Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Archive for July, 2007

Saudi Arabia Round-Up: US Criticizes then Gives Arms; Economy on the Up and Up; And Why Not to be Sri Lakan 17-Year Old in Saudi Arabia

Posted by K.E. White on July 31, 2007

Short Read: Review of recent develops out of Saudi Arabia: Zalmay Khalilzad backpedals on earlier criticisms on Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq; Gates & Rice head over to Saudi Arabia for desert-side chats; Saudi Arabia pushes ‘A+’ economic reforms. Oh and Bradford Plumer and Israel Chime In


UN Ambassador Khalilzad’s ‘before’ shot: (detailed article from Al Jazeera)

“Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries are not doing all they can to help us in Iraq,” he said on “Late Edition.” “At times, some of them are not only not helping, but they are doing things that is undermining the effort to make progress.”

And the ‘after’ shot (from Justin Bergman at AP):

Zalmay Khalilzad attempted to play down the critical remark he made Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition,” telling reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that Saudi Arabia is “a great ally” and friend of the United States.

This diplomatic dance only added focus to a Bush administration backed arms deal to Saudi Arabia. Jim Lobe offers this description in an excellent Asia Times article:

Under the arms-for-allies plan, the US would provide $13 billion in aid over 10 years – roughly the same amount that it has been getting for most of the past decade. While precise figures have not been released, State Department officials said Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council will be encouraged to buy some $20 billion in new arms, including satellite-guided bombs, missile defenses, and upgrades for their US-made fighter jets over the same period.

To dampen concerns by Israel and its supporters in Washington, the Bush administration is also proposing a 10-year, $30 billion package to preserve the Jewish state’s military superiority – or “qualitative edge” – over its Arab neighbors. That would amount to a 25% increase in US military assistance to Israel over current levels.

Lobe’s article offers a critical eye on the plan, while illustrating its chief aim: solidifying anti-Iran forces in the Middle East. Doing so through arms sales—and not regime change—is a major shift in Bush administration: returning to the realism of the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations. The down side? The United States is arming despotic, and perhaps fragile regimes.

Sometimes map can help. Notice that Iran is effectively surrounded by US allies:

Map of Iran

These arms deals to Saudi Arabia and Israel are giving these nations tools to covertly attack and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Should Iran get on the verge of having an atomic arsenal, what better way to split anti-American rhetoric than have an Arab state strike Iran?

Would this actually happen? Doubtful–but nuclear genies pack a big punch.

And Bardford Plumer slashes the deal, revealing the ‘joke’ of helping Saudi Arabia’s military:

Indeed, Tariq Ali mentioned something similar in his recent review of two books on Saudi Arabia: “[T]he Saud clan, living in a state of permanent fear… [has] kept the size of the national army and air force to the barest minimum. [W]hat happens to the vast quantity of armaments purchased to please the West? Most of them rust peacefully in desert warehouses.” Is that true? The Saudis don’t even want the weapons in question and have no intention of using them? They just buy them “to please the West”? Do these deals make any sense to anyone who’s not a defense contractor?

But Rice and Gates are still pushing the deal in their Middle East trip.

At least money isn’t a problem for Saudi Arabia. From Forbes:

Fitch Ratings said it raised the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Outlook to positive from stable as it affirmed the country’s long-term foreign and local currency issuer default rating at ‘A+’.

High oil prices continue to strengthen the government’s domestic and external balance sheets and government is using its fiscal surplus — that touched 25 pct of GDP in 2006 — to pay down domestic debt, build external assets and invest in infrastructure, Fitch said.

And this comes on the heels of extensive economic reforms:

Economic policy has not focused only on internal domestic issues. Indeed, the Saudi government has also sought to further advance the country’s integration with the regional and global economy. The first step aimed at improving and cementing Saudi Arabia’s bilateral and multilateral trade relations on a regional level, starting with the customs union formed with the other five members of the GCC in 2003 that lowered custom duties on most products to 5%. Saudi Arabia then granted GCC citizens equal treatment as its Saudi citizens in areas such as investing in the stock market, establishing a company, private sector employment, social security benefits, government procurement, shipping, and retail, including real estate, according to NBK report.

On a broader scale, the Kingdom’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) was finalized toward the end of 2005, ending about 12 years of negotiations. WTO accession has committed the Kingdom to lowering its tariff barriers and other trade barriers and to accelerating the liberalization process of its key sectors, including telecommunications, banking, and insurance. The Kingdom had also signed 39 bilateral agreements, notably with its largest trading partners, the European Union, the United States, and China.

Looking forward, Saudi Arabia has the potential to continue to grow rapidly -driven by the strength of global energy demand, substantial public and private investment, an improving business environment benefiting from liberalization and privatization initiatives, and a rapidly growing population enjoying higher purchasing power.

If arms deals, coupled with wise policy on the part of Saudi, helps 1) reinforce American alliances and 2) lead to long-term stability in the Middle East, what’s the problem? Especially with American military resources stretched and low credibility, what other path is there?

Granted the US could push to transform its relationship with Iran, but such work will fall to the next administration. Bush’s best role: put that administration in the best place possible for talks with Iran. (Yet, in my view, the biggest boast Bush could give would be setting up a plan to pull out of Iraq.)

But one should note Saudi Arabia’s still troubled image: Note the slated execution of a minor on seemingly fluff charges.

A human rights group has urged Saudi Arabia to reconsider the death sentence given to a Sri Lankan maid accused of killing a baby in her care, saying she was a minor at the time and cannot be executed under international law.

Last month, a Saudi court sentenced Rizana Nafeek, 19, to be beheaded for killing the infant two years ago. She has appealed the conviction, which human rights groups say was based on a coerced confession. (AP)

Posted in arms deal, Bush administration, Gates, Iraq, Israel, Rice, Rizana Nakfeek, Saudi Arabia, Zalmay Khalilzad | 6 Comments »

Can Israel Destroy Iran’s Nuclear Facilities?

Posted by K.E. White on July 30, 2007

Short-Read: Israel can strike Iran, Human Intelligence Vital to These and Similar Operations

Whitney Raas and Austin Long size up Israel’s ability to successfully strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Their verdict?

“…Israeli leaders have access to the technical capability to carry out the attack with a reasonable chance of success. The question then becomes one of will and individual calculation.” (30)

Using Israel’s Osirak operation as a benchmark, Raas and Long find any future operation against Iran shares the same likelihood as the 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear facilities.

The authors compare Israeli and Iranian air defenses and airforces, outline Iran’s main nuclear sites, and show three likely pathways for the attacks.

While Iran’s air defenses are greater than Iraq’s in 1981, Israel’s F-15 and 16 I’s aircrafts coupled with their ready supplies of BLU-109 and BLU-113 bunker busters are more than enough to knock out Iran’s critical nuclear sites.

But don’t think missiles and buttons are the only keys to successful coercive counter proliferation. Israel boasts two specialized forces: Sayeret Shaldag-Unit 5101 (laser aiming) and Unit 5707 (assessment).

Here’s a quick visual on such an operation’s pathways:

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And here’s a review Israel’s targets in Iran:

Iran‘s nuclear complex has three critical nodes for the production of fissile material: a uranium coversion facility in Isfahan, a large uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, and a heavy water plant and plutonium production reactors under construction at Arak. (13)

Read the article for more details, but here’s a boiled down version of the policy implications of the study:

This analysis, however, highlights the critical nature of target knowledge. In many cases, the means of striking or defending WMD targets may be less important than the ability to locate or hid them. Those seeking to stop proliferation would be advised to invest heavily in intelligence collection and analysis, while proliferators should rely on concealing and dispersing rather than hardening targets. (31)

Posted in Arak, Counterproliferation, Iran, Isfahan, Israel, Natanz, Sayeret Shaldag, Unit 5707 | 2 Comments »

Time to Cut off the Strong Man? TNR’s Peter Bergen lambasts Bush’s trust in Masharraf

Posted by K.E. White on July 13, 2007

Proliferation Press Commentary Roundup

What should American foreign policy be towards Pakistan? Picking up from an earlier blog about Daniel Markey’s recent Foreign Affairs article, Proliferation Press turns it’s eyes to The New Republic (TNR).

TNR’s Peter Begen seems to be a touch harsher on Masharraf: opting for Musharraf to make a power sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto—a former Pakistani prime minister:

…Perhaps it is not surprising that a dictator would convince himself that only he can save his country. What is surprising is that Musharraf has managed to convince others as well. And no one has fallen for this hoax harder than President Bush. It is a central plank of the administration’s foreign policy that democratization is the best way to counter militant Islamists. Yet Bush has been strikingly silent on the need for Musharraf to loosen his grip on Pakistan, the world’s second-largest Muslim country. Contra the widespread myth that democracy would merely empower Pakistan’s Islamists, it would likely damage the MMA, the coalition of religious parties that has never succeeded in winning more than 12 percent of the vote. (And that was in the 2002 election, which Musharraf fixed to disadvantage the two main secular parties.) In fact, polling indicates that the MMA will garner around 5 percent of ballots in the upcoming election. The Islamist militants of the Red Mosque, in other words, may be feisty enough to weaken Musharraf politically through their protests and violence, but they are not nearly numerous enough to run the country.

So who might benefit from the upcoming vote, if not the Islamists? That’s where Benazir Bhutto comes in. For months, Islamabad was atwitter about the nature of the deal Musharraf and Bhutto were widely presumed to be cutting. The rumored agreement would allow Bhutto to return to Pakistan to campaign for her party–although not to run for prime minister, as she has already served the two terms allowable under the present constitution–while Musharraf would drop the corruption charges that he used to chase her out of the country in the first place. Bhutto would then play the key role in selecting the next prime minister. For his part, Musharraf would retain the presidency.

That deal now appears to be in jeopardy after riots in Karachi in May, where members of a party allied with Musharraf killed a number of Bhutto’s supporters. Musharraf has also recently reiterated that Bhutto is banned from Pakistan. However, that won’t necessarily stop Bhutto from returning to her homeland, since she probably wins no matter what Musharraf does. If he throws her in jail, he turns her into a martyr and summons potent memories of the military dictator Muhammad Zia’s imprisonment and execution of her popular father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. If he does nothing when Bhutto returns, she will be greeted as a heroine by the millions who will attend her political rallies.

And so the coming months will likely present Musharraf with a choice. He can assert his authority as a rigid autocrat. Or he can agree to some sort of power-sharing arrangement with Bhutto and her allies–a deal that would cement an alliance between the secular political parties and the military based on a liberal, moderate vision of Pakistan’s future, but one that would effectively end his one-man rule. Hassan Abbas, a former senior Pakistani police official now at Harvard’s Kennedy School, is not optimistic that Musharraf will do the right thing. “All the signs are that he will rig the elections,” he predicts. Whatever choice he makes, the Pakistani leader’s grasp on power has never seemed so tenuous. Abdul Rashid Ghazi may be dead, but Musharraf’s problems are just beginning.

Markey offers a voice of caution, urging incremental change in Pakistan. Markey’s article points to the dangers of America pushing rapid democratization. Bergen seems to want a middle-ground position: having a caretaking period with Bhutto and Musharaff, followed by elections. The intervening time will cool of Pakistan’s extremist voices.

Two things are clear: More debate is needed on this middle ground, and America must carefully gauge how even well-intention moves might backfire.

Posted in Bhutto, George W Bush, Musharraf, Pakistan, Peter Bergen | 1 Comment »

Are Nuclear Mishaps Being Hidden? Congress Calls the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Task for Keeping Documents Out of Public View

Posted by K.E. White on July 6, 2007

Is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) keeping information away from the public? Seems that way. How? Bureaucratic innovation: Instead of labeling documents ‘Top Secret,’ a more innocuous ‘For Official Use Only’ label was enlisted. The net effect of the move? The public was shut out.

The NY Times reports on NRC secrecy:

A factory that makes uranium fuel for nuclear reactors had a spill so bad it kept the plant closed for seven months last year and became one of only three events in all of 2006 serious enough for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to include in an annual report to Congress.

After an investigation, the commission changed the terms of the factory’s license and said the public had 20 days to request a hearing on the changes.

But no member of the public ever did. In fact, no member of the public could find out about the changes. The document describing them, including the notice of hearing rights for anyone who felt adversely affected, was stamped “official use only,” meaning that it was not publicly accessible.

But don’t be quick to jump on the anti-nuclear bandwagon. This Atlanta Journal-Constitution article highlights flaws with a report authored by opponents of Georgia Power.

Posted in Georgia Power, Nuclear power, Nuclear Regulatory Commission | Leave a Comment »

What To Do About Pakistan? Crisis in Islamabad, Markey’s Advice, and Congress Gets in the Hot Seat

Posted by K.E. White on July 4, 2007

Proliferation Press News Update

A tense stand-off continues to unfold between General Perez Musharraf and Islamic militants in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.

From Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper:

Paramilitary Rangers and riot police fought a daylong running gunbattle with hundreds of heavily armed and well-entrenched militants around their stronghold of Lal Masjid as a six-month-long standoff between mosque’s radicals and the authorities exploded into a major clash on Tuesday, leaving at least 10 people dead and more than 150 injured.

Dozens of the injured suffered multiple bullet wounds, and the condition of some of them being critical, doctors feared the death toll might rise.

It was perhaps the worst, and the bloodiest, incident in Islamabad’s history as never before such a large number of armed militants had taken on the authorities — and that too in the heart of the capital.

This troubling scenario erupted days after Daniel Markey offered American policy makers advice on Pakistan. His Foreign Affairs embraces an anti-transformational view of Pakistan (i.e. hardheaded realism). He urges small steps to further security and eventual democratization. Markey’s chief concern: combating Pakistani terrorism. Markey brushes aside any flirtation with the quick return of a democratic Pakistan, he urges a tougher small-scale diplomatic approach: build connections with the Pakistani military, solidify the US-Pakistani relationship, and invest more in the current regime to foster security and creeping transparency.

A selection from Markey’s A False Choice in Pakistan:

Still, success in Pakistan’s long-term struggle against extremism will eventually demand a thoroughgoing democratic transition in Islamabad, even if that transition is not realistic at the moment. The Bush administration has failed to broaden its partnership with Pakistan much beyond army headquarters; it views the civilian dimension of Pakistani politics as a distraction rather than an integral part of the counterterrorism effort. Most Pakistanis believe that Washington is all too happy to work with a pliant army puppet.

Islamabad needs greater popular legitimacy in order to muster grass-roots support for the counterterrorism agenda. The United States should work to empower Pakistan’s moderate civilians even as it builds trust with Pakistan’s security forces. These goals are not contradictory: Washington can win the confidence of Pakistan’s military establishment without accepting its exclusive political authority, and it can help empower civilian leadership without jeopardizing the army’s core interests.

Markey sees a growing divide between militants the Pakistani military, but notes the lingering Pakistani fear of evaporating U.S. support after Afghanistan is secure. He urges U.S. policy makers to 1) refrain from counterproductive public criticisms and 2) establish a long-term commitment in Afghanistan. Finally, Markey insists the US flip its response to diplomatic flare-ups with Pakistan. Instead of cutting off aid and contact, he insists America use these crisis-points to further contact the Pakistani security apparatus.

Perhaps Markey’s pointers are proving useful to the Congressional delegation currently in Pakistan. Representatives Susan Davis (D-CA), Bill Shuster (R-PA), Geoff Davis (R-KY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) make up the bipartisan delegation.

The delegation, headed by Rep. Davis, just wrapped up a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The Associated Press of Pakistan covered the meeting, giving little attention to the delegation:

Ms. Susan A. Davis and other delegation members said Pakistan is a vital ally for US and they are keen to further strengthen this relationship.

Ms. Davis and her colleagues assured the Prime Minister of continued US assistance and support to Pakistan in all fields.

Appreciating the government’s reform policies, the delegation members praised the achievements of sustained high growth rate and development in Pakistan which brought about a qualitative change in the country.

The meeting was attended among others by State Minister for Foreign Affairs Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar and senior officials.

Posted in Congress, Daniel Markey, Delegation to Pakistan, Foreign Affairs Magazine, Lal Masjid, Musharraf, Pakistan, Susan Davis | 1 Comment »