CHINA: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Did Beijing assist nuclear proliferation?
, March 13, 2004
The tangled web of nuclear materials and secrets revealed in the arrest - and subsequent pardon - of Pakistan's father of the nuclear bomb, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan all leads back to one prime suspect: China.
Khan is suspected to have sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, among others. The reassuring thing is that it is actually quite difficult to make a nuclear bomb that can be delivered to the target. The Libyans, for example, had crates of machinery needed to refine uranium ore still in their packing case when inspected.
Despite this, even a bomb which could only be carried in a truck could be shipped in a container - and nuclear-armed terrorists are the Americans' worst nightmare.Fission
There are essentially two ways of making an atomic bomb - using plutonium or enriched uranium. The plutonium bomb is simpler: if you have a nuclear reactor, you can produce the plutonium and the bomb is more compact.
However, the uranium bomb can be produced by someone with a uranium mine. The uranium ore must be enhanced by using a centrifuge, which separates the appropriate isotope from the source material.
The North Koreans, for example, have admitted - even boasted - that they have a plutonium bomb.
Western intelligence experts believe that North Korea might have one or two plutonium bombs. If they allowed inspectors in, this could be easily verified. However, Western observers believe that North Korea might also be working on an enriched uranium bomb.
So far, the North Korea have been avoiding the topic of the enriched uranium bomb, but if the disarming of North Korea is to be complete, transparent and verifiable - as the Americans demand, then they must come clean with the information on the enriched uranium bomb.
China now sees, apparently, the error of its ways in aiding the North Koreans to build a nuclear bomb, mainly because it could well lead to the Japanese building a bomb as a deterrent against the North Koreans, who have a history of irrationality and deep suspicion of the outside world - in particular, Japan and the US.
The evidence of a transfer of nuclear secrets to Pakistan confirms something that US officials have long suspected - at least since the early 1980s. A declassified report by the U.S. State Department on Pakistan's nuclear program, written in 1983, concluded that China has "provided assistance" to Pakistan's bomb making program.
"We now believe cooperation has taken place in the area of fissile material production and possibly nuclear device design," the report concluded.
David Albright, a nuclear physicist and former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, quoted in the Asian Wall Street Journal
, said China's actions were "irresponsible and short-sighted and raised questions about what else China provided to Pakistan's nuclear program."
And what was the United States doing when one of its most valuable strategic allies, Pakistan, was developing the bomb in the 1980s? "Looking the other way," says Jonathan Wolfsthal, a non-proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Can the US and its allies persuade the North Koran to give up their nuclear ambitions - and perhaps bombs? It's not necessarily a case that the genie can't be put back in the bottle.
The South Africans had a successful nuclear program, which they dismantled, and Libya decided it was just too hard and counterproductive having the West and the US as enemies and was better having them as partners. Iran may also be following suit in dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
However, the US and its allies in the six-way talks in Beijing on the North Korean problem must convince the North Koreans that co-operation is better than war.
This brutal and secretive regime is different from other countries. It's a Stalinist dictatorship, the only one surviving, ruled by a regime that has one aim - to preserve its hold on power.
Churchill's dictum that "jaw jaw is better than war war" will certainly be put to the test, as negotiations with North Korea seem to be destined to be long, drawn out and painfully slow.
As for India and Pakistan, the nuclear race is over - and both counties won, because they both have nuclear weapons. Both countries have come dangerously close to the brink of war, but the recent revelations of Khan's nuclear entrepreneurship has been played down by both India and the United States.
Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, survived two assassination attempts in December and may have had no other choice, in practical political terms, than to pardon Dr Khan.
Even so, the warming of relations between the two sub-continental powers has been nothing short of remarkable. The two nations are now pursuing "cricket diplomacy," with a tour by the Indian team slated to tour cricket-mad Pakistan.