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