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February 21, 2009 February 20, 2009

The recent news of the release from house arrest of Pakistan?s rogue
nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan had leaders and commentators in the free
world blowing hot and cold ? as usual. The release was condemned as "a
blow to international security? but as always the behind-the-scenes role
of China as the leading proliferator of nuclear weapons and delivery
technology to rogue states, was
studiously ignored. I have commented on this question before (Buying the
Dragon?s Teeth etc.) but I am returning to it as the likelihood of a
nuclear device getting into terrorist hands has now dramatically
increased with the rise of the Taliban and the creeping failure, as
states, of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I also hope it will give some
of my readers in Dharamshala an idea of the ruthless, mind-boggling and
Machiavellian extremes to which China is prepared to go to achieve its
strategic goals.

Pakistanis may proudly hail Khan as the father of the ?Islamic bomb?,
but what is generally not noted generally is that Khan?s PhD is in
metallurgical engineering. Khan was certainly responsible for stealing
blue prints for the manufacture of enriched uranium from a Dutch
laboratory in 1972 and he was put in charge of Pakistan's uranium
enrichment program in 1976. But he was not involved with the actual
design, development and testing of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. He wasn?t
even living in the country when Pakistan?s nuclear weapon program was
secretly launched in 1972.

A New York Times report describes China?s vital contribution to the
genesis of Pakistan?s nuclear program. ?China, a staunch ally of
Pakistan's, provided blueprints for the bomb, as well as highly enriched
uranium, tritium, scientists and key components for a nuclear weapons
production complex, among other crucial tools. ?Without China's help,
Pakistan's bomb would not exist? said Gary Milhollin, a leading expert
on the spread of nuclear weapons.?[1]

According to a survey of WMD proliferation published by the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace, ?China?s assistance to Pakistan?s
nuclear program over the past 15 years may have been critical to
Pakistan?s nuclear weapon breakthroughs in the 1980s. China was believed
to have supplied Pakistan with the plans for one of its earlier nuclear
bombs and possibly to have provided enough highly enriched uranium for
two such weapons.?[2] The Carnegie Endowment supported survey also
details China?s assistance to Pakistan in the construction of plutonium
production reactor at Khusab and an unsafeguarded plutonium reprocessing
facility at Chasma, giving Pakistan, for the first time, a dependable
source of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.

India was initially ahead not only of Pakistan, but even China, in the
nuclear field. In the fifties the Indian leadership and scientific
community generally subscribed (somewhat naively in retrospect) to the
Nehruvian vision of the upliftment of the third world through the
peaceful harnessing of nuclear energy, while from the start China?s
??nuclear effort (aided substantially by the USSR) remained almost
exclusively military?. In 1955, India?s top nuclear scientist, Homi
Bhabha, was president of the landmark international Atoms for Peace
Conference in Geneva. India?s first nuclear plant (1957) at Trombay
?seemed open and aboveboard. There was no secrecy about it.?

The irony is that India?s nuclear weapons program resulted directly from
two Chinese actions: the 1962 military attack on India and the 1964
explosion of China?s first nuclear bomb. ?The Chinese bomb hurt Bhabha?s
pride as much as his patriotism.?[3] Within weeks Bhabha was calling for
a nuclear deterrent, and in a few months Indian prime-minister Lal
Bahadur Shastri gave the go-ahead. But Bhabha?s death and the strong
political and moral opposition to the program kept it on hold till 1974
when under Mrs. Indira Gandhi, India conducted its first test.

Pakistan?s nuclear arsenal and superior delivery system has in a real
sense neutralized India?s overwhelming advantage in conventional
military terms that it enjoyed over Pakistan. By building up Pakistan?s
nuclear arsenal and missile systems, China has effectively checkmated
India and blind-sided its challenge as China?s main Asian rival.

China has also in a sense checkmated America and its Asian allies, South
Korea and Japan, by providing, through its proxy, Pakistan, nuclear
weapons technology to North Korea. In June 2002, the CIA delivered a
comprehensive analysis of North Korea?s nuclear ambitions to President
Bush that Pakistan, one of the Bush Administration?s important allies in
the war against terrorism, and chief recipient of Chinese nuclear
technology, was helping North Korea build the bomb.?[4] Pakistan?s,
?A.Q. Khan, is known to have paid at least 13 visits to North Korea.?[5]

Furthermore it has given the Beijing the opportunity to assume the moral
high ground and set itself up as an honest broker between the USA and
North Korea. It has organized a couple of fruitless meetings in Beijing,
assigning to itself an assertive mediating role, and never failing to
condemn American lack of cooperation for the collapse of the talks.

On February 17, 2004, the Washington Post came out with the story that
Libya?s nuclear weapon design had come from China. The discovery was
made by international inspectors after they studied a package of
documents turned over to U.S. officials in November last year by Libyan
authorities. ?The bomb designs and other papers turned over by Libya
have yielded dramatic evidence of China's long-suspected role in
transferring nuclear know-how to Pakistan.? The Post story also
mentioned that ?the packet of documents, some of which included text in
Chinese, contained detailed, step-by-step instructions for assembling an
implosion-type nuclear bomb that could fit atop a large ballistic
missile. They also included technical instructions for manufacturing
components for the device, the officials and experts said.?[6]

China's actions ?were irresponsible and short-sighted, and raise
questions about what else China provided to Pakistan's nuclear
program,?[7] said David Albright, a nuclear physicist and former U.N.
weapons inspector in Iraq.

It might be noted that the bomb design for Saddam Hussein?s aborted
nuclear weapons program was also of Chinese origin.[8]

On June 15, 2004, Reuters reported that congressional investigators from
the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission had accused China
of sending nuclear technology to Iran in exchange for oil.[9] Pakistan
and China signed long-term nuclear cooperation agreements with Iran in
1987 and 1990, respectively. Accords with both countries involved
training personnel, and in the case of China, the accord included an
agreement to provide Iran with a 27KW miniature neutron source reactor
(MNSR) and two 300MW Qinshan power reactors. Western intelligence
suspected that Pakistan, which many estimated had succeeded in
manufacturing a nuclear bomb in 1986, provided Iran with nuclear
assistance. Reports in Western press and leaks from Western government
and intelligence sources indicated that Pakistan had trained Iranian
scientists in plutonium extraction and possibly gas centrifuge
enrichment research.

In January this year a book came out that could be described as a
political history of nuclear weapons from the discovery of fission in
1938 to the nuclear train wreck that seems to loom in our future. Thomas
Reed and Danny Stillman?s The Nuclear Express is as discerning as it is
timely. It is also explicit in pointing out and condemning China?s
sponsorship of the Pakistani program and the reckless ?nuclear weapons
programs for sale? exporting of technology that it has unleashed. My
only complaint, and it is perhaps nit-picking, is that it doesn?t
address sufficiently what I call China?s ?nuclear-threat-by-proxy?
strategy, whereby through proxies China manages to deliver real nuclear
threats to its adversaries, while appearing to remain above the fray.

If it were humanly possible to view the whole thing dispassionately,
overlooking the possibility of nuclear conflict in South Asia,
North-East Asia and the Middle East, and the potential passage of
nuclear weapons into the hands of Islamic terrorists, one can only
marvel at the skill and patience with which China has consistently
outmaneuvered its many enemies and competitors.


1. Tim Weiner, ?U.S. And China Helped Pakistan Build Its Bomb,? The New
York Times, June 1, 1998.

2. Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly
Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction, Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, Washington, D.C. 2002

3. Peter Pringle & James Spigelman, The Nuclear Barons, Holt, Rhinehart
and Winston, New York, 1981.

4. Seymour M. Hersh, ?The Cold Test: What the Administration knew about
Pakistan and the North Korean nuclear program?, The New Yorker, January

5. Bill Keller, ?The Thinkable?, The New York Times Magazine, May 4, 2003.

6. Joby Warrick and Peter Slevin, ?Libyan Arms Designs Traced Back to
China,? Washington Post, February 15, 2004; p. A01,

7. Ibid.

8. Tom Zeller, ?Psssst?Can I Get A Bomb Trigger??, (case overviews
compiled by Jordan Richie and Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on
Nuclear Arms Control) The New York Times, September 15, 2002.

9. Reuters, ?China Helping Iran, North Korea on Weapons ? Panel?, The
New York Times, June 15, 2004.
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