Better Nuclear Prevention Than Cure

International Herald Tribune
November 29, 1990, p. 4

WASHINGTON — Should President George Bush use the US forces of Operation Desert Shield to strike at Iraq’s nuclear effort just a few hundred miles away? There could be high military casualties, and among those at risk would be the Western “guests” now used as human shields at Iraqi arms factories. The West could wind up bombing its own citizens to destroy its own exports.

Therein lies a moral issue that is not being discussed. The problem of Iraqis nuclear program is that of exports. Iraq imported its stockpile of natural uranium from several countries around the world and bought key nuclear processing equipment from firms m Germany and Switzerland. These were the machines needed to make the centrifuges that enrich uranium Iraq brought in engineers from Germany to install and run the centrifuge-making machines, and imported from German firms the special steel needed to make centrifuge parts. The German government has also investigated charges that the engineers supplied the centrifuge blueprints from which Iraq has been ordering parts. The German government does not dispute the widely reported fact that it licensed all of the material and equipment for export, despite the fact that it was on international control lists.

To see German-style centrifuges in action, Iraqi engineers visited a secret site in Brazil, where Brazil was running centrifuges made with machines that the same German firms had sold to Brazil a few years earlier. Brazil could have taught Iraq what it needed to know about centrifuge operation. According to a U S official, the Iraqis have received technical help from Pakistani nuclear experts who, in turn, got help from Germany and China.

The United States also allowed reckless exports to Iraq, in particular sensitive oscilloscopes that are now being used to develop ballistic missiles at Iraq’s largest military research site, Saad-16. These instruments were on the international control list, but the Commerce Department licensed them for export anyway.

American diplomats complained about German exports throughout the 1980s, but Germany ignored hundreds of secret U.S. cables. A senior adviser to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, confronted with Germany’s chemical exports to Iraq in 1984, told The New York Times: “You can probably deliver a lipstick factory and it will turn into something else.”

The German magazine Der Spiegel has called its country’s deals with Iraq “the saddest chapter in the evil history of FRG arms exports.” If US troops go to war in the Gulf, they will have to fight their way through Germany’s chemical exports to destroy Germany’s nuclear exports.

By the time Mr. Kohl began to reform German export laws it was too late. Iraq had already built a chemical arsenal and was aiming for nuclear autonomy, despite the 1981 Israeli bombing of its French-supplied 0sirak reactor.

Similarly reckless Western export policies have given Israel, South Africa, India and Pakistan the means to make nuclear weapons and may soon do the same for Argentina and Brazil. Well-heeled buyers are always looking for dangerous goods. Indeed, if Saddam Hussein had not misbehaved by taking Kuwait, the West would still be feeding his mass-destruction war machine Only because of the invasion has the West roused itself, rubbed its eyes and begun to focus on the risk of an Iraqi bomb.

The lesson from the Gulf is that the prevention of nuclear proliferation is cheaper than its cure. If countries do not stop the spread of the bomb while they can do it peacefully, they may be forced to do it with blood. If the current embargo or something like it had been in effect during the late 1980s, the Iraqi nuclear question would not be posed today. Use of military force to stop Iraq’s nuclear bomb program would risk America’s blood to counter reckless exports.

The world must learn from this mistake and turn the consensus that produced the embargo into a permanent system for stopping the spread of the bomb. Virtually every country in the world has agreed lo sanctions against Iraq. These same countries should now agree to sanctions against the secret nuclear bomb programs of other developing countries. Unless the world wants to face more Iraqs, it must raise the economic and political costs of the bomb so high that the renegades cannot afford it.

If American lives are lost to stop the spread of the bomb to Iraq, the world must ensure that such a sacrifice is never required again.