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Lessons from Libya


Libya's disclosure of its clandestine nuclear weapons program, connected to an offer of dismantlement, promises to add another chapter to the surprisingly long list of countries that have abandoned the quest for the only true kind of weapons of mass destruction. Four states so far have handed over or dismantled existing nuclear devices. A larger number have stopped short of building them. In the Middle East, Algeria and Egypt already appear on the list, although many more such countries can be found in Latin America, Europe, and East Asia.

Libya's move is positive at any number of levels. Among other things, it helps to undermine the usual rationale put forward for Iranian nuclear weapons -- if Israel has them, then Muslim states in the region must also have them. But these revelations also offer signs of deeper troubles that threaten to accelerate the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Early reports suggest that the most surprising aspect of Libya's program was the presence of a relatively well-developed system of centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium, probably similar to Iran's centrifuges. Both Iran and Libya appear to have depended on expertise from Pakistan, whose leading nuclear scientist, the involuntarily retired Dr. A.Q. Khan, is notorious as an advocate of the "Islamic Bomb." The travels of leading Pakistani nuclear scientists to Afghanistan to consort with Usama bin Ladin are the stuff of nightmares, although fortunately no more than that.

Unlike North Korea, which also appears to have acquired centrifuge technology from Pakistani sources, Iran and Libya seem to have depended heavily on Dr. Khan's machines for their progress towards nuclear weapons. It now appears that his eponymous laboratories at Kahuta may be the source of effective, commercialized enrichment technology that reasonably sophisticated powers can put to use. At least three countries now seem to have acquired it in secrecy, although none so far actually appears to have enriched more than test amounts of uranium. Then again, if these three got the centrifuges without detection, we scarcely can be sure that others have not done so as well.

The acquisition of centrifuge tubes was, of course, one of the stated reasons that the United States went to war with Iraq earlier this year. But the contrast between Pakistan and Iraq is striking and instructive. Both countries originally stole their centrifuge designs from European sources. (In hindsight, the sloppy security practices of Dutch and German enrichment facilities are the true nightmares.) Iraq hoarded its stolen technologies, only to see them destroyed at the hands of the Persian Gulf War coalition in 1991 and UNSCOM in the early and mid-1990s. Americans were left to discover after the invasion of 2003 that the Iraqi centrifuge program had remained dormant after all. Meanwhile, Pakistan -- America's prime ally in the War on Terrorism -- has wittingly or unwittingly allowed its most sensitive nuclear technologies to disseminate in the most indiscriminate fashion, even to its neighboring Shi'ite rival Iran.

It would be foolish to rule out the use of force in the name of stopping the spread of nuclear arms. But Iraq turns out to have been the wrong bet. Obsessed with the personality of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. gambled and lost on the presence of the most dangerous weapons. For other reasons, America now faces protracted nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran, compounded, thanks to the Iraq adventure, by a crisis of credibility abroad. We now lack the cooperation of allies needed to contend with these challenges. The Bush team probably also lacks the tenacity and creativity required to uproot the Pakistani nuclear export threat, a tall order for any administration.

On such judgments or misjudgments, the fate of nations sometimes may turn. Let us hope that is not the case this time.


For a closer look inside Libya's nuclear and missile programs, see here.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000141.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 12:55 PM CST [Link]


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