Russian scientists ready to help proliferators, claims US expert
By Khalid Hasan
Washington: Russia’s 600 nuclear scientists are a danger to the world since, according to a survey, 21 percent of them are willing to work for anyone if paid the right price, including North Korea, Iran and Syria.
This was stated by Prof Michael Nacht of the University of California, Berkeley, at a meeting organised by the Woodrow Wilson Centre on Thursday.
According to the professor, who worked for the Clinton administration in a senior advisory capacity, the motives of some Russian nuclear scientists may not be entirely monetary, since they believe that by contributing to nuclear proliferation, they would weaken the unchallenged power of the United States. Russia still considers itself a major player in world affairs and would like to regain the position it had before the collapse of the communist state. Some Russians believe that to make the world safe from proliferation is to make it safe for the United States. Helping another state acquire nuclear capability would amount to “sticking it in the eye of America,” the University of California academic said, adding, “They see America as king of the hill and they would like to bring the king down for a host of reasons.”
Prof Nacht said the US must think of “real incentives for real people” to discourage non-nuclear states from wanting to join the club. He said the Bush administration considered Russia as a “waste of time” when it came to its vast nuclear arsenal and underemployed corps of scientists. The US believed that Moscow “would do what it would do.” There is “great cynicism” about Russia in Washington, he added, which was why the danger from Russia in terms of proliferation is not quite appreciated here or even much cared about. He also claimed that millions of people around the world want “World Trade Centre II to go down.”
Turning to Pakistan, Prof. Nacht accused America of having ignored Islamabad’s march towards nuclear capability because of other policy interests. During the 1980s, it was the role that Pakistan was playing in Afghanistan that made America “look the other way.” He claimed that 20 years ago, the Dutch authorities told CIA about the Dr AQ Khan network, but were told that the CIA would like to “follow the trail” and see where it led. That, the speaker added, was gathering intelligence for its own sake and then filing it away. He said Gen Pervez Musharraf was the “key figure” for America today and would continue to be supported even though he was delivering far less than what he was promising. The thinking in Washington was, “He is Jeffersonian; don’t put him in the slammer.” He said he himself was present during the Clinton presidency at a briefing where graphic evidence was shown of Chinese M-11 missiles arriving in Pakistan. There was absolutely no question about the authenticity of the evidence but America ignored it because of “higher policy considerations.” The fact was that Washington was not prepared to impose sanctions against China, as it would have been obliged to do, had the information been made public and acted upon. He said the reason Dr AQ Khan was “off limits” to the United States was because Gen Musharraf was useful in other ways and Washington did not want to push him too hard.
Prof Nacht agreed that the US response to India’s “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974 was weak. It was hoped in Washington that India being a democracy would eventually “come around” despite its close ties with the Soviet Union. He recalled a meeting in New Delhi with K Subramanium, Indian security expert, during which the Indian told him, “We missed the Industrial Revolution. We are not going to miss the Nuclear Revolution.” He added that Subramanium brought “his nose close to mine and said that even if you stand on your nose, India would not be turned away from the road it has taken.”
The University of California security expert said it was his belief that there would be a major terrorist incident involving a “mushroom cloud” which would make the world sit up and act. So far, he said, a comprehensive plan to deal with the enormous threat that exists has not been drawn up. As for Iran, it was his opinion that it is Iraq that is holding Washington back, indicating that once the situation in Iraq improves and the US involvement has scaled down, America would move against Iran. As for Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent remark about Israel taking out the Iranian nuclear programme, Prof Nacht said those most surprised by this announcement were the Israelis who had no intention of carrying out the American assignment. Since Israel had destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, every country had learnt its lesson. Nuclear facilities and installations were now scattered around and built deep under the ground.