US experts warn of proliferation dangers

Nuclear materials are being purchased by regimes that would otherwise be unable to produce nuclear weapons, weapons inspection warns.

NUCLEAR BOMB 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The international community isn't doing enough to stop the black-market proliferation of nuclear materials, which are being purchased by regimes that would otherwise be unable to produce nuclear weapons, a nuclear weapons inspection adviser warned Monday. "We're not paying enough attention to illicit trade," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. He pointed to Syria's initial progress in building a nuclear reactor as a sign of the widespread proliferation of nuclear materials. "[A country] doesn't have the wherewithal to produce a nuclear weapons capability, so it tries to buy it," he said. Albright was speaking at a United States Institute of Peace panel on the implications of Israel's alleged destruction of an incipient nuclear reactor in Syria last September. Other speakers compared the global silence after the attack to the widespread condemnation of Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981. Several suggested that the muted response was a tacit acknowledgement by the international community that the current multilateral mechanisms for containing illicit nuclear activity, such as the UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency, might be largely ineffective. Leonard Spector, a former US nonproliferation official, noted that for all of the international criticism of the Bush Doctrine "which approves of the use of pre-emptive force to deal with some WMD threats," after the Israeli strike the response was "nothing." "One factor was a recognition that the alternative of going to the IAEA [and] the United Nations Security Council wasn't such a great alternative," he argued. Fiona Simpson, a former IEAE official, also pointed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the world's "declining confidence in the regime to deal with these scenarios." Israel is not a party to the NPT, and though Syria is, that apparently did not prevent its pursuit of nuclear capabilities outside the confines of the treaty and its regulations. The panelists also attributed the muted reaction to a lack of information, since most of the details of the raid were initially withheld from the public, as well as a desire on the part of many countries, including Arab nations, that Syria not go nuclear. At the same time, Spector said, the silence shouldn't be interpreted as a "green light" but rather a moment of reflection on how best to deal with these threats. He referred to the lack of condemnation as the international community "recalibrating what its thinking is rather than an endorsement of what occurred."