIA Says North Korea Developing Miniature Nuclear Warheads

The New York Times has an important story by David Sanger on the CIA's new assessment that the North Koreans are trying to develop miniaturized nuclear bombs that can fit on their missiles.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. intelligence officials now think North Korea is developing the technology to make nuclear warheads small enough to fit atop the country's growing arsenal of missiles, potentially putting Tokyo and U.S. troops based in Japan at risk, according to officials who have received the intelligence reports.

In the assessment, which they have shared with Japan, South Korea and other allies in recent weeks, CIA officials said that U.S. satellites have identified a sophisticated new nuclear testing site, called Youngdoktong.

Of course we have very limited information about what is really going in in North Korea. While the CIA's interpretation of the purpose of the new facility at Youngdoktong may well be correct it is hard to tell how quickly the North Koreans will be able to accomplish their goals.

Kenneth Quinones, a former North Korea analyst for the U.S. State Department during the Clinton Administration, says in an interview with the Japanese newspaper Daily Yomiui that North Korea will be able to test a nuclear bomb by December 2003.

The more I talked to my friends, the more I realized that it is possible for North Korea to have a nuclear weapon by December. It is possible they'll have a test by December. There is nothing to stop North Korea from doing this.

Quinones does not think that North Korea is anywhere near as close to minaturizing as is claimed in the New York Times story. Read his full interview for the details.

The problem with the various interpretations of North Korean activities is that the US can not afford to underestimate North Korea's capabilities. Currently US policy toward North Korea amounts to an attempt to organize an informal embargo against North Korea. The US is making progress toward that goal and the Pyongyang regime's revenues from drug smuggling, missile sales, and other activities will probably be reduced by the cooperative efforts of the US, Japan, Australia, and other friendly nations that are cooperating to reduce North Korean revenues. But the US really needs more arrows in its quiver.

In my previous post North Korean Leaders: Let Them Eat Sneakers see my exchange in the comments section with Chris Beaumont of the Free North Korea blog for some ideas on how to corrupt the North Korean regime and how to reach the North Korean people with information about the outside world. Given that newspapers are rare in North Korea the North Korean people are rather information starved and they don't even get much written material of a propagandistic nature. If we could reach the North Korean people with printed matter and radios we could have a big impact on how the North Koreans view their regime and the regime's hold on them could be considerably weakened.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 30 11:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 June 29 Sunday
On Inspections And Intelligence About Iraq WMD Efforts

Stephen F. Hayes, writing for The Weekly Standard argues that intelligence work is an inherently error prone process and that expectations for the accuracy of the intelligence on Iraq in the run-up to the war have been unrealistic.

What's more, the intelligence community "consensus" on Iraq has often been deeply flawed.

There was consensus within the American intelligence community that Saddam Hussein would not start a war with Iran in 1980. He did. There was consensus within the American intelligence community ten years later that Saddam Hussein would not invade Kuwait. He did. There was a consensus that Saddam Hussein would not have a nuclear weapon for several years. We learned after the Gulf War ended that he had been just a year away from acquiring one. There was a consensus within the American intelligence community that Saddam Hussein, having been "contained" by U.N. weapons inspectors, would not attempt to avenge his humiliating 1991 defeat. He did, with the attempted assassination of former President Bush 18 months later. There was consensus within the American intelligence community that a secular Saddam would never reach out to Islamic fundamentalists. He did.

This is an important point. The invasion of Iraq had to be based more on a combination of Saddam Hussein's known track record and known motives than on an exact picture of what was transpiring in Iraq with regard to development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the months leading up to the war. There are limits to what intelligence agencies can discover. US and other Western intelligence agencies have been wrong about Iraq in the past by repeatedly underestimating what he was willing and able to do. Given this track record and given the inherent limits on the picture that can be built up from intelligence gathering it was imprudent to assume that Saddam was doing no more than what could be conclusively proved.

Also, it bears repeating: there were other reasons to conduct the war. One really big one was to reduce our reliance on Saudi Arabia and to put us in a stronger bargaining position from which to pressure the Saudi princes to reform their country to make its population less willing and able to become terrorists and to fund terrorists. We couldn't do that as long as we needed Saudi oil and Saudi bases to police Saddam's regime. This is now changing. The US is drawing down forces in Saudi Arabia, has bases in Iraq, and is building up the Iraqi oil production capacity. The Saudis are now far more vulnerable to pressure from Washington DC.

Another important reason for invading Iraq was that the continuation of sanctions was hurting the Iraqi people and costing the US in the eyes of Arab and world opinion. Our alternatives to war were becoming increasingly unattractive. We could have dropped sanctions and let Saddam pursue WMD development at a faster rate. But even many war critics state that they did not want Iraq to develop WMD. We could have continued with sanctions and effectively let him continue with WMD at a slower rate. But that would have left the Iraqi people to suffer under his rule and guess who much of the world would have blamed for the results?

Writing for Slate Fred Kaplan draws parallels between inaccuracies of intelligence assessments of Iraqi activities and with those of Cold War adversaries such as the Soviet Union.

In this sense, Rumsfeld and company saw themselves as something like a district attorney who twists the facts a bit to "frame a guilty man"—or like Dean Acheson, Harry Truman's secretary of state, who admitted in his memoirs that, while pushing for a massive U.S. arms buildup against what he saw as a grave Soviet threat, he made his points "clearer than truth."

What Kaplan fails to mention is the downside of guessing wrong in the opposite direction. Underestimates of enemy intentions and capabilities have cost the United States more than overestimates (e.g. remember the people who thought the Japanese would never attack Pearl Harbor). We are faced with a similar problem today with regard to North Korea. What is the regime up to? Does it have any nuclear weapons yet? If so, how many? We do not know. In fact, even after invading Iraq and occupying it for over 2 months our picture of the history of WMD development in Iraq is still very fragmentary. The folks who are now confident that Bush Administration overstated the extent of Iraqi WMD development activities have by no means proven their case.

Richard Spertzel, formerly head of the biological weapons inspections effort for Unscom in Iraq, says one reason more progress has not been made in finding signs of WMD in Iraq is that the inspectors sent so far have lacked relevant skills and experience.

The next iteration of the coalition inspectors was supposed to have a number of inspectors that had extensive experience in Iraq and has been so misrepresented in the media. I was asked in February to propose a list of Unscom experienced biological inspectors (a so-called A team) that had multiple inspection trips to Iraq. These were to be from the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. In March, after the concept was approved, I was asked to contact those on my list to assure they were willing and able to devote the time. All but one agreed to the deployment. None of the individuals on that list ever made it to Iraq.

Spertzel says the methods of handling and interrogation of the Iraqi weapons scientist have been disrespectful and counterproductive. He thinks the appointment of David Kay to take over the investigation will lead to improvements in the quality of the investigation and he expects to see major discoveries about the state of the Iraqi WMD efforts as a result of these improvements.

I think it is still premature to judge the state of WMD development in Iraq. I also think that a lot of the partisan critics of the war are presenting their own set of distortions of what the Bush Administration said, what was known, and why the war was fought. At this point the race for the White House in 2004 has become a much bigger force in the political debates than considerations of national security or sincere worries about the quality or integrity of US intelligence agencies.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 29 02:18 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
US Wants Japan To Cancel Iran Oil Development Deal

The US is trying to convince Japan to withdraw from a planned deal with Iran to develop the Azadegan oil reserves.

The US is putting concerted pressure on the Japanese government to pull out of a $2bn (£1.2bn) oil deal with Iran that had been scheduled for signing within the next few days, a US official and sources close to the negotiations said on Friday.

The US goal is to up the economic pressure in Iran by delaying Iranian oil field development. Even if the Japanese cancel the signing of the deal it is not clear how much this will slow down the Iranians. Will France or Russia step in to fill the void? Could oil companies in other countries develop the fields as quickly? Have the Iranians been having talks with China?

Update: US pressure to scuttle the deal looks like it is working.

July 1 (Bloomberg) -- Japan's government said a state company delayed an agreement to develop Iran's biggest oil discovery in 35 years, an investment that may total $2.5 billion, because Japan can't ignore concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

The Japanese government sounds like it has agreed to cooperate with the US in pressuring Iran over nuclear weapons development.

"Japan is confronting the Democratic People's Republic of Korea over its alleged nuclear development and the issue is also a major problem in the international community," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said at a news conference Tuesday. "I don't think (the consortium) will go ahead with its oil development in ignorance of the situation."

By Randall Parker    2003 June 29 03:06 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 June 22 Sunday
Overthrow Of Shah May Have Prevented Nuclear Iran

Writing for The New York Times Elaine Sciolino mentions an interesting chapter in Iran's long-running attempt to develop a nuclear weapons delivery capabilities.

In the late 1970's, in fact, Iran and Israel discussed a plan to adapt for Iranian use surface-to-surface missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads, according to documents discovered in Tehran after the revolution. The documents described conversations between Israeli and Iranian officials about the plan, which was kept secret from the United States.

So if the monarchy had lasted longer, Iran might have become a nuclear power years ago.

Sciolino seems to bemoan a US policy that is based more on making threats than on negotiation. But threats are themselves a form of negotiation and it is likely that nothing short of very credible threats will dissuade the Mullahs from continuing their nuclear weapons development program. It is not even clear that threats alone will be sufficient regardless of how credible those threats are made to seem.

She then quotes an excerpt of CIA director George Tenet's US Senate Statement DCI's Worldwide Threat Briefing: (my emphasis added)

Although a crisis for the regime might come about were reformers to abandon the government or hardliners to initiate a broad suppression on leading advocates of change, the resulting disorder would do little to alleviate US concern over Iran's international behavior. Conservatives already control the more aggressive aspects of Iranian foreign policy, such as sponsoring violent opposition to Middle East peace.

No Iranian government, regardless of its ideological leanings, is likely to willingly abandon WMD programs that are seen as guaranteeing Iran's security.

The overthrow of the current regime by an uprising may delay Iran's nuclear program for some years. But it is far from clear that such an overthrow would stop it for decades.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 22 06:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 13 Friday
North Korea And Iran Up To Nuclear Mischief Together

Iran and North Korea are having meetings related to their nuclear weapons development programs.

The Iranian experts made three visits to North Korea between March and May, the conservative Sankei Shimbun said yesterday, quoting what it described as "a Korean peninsula source", who was not named.

It seems doubtful that they just met to discuss weapons inspectors.

The visits "may have been intended to ask North Korea for know-how on how to act when accepting inspectors", Sankei quoted the source as saying.

"Co-operation on nuclear development may also have been discussed."

These reported meetings may be part of a larger pattern of cooperative activity on nuclear weapons development.

"The level of Iranian-North Korean nuclear cooperation this year has risen dramatically," a senior intelligence source who monitors North Korea said.

United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Iran will be getting nuclear weapons real soon now.

Mr Rumsfeld, who is visiting Germany, said: "The assessment is that they are likely to have nuclear weapons in a relatively short period of time."

Richard Perle, known by his critics as The Prince Of Darkness (see Amir Taheri's interview of Perle from early March 2003), is an influential hawk and member of the Defense Policy Board. In a June 11, 2003 speech Perle says we should be prepared to conduct a unilateral preemptive air strike against North Korean nuclear facilities.

"But I don't think anyone can exclude the kind of surgical strike we saw in 1981," he said, citing Israel's surprise air attack that destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad on June 7, 1981. "We should always be prepared to go it alone, if necessary," he said.

Perle thinks the Iranian people hate their government so much that they can be encouraged to rise up and overthrow it. My own view is that the Iranian people are too apathetic to rebel, that Iran is not in a pre-revolutionary state and even if the government was overthrown the nuclear program may continue because even the so-called moderates in Iran support the Iranian nuclear program.

Will we have to go it alone in dealing with North Korea? We certainly can not count on either South Korea or China. The mood in South Korea is more focused on resentment toward America.

Meanwhile in South Korea, candlelight vigils are scheduled across the country tomorrow to mark the year anniversary since two South Korean middle school girls were run over by a United States armored vehicle.

Robert Koehler does an excellent job of blogging from South Korea on his blog The Marmot's Hole about the mood in South Korea and what the Korean press is saying. What is especially disgusting is the way the South Korean government tries to silence senior North Korean defectors who know details about North Korea's nuclear program. (if the Blogspot offset link does not work then look for the subject title of "A Defector's Story: My escape from North Korea--and South Korea."). The South Korean government and a significant portion of the populace are committed to self-delusion and hiding the truth about North Korea from others in order to pursue appeasement at all costs. So do not expect much help from that quarter.

Is China going to help the US on North Korea? The signs are not hopeful. CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam sees President Hu Jintao's growing influence over Chinese policy as portending a harder Chinese line toward the United States.

It is believed that his policies major areas such as Sino-U.S. relations as well as Taiwan will be tougher than those of former president Jiang, who is often attacked by hardliners in the army for being "pro-U.S."

It may not be possible to foment a revolution in Iran. A revolution may not result in the end to Iran's nuclear program. South Korea and China are unlikely to come around to support America's position on North Korea and cut off funding for the North Korean regime. Also, an air strike against Yongbyon will not knock out the North Korean uranium enrichment program because the location of the North Korean uranium enrichment facilities remains unknown (at least according to various anonymously quoted intelligence sources).

I do not see that the Bush Administration has an effective plan for preventing either Iran or North Korea from making a lot of nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration first attacked the regime that had the weakest set of programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, the weakest military, and a populace that was most prone not to support its government. Now half the US Army is tied down occupying Iraq and the Bush Administration does not have a viable plan for how to tackle the much harder cases of Iran and North Korea. Has the Bush Administration already hit the hight point of its war against the Axis Of Evil?

Update: Howard LaFranchi of The Christian Science Monitor reports many experts think we are quickly running out of time to stop North Korea from going nuclear.

"We may look back and see that a nuclear-armed North Korea was the price of the Iraq war," says Steven Miller, director of the international security program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "A North Korea with nuclear weapons will be a much greater international security threat and a much tougher nut to crack. The time to deal with that is now."

Update; China sold Iran uranium in 1991.

Most of the reported violations stemmed from Iran's failure to report the uranium it secretly imported from China in 1991. Iran recently acknowledged the purchase to the IAEA, but only after the deal was first disclosed by Chinese officials. The report says Iran acknowledged converting some of the uranium into metal, as well as conducting research into heavy-water production and heavy-water reactors -- technologies that would give Iran additional options in pursuing either nuclear power or nuclear weapons

By Randall Parker    2003 June 13 02:17 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 21 Wednesday
Key North Korean Missile Components Smuggled From Japan

Testifying under the alias of Mr. Bok Koo Lee a North Korean defector says North Korea smuggles key missile guidance system parts from Japan.

"I worked for nine years as an expert in the guidance system for the North Korean missile industry, and I can tell you definitely that over 90 percent of these parts come from Japan," Lee told the Financial Management, the Budget and International Security Subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "The way they bring this in is through . . . the North Korean association inside Japan, and they bring it by ship every three months."

The North Koreans are loyal customers. The North Korean regime does not want substitutes for Japanese parts.

"We are too accustomed to Japanese parts and there were no substitutes," Lee said, speaking in Korean.

Lee defected in July 1997 and so his information is fairly old at this point. It is possible that by now the North Koreans have developed designs that can use parts from other countries as well.

The US Senate Subcommittee on Financial Management, the Budget, and International Security Committee on Governmental Affairs has a page with links to the testimony that was delivered on the day Lee testified. Lee's published testimony on that page does not include the above quote but it does include information about a trip he made to a Middle Eastern country to demonstrate North Korean missiles.

When we finally arrived at our destination and parked, the commander yelled "Battle Ready!" While doing the routine for battle readiness, we opened up the curtains to find out for the first time that we were in a desert area. We also opened the back door to connect the power cables to the on-board batteries. Although it was nighttime, we could see and immediately we realized that we were in a Middle Eastern country, judging by the foreign soldier and his physical makeup. The way our commander talked with this counterpart soldier outside the vehicle and the fact that all the coordinates were already programmed in made us believe that all this was pre-planned and expected.

The public portion of his testimony does not confirm this but a press report says he discovered the trip was made to Iran.

During a visit to Pyongyang on his return, Bok said he was told by senior North Korean officials that his mission had been to Iran, and testified that his plant subsequently churned out more of the missile control vehicles he had worked on during the project.

Another North Korean defector who testified on the same day reported on North Korean opium fields and heroin production for black market export.

In the late 1997, the central government ordered that all local collective farms must cultivate 10 Chungbo (Korean land unit equal to approx. 25 acres) of poppy farm beginning in 1998. Chinese government got this information and dispatched reporters and policemen to take pictures of these farms near the border. All opium thus produced are sent to the pharmaceutical plants in Nanam area of Chungjin City in Hamkyung-Bukdo Province. They are processed and refined into heroin under the supervision of seven to eight drug experts from Thailand. This is all done under the direct control and supervision of the central government.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 21 01:19 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 15 Thursday
Iranian Opposition: Iran Producing Anthrax

Iranian opposition group Mujaheddin-e Khalq claims Iran is producing bioweapons

Iran has begun production of weaponized anthrax and is actively working with at least five other pathogens, including smallpox, in a drive to build an arsenal of biological weapons, according to an opposition group that previously exposed a secret nuclear enrichment program in the country.

The group claims that Iran is working to weaponize a number of other pathogens including smallpox. Read the full article and make your own guess as to the veracity of the report.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 15 12:43 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 05 Monday
Nuclear Weapons Use Becomes The Thinkable

Bill Keller has written a lengthy essay in The New York Times Magazine on the problems posed by nuclear weapons proliferation and it is entitled The Thinkable.

The arsenals of the first nuclear age were governed by elaborate rules and sophisticated technology designed to prevent firing in haste. Some of the newcomers are thought to have far less rigorous command and control, raising fears that the lines of authority could be abandoned in the heat of battle. The newer nuclear states, after all, are dealing with enemies close at hand -- minutes away by missile -- in conflicts that could unfold quickly.

Moreover, there is the danger of third-world weapons or weapons-grade material falling into the hands of terrorists -- the one enemy we know would probably not hesitate to use them. Sympathy for Taliban-style fanaticism thrives in the lower ranks of Pakistan's military, for example. American and Pakistani officials, and experts in rival India, say that Gen. Pervez Musharraf has Pakistan firmly under his control, but nobody imagines that the situation is foolproof. Or that Musharraf will endure forever.

''Then it's not a question of one or two warheads being diverted,'' said a senior administration official. ''It's a question of a couple dozen Islamic bombs.''

Keller covers many aspects of the problem of nuclear proliferation and has met with national security policy makers and knowledgeable commentators in countries around the globe. His essay is long but well worth the time.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 05 12:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 28 Monday
Nissar Hindawi Reveals Iraqi Bioweapons Program Details

Judith Miller reports on what a former Iraqi bioweapons scientist is saying now that he has been released from jail.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 26 — Nissar Hindawi, a leading figure in Iraq's biological warfare program in the 1980's, says the stories and explanations he and other scientists told the United Nations about the extent of Iraq's efforts to produce poisons and germ weapons "were all lies."

Dr. Hindawi, imprisoned during the final weeks of Saddam Hussein's rule, is now free to talk about his experiences in the program, in which he says he was forced to work from 1986 to 1989 and again sporadically until the mid-1990's.

A lot of former Saddam weapons scientists are now going to spin their involvement in weapons development as being against their will. Some might even be telling the truth.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 28 02:33 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 24 Thursday
North Korea Threatens To Export Nuclear Weapons

You might think the North Koreans would try to be semi-reasonable and say that they wanted nuclear weapons only to defend themselves against the United States. No way. Those nutcases are threatening to export nukes.

North Korean negotiators told U.S. officials in Beijing that the communist nation has nuclear weapons and threatened to export them or conduct a "physical demonstration," U.S. officials said today.

What, Ri Gun and the regime which he represents are not taking American goals seriously?

The comments by Ri, as reported by the administration official, suggest that North Korea is not taking seriously the U.S. goal of a "verifiable and irreversible" elimination of the North's nuclear weapons program.

This is called "waving a red flag at the big bull". The burden of proof is on those who think our cities will be safe even if North Korea builds up a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. How can we trust a regime that is so obviously deranged?

By Randall Parker    2003 April 24 03:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 20 Sunday
Iraqi Chemical Weapons Scientist Provides US With Key Information

Judith Miller has an important story in the New York Times about an Iraqi chemical weapons scientist who has first hand knowledge of how and where some parts of Iraq's weapons development efforts were hidden and how parts of them were being destroyed in the run-up to the war.

The Americans said the scientist told them that President Saddam Hussein's government had destroyed some stockpiles of deadly agents as early as the mid-1990's, transferred others to Syria, and had recently focused its efforts instead on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq's giant weapons plants.

The article also provides some details on why the efforts to search for evidence of the Iraqi government's weapons programs have been moving slowly in the earlier stages. The highly compartmentalized nature of the Iraqi weapons program limits how much this one scientist knows. However, the capture of higher level Iraqi officials familiar with Iraq's weapons development programs promises to provide a better top-down view of all the pieces that need to be sought out.

Other who were involved in Iraq's weapons development programs are being rounded up.

U.S. officials have called Emad Husayn Abdullah Ani the father of Iraq's program to make the sophisticated nerve agent VX. His capture could be an important advance in the U.S. search for chemical and biological weapons inside Iraq.

Here's another guy who probably knows useful information.

Abdul-Khaleq Abdul-Ghafur, Saddam's minister of higher education and scientific research and number 43 on the U.S. list of 55 most wanted Iraqis, was taken into custody on Saturday, a U.S. military central command statement said.

My own guess is that site inspection will not by itself be anywhere near as fruitful as the ability to interrogate Iraqi scientists and regime figures who held positions which gave them first hand knowledge of the regime's weapons development programs. As more scientists and regime officials who have relevant knowledge are identified and rounded up the progress of the investigation will accelerate.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 20 11:43 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
United States Turns Down South African Bioweapons Offer

South African bioweapons scientist Daan Goosen offered to sell to the United States government the full collection of diseases and antidotes that the former white minority South Africa government had developed under its Project Coast bioweapons program. The Washington Post has written

From among hundreds of flasks in his Pretoria lab, the South African scientist picked a man-made strain that was sure to impress: a microbial Frankenstein that fused the genes of a common intestinal bug with DNA from the pathogen that causes the deadly illness gas gangrene. "This will show the Americans what we are capable of," Goosen said at the time.

The US government turned down this offer (they wanted $5 million and 19 visas to come work in the United States) and reported it to the authorities in South African. One argument advanced for turning down the offer was that these pathogens were created with 10 year old biotechnology and that many people could easily create similar pathogens today. Also, the US officials felt they should report these activities to the current South African government because the US has friendly relations with it.

The US government made a foolish decision. First of all, the existence of these pathogens is now more widely known and people from other countries are trying to get them. Also, the scientists in South Africa have just had their market value as bioweapons development scientists increased by the resulting publicity. Plus, it sends a discouraging message to other scientists in other countries who entertain the idea of approaching agents of the United States to make similar offers.

The United States ought to be scooping up bioweapons scientists and other WMD scientists the world over. The biggest potential would be that private groups would start developing bioweapons in order to be able to blackmail the US to buy them. But a deal like this one might have been able to be kept secret had the US decided to go through with it.

Update: Joby Warrick of the Washington Post has a second article with additional information about the South African bioweapons program. It is likely that multiple former scientists in the South African bioweapons program retained samples of various bacterial strains the program developed.

Goosen acknowledged in an interview that scientists had retained copies of bacterial strains to continue work on vaccines and antidotes with commercial applications. Goosen said he ended up with scores of such strains in his private laboratory, a collection he attempted unsuccessfully to sell to the United States last May. Goosen did not destroy them, he said, because he considered them vital to his continued research and vaccine business.

This suggests that the purchase of Goosen's collection of samples may not have done much good. Also, it is quite possible that the strains have already been sold to other governments and perhaps even to private groups. Many of the pathogens the South Africans developed were for the purpose of assassination. They do not appear to pose as much of a threat as a source of a large epidemic outbreak.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 20 09:38 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 April 19 Saturday
Nauru Helps 20 North Korean Nuclear Scientists Defect

Tiny Pacific island nation Nauru, population 12,329 has become a center of international intrigue and covert operations with its role in the smuggling of North Korean nuclear scientists to the United States and its allies.

A SWATH of North Korea's military and scientific elite, among them key nuclear specialists, has defected to the US and its allies through a highly secret smuggling operation involving the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.

The father of North Korea's nuclear program is among those who escaped.

The defections started last October and were made possible with the help of 11 countries that agreed to provide consular protection to smuggle the targets from neighbouring China. Among those believed to be in a safe house in the West is the father of North Korea's nuclear programme, Kyong Won-ha.

Philip Gagner of Washington, D.C. law firm of Shaughnessy, Volzer & Gagner, P.C. played a key role in helping Nauru establish an embassy in Beijing to run this operation.

Operation Weasel began with an approach on Oct. 12 by U.S.-based lawyer Philip Gagner to Nauru's former president, Rene Harris, offering to foot the bill for establishing Nauruan embassies in Washington and Beijing.

"Operation Weasel" dates back at least to October 2002.

Nauru's former finance minister, Kinza Clodumar, was quoted as saying he was briefed on what was dubbed "Operation Weasel" while with a Nauruan delegation in Washington in October.

This puts a completely different twist on past events. Perhaps the plan to attack Kiribati was just a feint to draw attention away from the establishment of Nauru as a major covert operator.

Seriously though, this is quite a coup. North Korea's loss of these scientists is a loss to North Korean efforts to develop nuclear weapons and at the same time the scientists will provide valuable intelligence about the state of the nuclear program in North Korea as well as locations within North Korea where nuclear weapons development is under way.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 19 11:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 18 Friday
North Korea Claims To Be Reprocessing Nuclear Fuel Rods

North Korea claims to have reprocessed plutonium fuel rods to make them into a form suitable for nuclear weapons making.

North Korea said it had begun reprocessing 8,000 old fuel rods from an aged nuclear reactor, adding that the lesson of the U.S. war in Iraq is that North Korea must possess a "powerful physical deterrent" to the United States.

This is in reference to the plutonium fuel rods at the Yongbyon reactor. Keep in mind that North Korea has been busily working on its separate uranium enrichment for years and that North Korea's uranium enrichment program is only several months behind its plutonium program.

As for North Korea's contention that it is processing plutonium in response to the US war on Iraq: North Korea began development of a uranium enrichment capability while Bill Clinton was in office. The problem is that, yes, North Korea's leaders do see the US attack on Iraq as showing that the US is willing and able to take out regimes that the US sees as a threat and the Bush Administration certainly sees North Korea as a threat. However, as demonstrated by the uranium enrichment program, the North Korean regime already had a strong motive to develop nuclear weapons and was trying to do so.

Had the Bush Administration been incredibly friendly toward North Korea from the start of the Administration the North Koreans still would be pursuing nuclear weapons development right now. The US lacks an option for stopping North Korean nuclear weapons development short of a military strike. China is the only country that might be able to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

Update: This announcement comes days before official talks between China, the United States, and North Korea in Beijing about North Korea's nuclear weapons development program. A senior Bush Administration official sees the North Korean announcement as a way to get added leverage in the upcoming talks.

"This is the perverse way they think," the official said, using unusually strong language for diplomacy. "They think they can get leverage."

Kim Jong-il obviously does not understand how the Bush Administration is going to view this latest move. While it is not possible to be certain as to whether North Korea really is reprocessing fuel rods the Bush Administration is likely to assign a great deal of weight to the possibility. One possible response might be to speed a US forces build-up in the western Pacific region.

The Bush Administration may also respond by cancelling the talks.

``There is no doubt that this Foreign Ministry statement throws the holding of the talks in doubt,'' the official said.

A ratcheting up of US military force will apply pressure on the Chinese government to move away from trying to only be a broker or facilitator between the United States and North Korea and more toward an active participant. China prefers the role of referee.

Others say China's involvement in the meetings is merely to facilitate bilateral negotiations between the two parties. One diplomat compared Beijing's role to that of a referee in a heavyweight boxing match.

"China's role is likely to be significant, but it doesn't want to get directly involved in the brawl," he said.

The Bush Administration needs to disabuse the Chinese government of the notion that it can minimize the Chinese role in resolving the North Korean problem.

Update: The United States has a limited ability to detect whether North Korea is really reprocessing nuclear fuel rods.

In the past, however, officials have said there is limited capacity to detect when the reactor is turned on. It could take up to several weeks, they said, to determine whether it had in fact been activated.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 18 10:19 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 10 Thursday
Marines Find Lots Of Radiation At Al-Tuwaitha

Writing for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Carl Prine reports that the US Marines have entered the Al-Tuwaitha nuclear site in Iraq (site of the famous Osirak nuclear reactor which the Israelis blew up in an air strike) and have found many buildings with radiation levels too high to enter safely. The Marines have discovered an unexpected secret underground lab complex.

Investigators Tuesday discovered that Al-Tuwaitha hides another city. This underground nexus of labs, warehouses, and bomb-proof offices was hidden from the public and, perhaps, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who combed the site just two months ago, until the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Engineers discovered it three days ago.

IAEA inspectors have toured this site 12 times and never found indications that there was a secret underground lab complex.

Update: the site may have weapons grade plutonium.

While officials aren't prepared to call the discovery a "smoking gun," two preliminary tests conducted on the material have indicated that it may be weapons-grade plutonium.

Update II: A team from the US Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency has shown up to investigate the site.

The Pentagon team also began interviewing a former nuclear physicist and engineer who recently worked at Al-Tuwaitha. The two men told the Marines they would show Coalition investigators “everything we didn't show the inspectors” from the IAEA.

Update III: In his latest update Carl Prine reports that looters would sack the nuclear development complex if the Marines were not actively working to keep them out.

"We will stay here until we're replaced by the Army," said Capt. John Seegar of Houston, Tex. "The big problem has been civilian looters trying to get in. We turn back their trucks. Then it's funny to watch them slowly driving around us, looking for breaks in the barbed wire.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 10 12:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 31 Monday
Pakistan Buys North Korean Missiles

North Korea has shipped medium range ballistic missiles to Pakistan.

Pakistan has purchased No Dong missiles from North Korea — fully assembled and ready to fly — prompting the Bush administration to impose sanctions on the Pakistani company in charge of the nation's nuclear weapons program.

Since the article claims the missiles were shipped using Pakistan's C-130 aircraft that means the shipment passed thru China stopping at multiple Chinese airports for refueling. That is also how previous nuclear technology and missile technology trade has been conducted between North Korea and Pakistan. The Chinese are happy to see Pakistan become a greater threat to India and a greater problem for the United States. Their facilitation of this trade also increases their influence in Pakistan.

The missile will give the Pakistanis the ability to strike most large cities in India.

The longest range missile currently deployed by North Korea is the No Dong missile, with an estimated range of 1,300 kilometers for a payload of about 700 kg. Such a range would allow North Korea to target all of Japan. North Korea is believed to have flight tested the No Dong only once—in May 1993. While Pakistan may have provided North Korea with information from the tests of its Ghauri missile, which is believed to consist largely or entirely of North Korean technology, and North Korea is believed to have used a modified No Dong as the first stage of the Taepo Dong 1 (TD-1) launched in 1998, North Korea nonetheless has limited information about the reliability and accuracy of the missile. The No Dong uses a larger, more powerful engine than the Scud missile. This engine, which is believed to have been developed with foreign assistance, is believed to be used in the longer range missiles North Korea is developing.

There was also a claim made by Frank Gaffney in May 2002 that North Korea sold No Dongs to Egypt as well.

A leading security analyst reported to Congress on May 23, that Egypt purchased 24 No-Dong Ballistic missiles from North Korea. Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, told the House Subcommittee Oversight Panel on terrorism that the sale of No-Dong missiles to Egypt could only be directed at Israel. The missiles are capable of being armed with biological or nuclear warheads.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 31 12:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 20 Thursday
US To Capture Iraqi Weapons Scientists During War

The Bush Administration has decided to not use UNMOVIC or IAEA in post-war Iraq to run down the structure of Iraq's weapons development programs. The US government is hiring former UNSCOM inspectors (who, not coincidentally, are considered in some quarters to have more experience and an edgier attitude than the UNMOVIC inspectors). Iraqi agents living abroad are being heavily pressured to switch sides now in advance of the coming war.

In a top-secret adjunct to an openly reported diplomatic initiative, U.S. and allied intelligence services summoned scores of Iraqi operatives in foreign capitals to present a stark choice. They were told "they could either 'turn,' " said one official, using an expression for switching sides, or be expelled back to Iraq "to enjoy your very short stay in Baghdad."

While the war is still in progress US special forces will be attempting to capture about 100 Iraqi weapons scientists. Intelligence sources are already tracking the movement of some of those scientists.

It is inevitable that many people will deny the claims that the US government makes about the Iraqi weapons development programs once the US government reports what it has learned. Saddam Hussein may manage to carry off bioweapons and chemical weapons attacks during the war. Though even reports of such attacks will not be believed in some quarters.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 20 12:02 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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