Friday, July 30, 2010

Back in Business?

(Perhaps) the week's most disturbing news, from Eli Lake at the Washington Times:

Scientists, engineers and financiers involved in the A.Q. Khan nuclear-smuggling network are being contacted by several governments in an effort to lure these specialists out of retirement.

The development is raising concerns among U.S. intelligence agencies about the revival of the proliferation network that was thought to have been shut down years ago.

Two U.S. intelligence officials and other U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports said information compiled over the past seven months showed that agents from several foreign governments — including Brazil, Burma, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Sudan and Syria — pursued members of the network named after Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist considered to be the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

The goal of these regimes is rather obvious (and ominous): use experts from the Khan network to accelerate (or seed) nuclear weapons development efforts. In the case of North Korea and Iran, scientists and engineers from the Khan group could help produce more reliable nuclear devices with a higher yield that Pyongyang and Tehran could achieve on their own. For the others, it's a convenient method for jump-starting a nuclear program.

Why the sudden rush to get the bomb? After all, countries like Brazil, Burma, Nigeria and Sudan don't face nuclear rivals in their neighborhoods. The answer is simple: there's no better way to establish yourself as the regional hegemon than by being the first on your block with a nuke. Many of the nuclear upstarts have such ambitions, and believe the time is right to establish their own programs, with help from Khan alumni.

The U.S. deserves at least some of the blame for this. By failing to deal decisively with the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, Washington sent the wrong signal to others interested in joining the nuclear club. Now, with the mullahs in Tehran ready to cross the atomic finish line--without U.S. intervention--the next generation of nuclear rogue states is ready to give it a try.

And why not? They have nothing to fear from the United States. Just ask the dictators in Iran and North Korea.

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