Syrian Nuclear Technology

The saber-rattling and finger-pointing aimed at Syria in recent weeks has left me with a niggling doubt that something about the allegations regarding their nuclear program wasn’t quite right. As I mentioned in a previous post, the U.S. alleges that Syria has received nuclear weapons know-how from North Korea, a claim they’ve provided no hard facts, let along proof, about, and it’s this claim that I find increasingly suspect.

Supposing Syria has some kind of rudimentary nuclear weapon program, it’s a virtual certainty they got help from someone else. There are less than a dozen other countries with the expertise and experience, so the list of suspects is pretty small. The U.S. and the U.K. can probably be safely ruled out at the start. France has no history of aiding proliferation, and it seems unlikely they’d start now. Israel, which has never acknowledged the existence of their nuclear weapons, if any, can also be ruled out, for obvious reasons.

After that, things get a little murkier. South Africa used to have nuclear weapons, but no longer does, and, like France, I have a hard time believing they’d transfer knowledge or materials to another country, let alone Syria.

That leaves, if my math is right, five countries with nuclear programs – Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

Now, as I’ve said before, I highly doubt Syria could have gotten meaningful assistance from North Korea, and almost certainly not before 2001, when it’s alleged Syria began work on a secret “reactor”; North Korea had yet to successfully produce a nuclear device, and I just can’t see them having shared the details a half-finished, unproven program.

India has had a nuclear program for decades, but it’s hard to see them as a serious proliferation source, given the devastating consequences for their economy if sanctioned, and probably pathological fear of indirectly giving assistance to Pakistan.

That leaves, as should come as no surprise, three candidates on the short list for having provided technology to Syria – China, Russia, and Pakistan. China has a history of covertly supporting foreign nuclear programs (they were Pakistan’s primary source of assistance), and a historically good and open relationship with Damascus; Russia always jealously guarded their nuclear secrets in the Soviet decades, and though they are on good terms with Syria, it’s hard to see even Putin as wanting to destabilize the middle-east so badly as to assist Syria’s nuclear ambitions.

Then there’s Pakistan, and the notorious A.Q. Khan. They provided some significant support to North Korea’s nuclear endeavors, and enrichment technology to at least Iran and Libya. Khan is known to have sold a variety of nuclear equipment to others in the 1980s – and was involved in something of a scandal in 2001 for allegedly having traded nuclear weapons technology to North Korea.

Iran, Libya, and North Korea; it seems clear that – with or without overt support from the government – Khan was exporting Pakistan’s expertise to a number of rather unsavory countries – and was doing so in late 2000 and early 2001. If Syria were willing to pay, there doesn’t seem to be any apparent reason Khan would have turned them down; certainly not for ideological reasons, after all.

In my opinion, Pakistan – who provided nuclear technology to Pyongyang – is a far more likely suspect as the supporter of Syria’s hypothetical nuclear program. Obviously, this would be a sticky allegation for the U.S. government, who need Pakistan’s assistance in the “War on Terra”. We’ve been willing to overlook, downplay, or dismiss certain repugnant human-rights issues in Pakistan in order to keep them friendly and pro-American; is it completely impossible that we’d “let bygones be bygones” and blame Pyongyang? I don’t think so. North Korea, having recently tested a pretty unimpressive nuclear warhead, and not being one of America’s favorite countries, makes a good scapegoat for another reason – their nuclear program is likely to be extremely similar to Pakistan’s. I suppose it works out well for Pakistan, as well; if Syria has Pakistani technology, they have (slightly) plausible deniability, in that it “could have” come from North Korea…

Much like what, exactly, Israel bombed or didn’t bomb on that hill in Syria, we’ll probably never know the truth. Oh, I have no doubt the truth is out there; I just think it’s probably a little too inconvenient for some country’s politicians. C’est la guerre, non?

Published in: General, History, Security | on November 1st, 2007| Comments Off on Syrian Nuclear Technology

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