Stop Exporting Nuclear Technology

Los Angeles Times
October 14, 1998, p. B7

Foreign Affairs: It’s crazy to help countries build their bombs then ask them not to test them.

Although 4 1/2 months have passed since India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, American technology is still flowing into those countries’ A-bomb and missile efforts. In a series of closed meetings, U.S experts have identified nearly 200 Indian and Pakistani organizations that are key to bomb and missile making, but after announcing in June that U.S. sales to such firms would be cut off–a step required by U.S. law–the Clinton administration is still dithering. The delay is due to the fear that if sanctions are imposed on these countries, it will make it harder to cajole them into curbing their bomb programs.

The administration should stop dreaming and apply the law, which severs U.S. trade with any U.S. firm publicly named as a bomb or missile maker. Neither Pakistan nor India seems likely to restrict its nuclear effort in any significant way. Pakistan says it will sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty only if it first gets financial aid and America lifts its sanctions–conditions that will never be met–and India has agreed only to “discuss” signing the ban within the coming year. Even if both countries signed, they would still be free to build an unlimited number of nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them. It is nonsensical to help a country build the bomb in exchange for a pledge not to test it.

The 200 bomb-making firms are terrible places to send U.S. technology. In India, they include Godrej & Boyce, which manufactures heat shields, nose cones and liquid-fueled motors for India’s biggest rockets; Hindustan Aeronautics, which makes rocket guidance systems and motors for India’s nuclear-capable missiles; Larsen and Toubro, which builds plutonium-producing nuclear reactors, and Walchandnagar Industries, which makes both large rocket motors and major reactor components. In Pakistan, the firms include Heavy Mechanical Complex and People’s Steel Mills, both of which are considered to be mass destruction weapon sites.

Unless these companies are excluded from U.S. trade, it will be impossible to keep American equipment from helping to build better bombs and missiles in South Asia.

It also is important to make the names of these organizations public. To see why, consider the Indian Institute of Science. It develops India’s most advanced rocket propellants, guidance systems and nose cones. It also tests rocket performance in its wind tunnels. Because it has never been named as a dangerous destination for U.S. goods, however, it managed to buy a supercomputer from the Digital Equipment Corp. in 1996 and to upgrade an IBM machine to supercomputer status in 1997. With this American equipment, the institute is able to design India’s next generation of nuclear missiles. The institute is on the list of 200 firms and, once the list is published, such sales must stop.

The U.S. Dept. of Commerce is primarily to blame for the institute’s dangerous American imports. The department is supposed to warn U.S. exporters about dangerous buyers, and it should have named the institute years ago. But it has consistently fought attempts to list such companies for fear of reducing exports, the promotion of which is its main goal.

When, for example, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency proposed approximately three dozen private sector companies in India for inclusion on the list of 200, the department objected to virtually all of them on grounds that proved to be insubstantial. Under pressure from the rest of the government, Commerce finally agreed to roughly 10. Because of the department’s delaying tactics, U.S. exports have continued to flow to South Asian nuclear and missile programs long after they should have been cut off.

The second culprit is the CIA. Its Nonproliferation Center has been part of the interagency meetings at which individual companies were discussed but, mysteriously, it has provided virtually no intelligence information about them. Luckily, the experts who compiled the list had access to information provided by U.S. embassies and also to the Risk Report, which is published by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, an independent group that tracks the spread of nuclear weapons. Had it not been for the project’s data, the no-trade list would be far shorter.

The cutoff of U.S. technology will produce howls of pain from India and Pakistan and intense lobbying by U.S. companies who will lose some export dollars. But Congress and the president should ignore that. Nor, once in place, should Congress allow the technology denial to be waived, as it did last week for the economic sanctions against India and Pakistan. The no-trade ban should stay in place as long as these two countries remain on the nuclear weapon path.

It is time to put teeth into the administration’s nonproliferation policy and force foreign firms to choose between building bombs and buying U.S. technology.