Pakistan: U.S. Approves Most Nuclear-Related Exports

Less than 4 percent of U.S. applications to export nuclear dual-use equipment to Pakistan were denied from 1988 to 1992, according to a report published last year by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). Approximately 80 percent were approved, and the rest were returned without action, still pending, cancelled or suspended. Three of the licenses were for equipment worth over $2 million to particularly “sensitive end-users.” One was for numerical control equipment, one for computer/electronics-related equipment, and one for cathode ray oscilloscopes and components.

Pakistan has not joined the international agreements to halt proliferation, so most U.S. exports of nuclear, chemical/biological or missile-related goods require a license. Pakistan appears on all the Commerce Department control lists (see supplements 4, 5, & 6 to Part 778 of the Export Administration Regulations) which name countries and projects of concern for nuclear, missile and chemical/biological proliferation. Under Section 778.3, a company must apply for a license when it “knows or has reason to know” its product will be used for nuclear explosive activities, uninspected nuclear activities, or for activities related to the production of fissile materials.

A small proportion of U.S. license decisions rely on “pre-license checks” to inspect potential end-users. The inspection assesses whether a buyer is likely to divert an export to prohibited nuclear proliferation activities. Some checks are misleading, according to the GAO report. In March 1988, for example, the U.S. embassy in Pakistan was asked to check on a proposed U.S. computer export to an end-user located on the premises of a military facility. Embassy officials did not visit the end-user, citing time and budget constraints, but they still cabled Washington to say the end-user was “a reliable recipient of U.S. technology,” according to the GAO report. Embassy officials made the same finding in 1991 for an oscilloscope export even though the recipient appeared on a Department of Energy nuclear proliferation watch list.

The GAO also cited a 1989 case in which Commerce approved a license to a military end-user in Pakistan for two four-axis grinding machines capable of manufacturing critical nuclear weapon components. According to the Department of Energy’s watch list, the end-user is involved in sensitive nuclear activities, such as the design, manufacture or testing of nuclear weapons or production of special nuclear materials. The license for the machines was approved even though previous, less valuable exports had been denied to the same end-user based on “an unacceptable risk of diversion to nuclear proliferation activities,” the GAO report said.