Egyptian Nuclear Experiments: The Peter Principle

In an effort to placate Dr. Lewis, I am back to blog†at least until I go to Utah this weekend. Recalling that it’s easier to tear down something than to build it, I then had only to find a target … fortunately, the Heritage Foundation is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to nuttery. Today’s case in point is Peter Brookes’ “latest screed from today’s _New York Post_”: about a possible Egyptian nuclear weapons program.

In a nutshell, Brookes asserts†on the basis of almost no evidence†that Egypt could be pursuing a nuclear weapons program. He then says that Egyptian nucler weapons would have bad consequences.

I will concentrate on the first part, which, needless to say, is really, really, really weak. (Shameless plug … the upcoming issue of _Arms Control Today_ has an article I wrote about this.) My reaction to the second, which takes up about 2/3 of the piece, can be summarized as: “no shit.”

Brookes blows it right from the get-go. He says:

bq. As if North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs weren’t enough, now it seems Egypt may be pursuing the bomb as well.

bq. The evidence isn’t conclusive yet. But according to an initial International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) statement last week, several Egyptian scientists conducted unreported nuclear experiments over the past 30 years.

bq. [snip]

bq. Well, it turns out that Egypt forgot to mention some nuclear activities in its 1982 declaration. And it failed to inform the IAEA about some new work since then, too. Egypt denies violating the treaty, but the IAEA is analyzing environmental samplings from nuclear facilities near Cairo, looking for evidence of uranium enrichment or plutonium extraction.

A few relevant facts:

1. The public evidence shows that Cairo isn’t even close to being in the same league as Tehran and Pyongyang, despite what Brookes’ first sentence implies.

Details about the ongoing IAEA investigation in Egypt are from anonymous officials in press reports (AP broke the story in early November). As far as I know, the “IAEA statement” Brookes mentions does not exist. My interviews for _ACT_ generally support the press reports, but the IAEA has not made an authoritative statement.

The press reports and my sources in both Washington and Vienna say most, if not all, of Egypt’s nuclear experiments took place in the 1980s or 1990s. Obviously, any IAEA safeguards violations should be dealt with accordingly, but it’s not like anyone has found anything like a large-scale nuclear programs.

2. Egypt did have a nuclear weapons program in the past, which peaked in the 1960s. But by all accounts, it never advanced very far. Cairo’s efforts amounted to very little and the country never got anything approaching the ability to produce fissile material. NO ONE I spoke with seemed to think that there is any sort of serious nuclear weapons program.

3. IAEA DG Mohammed ElBaradei obliquely referred to the Egypt in his November 25 statement to the Board of Governors. He “wasn’t exactly sweating when he said”: that:

bq. … cases are surfacing, and will likely continue to surface, in which the Agency finds that States have not in the past fulfilled all of their reporting obligations. Most of these cases are failures that can normally be dealt with in the Agency´s annual Safeguards Implementation Report.

p=. ***

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_Is being this dumb like a sharp_
_shooting pain or just a dull ache_?

Then Brookes goes off the deep end:

bq. Nonproliferation: While some pooh-pooh the idea of an Egyptian nuclear program, it really isn’t that far-fetched. Pakistan’s rogue nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, is said to have been in contact with Egypt, and Cairo has had a long-standing ballistic missile relationship with nuclear-capable North Korea.

bq. Also, during a Sino-Egyptian summit two years ago, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak signed a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement with China. That same year, press reports indicated that China (also nuclear-capable) was helping Egypt mine uranium in the Sinai desert.

OK, I won’t insult your intelligence. Obviously any contacts with A.Q. Khan should be investigated along with any other procurement activities. However, “reports” — which ones? — of peaceful nuclear cooperation between China and Egypt prove precisely nothing, nor does the implied connection between missiles and nuclear weapons.

[Brookes probably means: Jacques Schuster, “Cairo Wants to Build Nuclear Bomb,” _Die Welt_, June 22 2002 (EUP-2002-06-21-000487). He should have checked out Mark Hibbs, “Claim Egypt Has Secret Program Unfounded, U.S. Tells Germany,” “_Nucleonics Week_ 43:28, July 11, 2002”: The official U.S. response was that the allegation “doesn’t make any sense.” This may explain why Babbling Brookes is no longer employed in the Pentagon. — _Jeffrey_]

Brookes then adds some policy prescriptions:

bq. Whatever the case, Washington must deal with Cairo carefully. Remember, Pakistan’s pursuit of nukes †and its subsequent isolation †ruined our post-Cold War relationship with the South Asian Muslim giant for years.

bq. And what was the result of our 1990s policies of isolating Pakistan?

bq. The first Muslim nuclear weapons state, and A.Q. Khan’s proliferation of nuclear knowledge to North Korea, Iran, Libya †and maybe even Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In addition, Pakistan’s pariah status brought Islamabad’s support for the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan, and the festering of international terrorism, culminating in the horrors of 9/11. Preventing nuclear proliferation is tough business. Let’s hope we do better with Egypt.

Brookes never explains why isolation was responsible for Khan selling nuclear technology to other countries. My own feeling is that Khan was keen to do that regardless of our “isolation” of Islamabad. Also, Pakistan’s alliance with Islamic extremists in Afghanistan has a lot more to do with the U.S. – sponsored proxy war during the 1980s and Washington’s subsequent neglect of Afghanistan.

But his point is that the US is better off engaging with problem countries in order to further our national security interests. Does that mean he’s willing to support direct negotiations with North Korea and greater engagement with Iran? Somehow, I doubt it.

_Update_: “Michael Roston tooled on Brookes earlier today”:, but I didn’t see it until now.

_Editor’s Note_: A decent sumary of Egypt’s nuclear programs, past and present is Barbara M. Gregory, “Egypt’s Nuclear Program: Assessing Supplier-Based And Other Developmental Constraints,” “_Nonproliferation Review_ 3:1, Fall 1995, pp.20-27”:

_Note from Paul_: A better one is found in Robert Einhorn’s chapter in “_The Nuclear Tipping Point_”:

1 thought on “Egyptian Nuclear Experiments: The Peter Principle

  1. Michael Roston

    I think it’s Chuck D. and Flava Flav who said it best:

    Here’s a letter to the New York Post
    Ain’t worth the paper it’s printed on
    Founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton
    That is 190 years continuous of fucked up news


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