December 26, 2004

Nuclear Santa

What better way to cap off the holidays than with this comforting report on A.Q. Khan's still-elusive nuclear network? As it turns out, even though Western intelligence had been tracking Khan for three decades, we overlooked most of his major deals during that time. It would be nice to know why our intelligence failed so badly. Is it that this sort of spy-work is always a mug's game, and that's that? Or are our particular intelligence agencies structurally unsuited for tracking nuclear peddlers? The Times piece cites tension between the U.S. and the IAEA as a stumbling block in all of the ongoing nuclear investigations, but that tension is relatively recent, and it doesn't explain three decades worth of intelligence failures.

Speaking of tension, don't miss senior administration officials (John Bolton, I presume?) offering an interesting reason as to why Americans don't play nice with the IAEA:
Federal officials said they were reluctant to give the I.A.E.A. classified information because the agency is too prone to leaks. The agency has 137 member states, and American officials believe some of them may be using the agency to hunt for nuclear secrets. One senior administration official put it this way: "The cops and the crooks all serve on the agency's board together."
That's plausible—though as we've seen with Iran, the U.S. may also be withholding intelligence in order to maintain a more hawkish stance than the evidence would otherwise warrant. But I'm more than inclined to believe that the IAEA—along with the Non-Proliferation Treaty—is fundamentally flawed: too toothless, too accommodating, too open to leaks and loopholes.

Ideally, the Bush administration would get together with Europe, Japan, and maybe a few other like-minded and wealthy countries, write up a tougher version of the NPT, create a system of sanctions for non-compliance, and then go to town. (Essentially formalizing the sanctions system we already level against rogue nuclear powers.) Meanwhile, we would expand on the Proliferation Security Initiative, get as many European countries in on it as possible, and ignore international law if needed. Nuclear proliferation is too important to be left to the lawyers! Of course, to do all this would involve convincing Europe, Japan, and others that nuclear proliferation actually is their problem too...
-- Brad Plumer 4:44 AM || ||