Stopping Saddam's Bomb War Isn't Required. There Is Still Time to Starve Iraq's Nuclear Weapons Program by Cutting off Its Suppliers in the International Marketplace

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Bush is prepared to wage war in the Persian Gulf, in part to destroy Iraq's emerging nuclear capability.

Such a plan, though, could cost tens of thousands of American lives, while only dealing a setback to Iraq's nuclear ambitions, as the Israeli raid on the Osiraq reactor did in 1981. Moreover, Iraq poses little nuclear threat in the coming months. We must stop Saddam Hussein, but we have time to do so.

The immediate threat is based on Iraq's possession of 27 pounds of enriched uranium, purchased from the French back in the 1970s. With this material, assuming the Iraqis have all the other necessary components (which is not at all certain), Baghdad could fashion a single, crude, untested nuclear bomb, heavy enough to require a truck to deliver it.

That 27 pounds of uranium undergoes inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency every six months. The most recent inspection indicated that no diversion of the material from peaceful to military purposes had taken place. All of this makes an Iraqi nuclear surprise attack unlikely.

Administration officials have speculated that Iraq could have additional supplies of enriched uranium. There is no known evidence to support such a scenario. If the administration does have such evidence, it should let the world know immediately - the better to strengthen the alliance against Saddam.

But in the longer run, over the next five to 10 years, Iraq's nuclear threat is very real indeed. Saddam is rapidly building a high-speed gas centrifuge plant to enrich uranium. When this facility has operated for a few years, Iraq will have enough weapons-grade uranium to start assembling a nuclear arsenal.

The way to stop Saddam is to stop the people supplying him. Iraq has taken advantage of weak export controls that are poorly enforced. Baghdad now has a sophisticated smuggling network operating throughout the Western world.

The United States's record is far from perfect, but European countries, especially Germany, are the biggest offenders in supplying nuclear arms technology.

There is a shamefully long list of German companies under investigation for contributing to Iraq's nuclear, missile, chemical, and biological weapons programs. According to the German economics minister, at least three German companies are known to have assisted Baghdad's efforts to build a centrifuge plant.

Export Union of Duesseldorf is under investigation for selling 50 tons of a specialized steel to Baghdad, material necessary for constructing centrifuges. Another firm, H&H Metalform, has also reportedly sold centrifuge technology to the Iraqis and is linked with a British company, Technology Development Group, that may have established an extensive Iraqi arms network operating throughout Europe.

IRAQ was not the first country to take advantage of loopholes in German export laws. …