Iran is on the way to becoming a nuclear power. For several months now, it has been said again and again that a new Iran deal is about to be concluded and that the negotiations are in the „decisive phase“ before there will be silence again. Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are also secretly trying to acquire nuclear weapons. In addition, an older, but still up-to-date text by Michael Rühe, former deputy Head of the Policy Planning Unit in the Office of the NATO Secretary General of 1 March 2010:
“How to become a nuclear power? A Beginner’s Guide
Do you want to gain more respect from your neighboring countries? Tired of Americans constantly thwarting your hegemonic ambitions? Would you like to finally play in the Premium League? Then there is only one solution: you need nuclear weapons. You think that’s not possible? Take a closer look. Admittedly, if your country is a signatory to the NPT – and almost all countries are today – the obstacles are quite high. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can carry out inspections in your country – and the IAEA is no longer as easily fooled as it was in the 1980s, when it was unaware of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program despite regular visits to Iraqi facilities. With enough creativity and, most importantly, chutzpah, you will still make it. Just follow this guide.
Begin a civilian nuclear program. The Non-Proliferation Treaty expressly allows this, and the International Atomic Energy Agency is even required to provide you with advice and assistance. So you already have the most important components and the know-how for a military program. Most importantly, it allows you to buy nuclear fuel legally – and not have to procure it through breakneck action, as the Israelis did when they hijacked a ship laden with uranium in 1968 because their main supplier, France, failed. Don’t do things by halves. When you set up your civil nuclear infrastructure, with nuclear power plants for the production of uranium or plutonium and with the corresponding research facilities, you should do everything you can to master the complete nuclear fuel cycle, i.e. above all the conversion of the ground uranium and enrichment. This will give you the independence you will need when you are caught. And one thing is for sure: you will be caught.
But we’ll talk about that later. We are now taking care of the military side of our program. To do this, you build conversion and enrichment plants in several locations. You declare some to the IAEA and have them inspected regularly. On the other hand, you build other systems in mountains or tunnels (you thought about buying tunnel drilling equipment in time, didn’t you?). In the future, you will enrich uranium to a weapons-grade level or reprocess plutonium in these secret, military-run facilities. If you don’t mind that others suspect early on, you can go one step further and develop small nuclear reactors for your submarines, for example. That might be a bit dubious, but allowed. Ask the Brazilians.
In order to operate your secret facilities, you need to buy a lot of material – and do it as unobtrusively as possible. A few years ago, all you had to do was call A.Q. Khan, the „father of the Pakistani atomic bomb.“ He would have provided you with everything you need, from the centrifuge to the design plan for a nuclear warhead. With his help, Libya almost became a nuclear power. But the Bush administration, of all people, put a stop to the clever businessman. So you have to go other ways. And there are some. North Korea will gladly step into the breach. There they are happy to pass on the know-how that they once acquired with the help of the friendly gentleman from Pakistan – for a corresponding financial fee, of course. Syria and Iran have taken advantage of North Korea’s hunger for hard currency in a variety of ways. Why should it be different for you? Not all gear you need is highly sensitive. The largest part of your shopping list consists of so-called dual-use goods, i.e. goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. Many of these, such as precision centrifuge tubes, can be purchased freely, although it is advisable to buy certain products from different suppliers or have them procured from intermediaries. Because based on your shopping behavior, the foreign secret services could deduce your true motives. So be creative – and ask your business partners to do the same. The Pakistanis set standards here when they bought a complete conversion plant in Germany and – declared as a “toothpaste factory” – took it home. If you cannot buy certain pieces of equipment in the required quantities, you will have to disassemble, analyze and rebuild the copies you have bought. Such „reverse engineering“ is tedious, but not impossible. Here, too, Pakistan offers plenty of illustrative material.
If such a direct approach is too risky for you, you don’t have to give up. If your checkbook allows it, you can help fund a friendly country’s nuclear program so that you can obtain nuclear weapons from there if needed. Saudi Arabia gave hundreds of millions of dollars to A.Q. Khan’s labs – what do you think it got in return? To be credible as a nuclear power, you need means of delivery to deliver the weapons to the target. Buying aircraft or cruise missiles that can be converted into nuclear weapons carriers is not difficult. But honestly, ballistic missiles are the measure of all things. You don’t have to be on your own here either. Just pretend your rockets are used to carry space satellites. Not everyone will buy that justification, but those who want to do business with you will feign credulity. This is what Russia does with its help for the Iranian „space program“. But even with those missiles whose military application is undeniable, you can count on help. They can share test results, as Iran and North Korea are doing, reducing development costs and risks.
When choosing the warhead design, you should be conservative. Buy a CD-ROM with plans for older Chinese or Pakistani warheads. They’ve been around for a while and aren’t hard to come by. Of course, after you’ve built your weapon, you’ll want to test it. Of course, you could also choose a design that doesn’t need to be tested, like the first American atomic bomb in 1945. But if you want something a little more modern, you have to be more creative. The old trick of allowing „peaceful nuclear explosions“ that India used in 1974 no longer works. Nobody will believe that you want to use nuclear means to dig a canal or blow up a mountain. But if you’re lucky, there’s another nation that, regardless of world opinion, is still testing „properly“ and allowing you to bring your experts and gauges to the big event. North Korea has made a lot of foreign exchange this way. Or you can have your weapons tested by another country. South Africa did this for Israel, China tested for Pakistan. Finally, there is the „cold“ test, where you leave out the fissile material. That way you can at least be sure that your warheads will work in an emergency.
Becoming a nuclear power takes decades. So how do you have to behave while you covertly work on your military program? The basic rule is of course: keep the ball low and don’t draw attention. This also applies to the review conferences of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is not offensive when you join the chorus of those who ritually denounce the nuclear powers or when you call for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in your neighborhood. But leave the loudest performances to the other countries. There are enough diplomats who would do anything to give the arrogant nuclear powers a proper opinion. Better not get involved in such antics. And should the UN Security Council pass a (non-binding) resolution for a world free of nuclear weapons, stop your laughter and just vote for it. Despite everything, sooner or later you will be caught out. Whether it’s by American satellites, as in North Korea, a defector from your own ranks, as in Iraq, or even by a local human rights group, as in Iran, one way or another your secret will be exposed. Gone stupid. You are still years away from your goal of becoming a nuclear power and suddenly you are in the pillory. What now? Give up? Write off your billion dollar investments? Not necessary. You can still achieve your goal.
The first step: Deny everything. This will give you many months of time, because the international community will have great difficulty finding a common line. When the evidence becomes overwhelming, admit wrongdoing and promise to cooperate fully with the IAEA from now on. You don’t have to keep this promise, because the Viennese authorities don’t have enough authority to really mend your stuff. Whatever you say, never admit that nuclear weapons are your concern. If you are a Muslim country, obtain a fatwa from a willing imam proving that nuclear weapons are incompatible with Islam. It’s true that none of your fellow Muslim countries will buy that, but some in the West will. And complain loudly about the Israeli nuclear program, which the West has tacitly tolerated. That looks good in the Arab world. But don’t deny the Holocaust, or you’ll spoil things even with many of your sympathizers. Most importantly, insist on your “inalienable right” to the peaceful use of nuclear energy as enshrined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Blame the nuclear powers for trying to monopolize the political and economic benefits of nuclear power. This is particularly well received in the Third World and in the Non-Aligned Movement. Threats of withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, on the other hand, are less advisable. This will only draw unnecessary public attention to you.
If your nuclear program becomes the subject of international negotiations before you reach weapons capability, you’ll have to buy time. Make concessions. Pull them back again. Offer them again etc. etc. Keep insisting on your right to enrichment – even if the UN Security Council has long since stripped you of this right. You hardly have to fear harsh sanctions, given the rivalries among the members of the Security Council. And if you are lucky enough to have large oil and gas reserves, then the sanctions will likely remain soft. Because the economic and energy policy interests of some members of the Security Council will ensure that these countries do not treat you too harshly. After all, you are a sought-after business partner.
But help also comes from other directions. The IAEA, for example, will be divided. Some will argue that a nuclear watchdog must also bite, and thus call for hard measures. On the other hand, those who see the IAEA as an authority for the improvement of the world will openly or secretly sympathize with you despite all your misconduct and will prevent any unequivocal statements about your program. And a large part of the non-proliferation experts from the numerous think tanks around the world will argue in your favor. After lengthy weighing of all the facts, these experts will come to the conclusion that the US is actually responsible for the misery. On the other hand, they will be more lenient towards you. They will be content to state that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. By now you will be under such strict international scrutiny that you will no longer be able to buy anything in the international market.
But that doesn’t matter. Because you now have everything you need. Time is on your side. Don’t lose your nerve now. Don’t argue that you need nuclear weapons because your neighbors have them. Instead, never tire of emphasizing the capabilities of your conventional forces. Otherwise, your neighbors may be tempted to take out your program with a pre-emptive military strike, as Israel did with Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. If you follow this advice, you are almost guaranteed success. The only question you would then have to resolve is how you intend to announce your breakthrough to nuclear power. Do you prefer to remain a „virtual nuclear power“ or would you like to announce your rise to the nuclear club with a hearty nuclear test? But that’s really up to you to decide! So now you have used up billions of dollars and a lot of political capital. You are largely isolated politically. Your neighbors hate you even more now than before. And the number of American forces on your doorstep has even increased. Does it all add up to a net gain? Well, maybe not quite to the profit you had hoped for when you once embarked on the arduous endeavor. But who ever said being a nuclear power was easy?