Saturday, November 04, 2006

Prising open the nuclear market

The news report in The Times London of Nov 4 is interesting. A senior International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official has revealed to the paper that six Arab states -- Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- have requested the IAEA for assistance in bulding civilian nuclear facilities. It has been rightly suspected that this is but a halfway house to nuclear weapons. It is not surprising that the senior analyst as well as the diplomatic editor of the paper have seen this as a response to unhindered progress of the Iranian nuclear programme. It does not require much genius to infer that the Arab states are responding to the big, non-Arab Shia neighbour. There is no doubt that the defiant nuclear test carried out by North Korea on October 9 and Iran's continuing resistance to Western pressure tactics have emboldened the Arab states to make this strategic request to the IAEA.
It is quite likely that this development will not really deepen the nuclear nightmare of the Wesrern powers. They are more likely to support the Arab case, of course covertly. The simple reason for this subversive Western behaviour: none of the Arab states, apart from Egypt and Algeria and even in their case it has not attained critical mass, have the human resources of nuclear scientists to plan, build and maintain nuclear reactors. The expertise and the manpower will have to come from Western countries. Unlike India, which has a large domestic scientist base as well as know-how, the other countries are forced to depend on Western help as in everything else.
The Western powers, despite the ostensible protests of the security experts in Washingron and elsewhere, will find an opportunity to play a key role in the proliferation of civilian nuclear power because it will give them an opportunity to get their strong foothold back in the region, apart from the presence of their conventional military forces.
This renewed Western presence in a strategic sector will pose a challenge to India, and then to Iran. India would have been a nuclear leader in the region before this surprise decision of the Arab states to seek civilian nuclear power. New Delhi could have played the leadership role in providing the know-how for building civilian nuclear facilities in these countries. In a way, the India-US civilian nuclear deal will bind India from entering into internatioanl agreements to share the civilian nuclear expertise as well. In strict terms, India is only prohibited from sharing and transferring military nuclear know-how. The opportunity will now be grabbed by the Western countries.
From the conventional arms race, we will now enter the global nuclear race.

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