October 04, 2005

Wrath of Khan

William Langewiesche gives A.Q. Khan, Pakistani nuclear peddler and national hero, a full-length biopic in the November Atlantic. Not a whole lot of new stuff there (this, after all, is only part one—how he created Pakistan's nukes; part two I imagine will deal with the proliferation aspect), but it does give a good sense for how lax the West was at protecting its nuclear secrets way back in the day.

Not only has the Non-Proliferation Treaty sometimes done a poor job of preventing countries from developing nuclear weapons, and the IAEA often been wracked with infighting, but in the 1960s and 70s Netherlands (where Khan worked and stole centrifuge designs) and Germany pretty much handed their technology away, and loosened their export controls, in part because they resented the United States' monopoly on nukes, its refusal to disarm, and what they perceived as its heavy-handed manipulation of the NPT to corner the world market on nuclear fuels. In fact, lower-ranking European diplomats and officials tended to play the greatest role here, since they were most immune from American pressure. Bureaucrats working in U.S. commerce departments, by contrast, instinctively agreed with the goals of non-proliferation, making it easy for the United States to shut off Khan's attempts at acquisition through American suppliers.

Also—and I've never really noticed this before—Pakistan is testament to the idea that the type of domestic regime a country has doesn't much make much of a difference to its foreign policy. Pakistan's nuclear program, after all, started under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a democratically-elected leader; pretty much continued seamlessly after General Zia ul Haq staged a coup in 1977; and was tested under a semi-democratic regime in 1998, despite clear threats of sanctions from the United States. (Indeed, it seems part of India's rationale for testing in 1998 was to dare Pakistan to respond with a test of its own and face sanctions, or else back down and face humiliation.) Now I think the relevant IR explanation here would be that the imbalance of power between India and Pakistan is so overwhelming that as long as that imbalance exists, Pakistan will continue to fear and distrust and try to balance against its neighbor (leaving the actual methods here up in the air), regardless of the specific leaders in charge or the specific disputes resolved on paper. I don't know nearly enough about the region to know if that's right, but it seems plausible. The parallels with Iran also seem important.
-- Brad Plumer 12:55 PM || ||