Thursday, January 6

The Nuclear Weapons Physicist as Nanny

"What do you think of Gordon Prather's claim that the Arab Bomb is a myth and that evidence against A. Q. Khan is overblown? I'm asking because it seems as if his views on how the US should deal with rouge/risky governments on the nuclear proliferation issue had considerable influence on earlier [US] administrations and that he still has a hearing among some factions in Washington.
[Signed] Chicago Dan"

Dear Chicago Dan:

Pundita dutifully read the article you forwarded and skimmed most of the articles penned by Dr. Prather that are listed on the website.

Prather's view is spelled out his December 20, 2004 article for He states:

"The key to preventing nuke proliferation is the international control of the production, processing, transformation, and disposition of certain nuclear materials. In return for a promise to not acquire or seek to acquire nukes, the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons recognizes the "inalienable right" of all signatories to enjoy the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy. But all NPT-proscribed nuclear materials – as well as the facilities in which they are stored, processed, transformed, or consumed – have to be made subject to an International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards Agreement."

This view puts Dr. Prather in line with what could be called the Chirac school of foreign policy. The school has ditched the view of the Kissinger school, which codified where US diplomacy had headed during the Cold War.

Kissinger's school made a pass at justifying the admission of thug governments into the Western community of democratic nations. The rationale was that if you treat despots as if they're democratically elected, some democratic impluses will eventually rub off on them. Chirac's post-Cold War school is more honest in that regard. If you're a despot and a trading partner, and if you at least muster an appearance of cooperating with the World Body at the UN, you do can do what you please within your own borders. Dr. Prather follows the same reasoning in his December 18, 2004, piece for when he lectures Undersecretary of State John Bolton:

"Suddenly, the neo-crazies were alleging that the Iranian gas-centrifuge program – not the reactor at Bushehr – was the basis of the Iranian clandestine program to produce nukes. Well, first of all "clandestine" does not mean illicit or illegal[*] or prohibited. Under their old Safeguards agreement, if the Iranians wanted to spend a zillion dollars clandestinely producing thousands of gas centrifuges, that's none of Bolton's beeswax. Or if they clandestinely bought thousands of parts for gas centrifuges from Persian Gulf or Southeast Asian junk dealers, that's none of Bolton's beeswax, either."

* Prather observes in the article you sent me that, "...delivering a uranium-enrichment centrifuge to anyone is not illicit unless such delivery is a violation of the laws of the exporting country. And accepting delivery is not illicit unless the importing country (a) is a signatory to the NPT and (b) intends to enrich uranium for use in a nuclear weapon."

However, it's Prather's choice of words that caused Pundita to snap to attention. It's not every day that one comes across a nannyish tendency in a physicist specializing in nuclear weapons. I doubt that modern nannies (at least, the ones on this side of the Pond) scold children into minding their own business by invoking that old-fashioned figure of speech.

Pundita likes to envision a world in which nosy governments can be scolded into adopting a live-and-let live philosophy. The US military in Iraq should consider trying out that approach in lieu of all the unseemly wrangling with Syrian and Iranian troops slipping across Iraq's borders. Perhaps a good scolding would do the trick, replete with shaking an upraised forefinger.

Also, Allawi might try out that line on Tehran and Damascus. "None of your beeswax which political party gains the most votes in Iraq's election."

See whether that floats.

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