Make nuclear proliferation a punishable crime

The "father of the Pakistani bomb" and wanton nuclear proliferator, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has, in recent weeks, provided the world with clear evidence - as if we needed any - of why nuclear proliferation should be criminalized.

The laws governing the illegal trade of nuclear materials and components are full of holes and vary too widely from country to country.

In order to provide Pakistan with a nuclear bomb, Dr. Khan had to create an expansive network that moved nuclear designs, scientists, and even partially enriched uranium across scores of countries and outside the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), countless law enforcement authorities, and, until recently, the most sophisticated intelligence agencies in the world.

Khan, thankfully, has been sidelined and put under careful watch - though, unfortunately, under presidential pardon - in Pakistan. However, many of his key lieutenants are still at large.

After interrogating Khan's alleged chief coconspirator, B.S.A. Tahir, Malaysian authorities released a report last Friday revealing the extent of Khan's network and the key people involved in developing Libya's illicit nuclear program. Now Swiss, German, British, and Turkish police are scrambling to find these alleged coconspirators believed to reside in their countries. Wherever these individuals are hiding, the initial evidence certainly suggests that they were critical in developing and maintaining one of the largest, most sophisticated, and disturbing nuclear black markets in the world.

As of Monday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry acknowledged, "We have bought some things [components for nuclear programs] from some dealers but we don't know what the source was or what country they came from.... It happens that some of those [dealers] were from some subcontinent countries."

One such individual is Peter Griffin, a British engineer implicated by Mr. Tahir as instrumental in Khan's work to build Libya's clandestine nuclear facility and train its technicians.

According to The New York Times, Mr. Griffin claims he did nothing illegal. That may be technically true - and he and others in Khan's network may walk. And that's why the international community needs to criminalize any nuclear proliferation unregulated by the IAEA - to clearly define and standardize rules that don't vary from country to country and apply globally. There are currently no criminal penalties associated with the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. Even if there were, it wouldn't matter for Khan because Pakistan didn't sign the treaty.

The idea of criminalizing nuclear proliferation is not new. Unfortunately, it remains just that - an idea.

President Bush, earlier this month renewed his call for a new UN Security Council resolution requiring all states to criminalize proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, enact strict export controls, and secure all sensitive materials within their borders.

Mr. Bush is not alone in this demand. In a New York Times commentary earlier this month, IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said: "We should also criminalize the acts of people who seek to assist others in proliferation."

It does precious little for a country, on its own, to adopt national legislation that attempts to outlaw nuclear proliferation. In addition to the universal condemnation associated with international criminalization, the itinerant methods of these nefarious individuals makes it essential and easier for a state to be able to put them in the dock once the definition and nature of the crimes becomes universal.

Apparently, a proposed resolution for criminalizing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has been sitting in the UN Security Council's in-box for some time. This is something that Bush and Mr. ElBaradei cannot do alone. The UN must attend to this issue.

Erin English, a former US Army officer, is a graduate student at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, where he is studying the legal issues surrounding nuclear proliferation.

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