Monday, May 14, 2007

The Nuclear Black Market

A new report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, cited by David Isenberg at Asia Times Online, claims that some major players in the nuclear procurement network developed by Pakistan's AQ Khan have eluded arrest and could theoretically resume operations despite Khan being placed under house arrest three years back. The report also alleges that Khan's network might have supplied Iran and N. Korea with nuclear plans and components.

Less dramatic but as alarming is the fact that in the three years since Khan's network was supposedly put out of business, the structural incentives for the nuclear black market remain unchanged. Regulatory treaties force countries intent on attaining nuclear weapons to develop illegal procurement channels. Profit motives guarantee that they'll find Western suppliers.

Take Pakistan, for instance. Because they've yet to sign various international non-proliferation agreements, they are as dependent on illegally procured nuclear material, and hence Khan's network, as they were when Khan was still cutting deals.

But whether or not Khan's network is still in operation, it has already served as a model for other countries intent on attaining nuclear weapons to follow. More troubling still is the fact that due to market incentives, networks originally assembled for national procurement purposes can be expected to eventually turn to more profitable export operations.

I can't help but think, though, that all the attention we give to rogue regimes and clandestine procurement networks might be misplaced. We'll never stop certain regimes from wanting to aquire nuclear weapons capacity. Tightening the controls (and the penalties) for shipping illegal components out of Western Europe and South Africa seems like a more effective way of keeping them from getting it.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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