Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January 10, 1983, Page 7

Book Review

Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East: Implications for the Superpowers

By Roger F. Pajak, Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1982. 117 pp. $4.50 (paperback)

Reviewed by Anthony H. Cordesman

Nuclear proliferation is not an easy subject. Much of the technology involved is classified, as are most of the details of the trade in nuclear materials and weapons components. Most of the literature has a heavy arms control bias and ignores the military reasons why nations proliferate, the interaction between nuclear and conventional forces, and the military strategy and tactics involved. Estimates of the rate of proliferation are notoriously bad: being an expert on the subject requires publishing at least one table which grossly overestimates the rate of proliferation and the seriousness of the problem.

Proliferation in the Middle East is an even more difficult subject. Like most aspects of Middle East politics, there is an anti-Israeli school and an anti-Arab school. The anti-Israeli school uses Israel's acquisition of a nuclear capability to drag out every convenient rumor of Israeli espionage and recklessness. The anti-Arab school has every nation in the Arab world cooperating on an "Islamic bomb," and often throws in most of Europe for good measure.

Scholarly Primer

Roger Pajak threads his way through this analytic and political morass with great skill. The result is a solid scholarly primer which covers the technology of proliferation, the arms control policy of the superpowers, the actions of key nations in the Middle East, and possible measures to prevent proliferation. In fact, the great strength of Dr. Pajak's book is that it carefully avoids taking any position on politics and is extremely selective in its choice of source material. The reader can count on an introduction to the problem that keeps its subject in perspective, provides most of the background to the problem, and avoids the amount of rumormongering that colors many treatments of proliferation.

At the same time, the book is a primer rather than a full analysis. This is no reflection on Dr. Pajak, who obviously has great expertise in the area, but the reader should be aware that the distribution statement in the front cover that states "cleared for public release" seems to mean that the author had to be careful to steer away from classified and sensitive issues. This leads to a number of major omissions or areas which receive passing mention rather than real analysis.

For example, there is no discussion of the indications of Soviet willingness to provide nuclear reinforcement at the end of the October War. Israel's possible acquisition of 200-400 pounds of U.S. nuclear material from a plant in Apollo, Pennsylvania, is discussed in three sentences as an unconfirmed report, and. no real discussion is provided of the internal debates in Israel over the role of nuclear weapons in Israeli strategy. The details of the Egyptian nuclear weapons and missile program, and particularly the fiasco under Nasser, are not discussed.

Iraq is treated in limited detail and largely from the perspective of why Israel attacked its reactor, rather than in the form of a full analysis of Iraqi motives and actors and the role of France and Italy. Pakistan is discussed solely as an Islamic and Middle Eastern Power to the point where the interaction between Pakistan's actions—and those of India is omitted. This means the reader must go to far less scholarly works such as The Islamic Bomb to develop a full perspective on developments in the Middle East.

Unanswered Questions

The final chapters of the book present a problem endemic to arms control literature. They focus almost entirely on how to prevent proliferation in the Middle East and say nothing about what will happen if current trends continue or if proliferation takes place. They give no feel for alternative futures and assume that proliferation is destabilizing or dangerous without considering whether a stable balance of deterrence might be created in the region or whether any set of agreements can represent more than political commitments, as the technology and materials for weapons production become steadily more available during the next quarter century.

I suspect that the real proliferation issue in the Middle East is how it will proliferate and not whether it will proliferate. In the short term, this raises the issue of how India and the Soviet Union will treat Pakistan, and whether Israel's potential nuclear capability will be used to help secure a peace or annexation of the occupied territories. In the long run, the issue is whether overt proliferation will occur throughout the region, or nations will be content to stay at the "kit" state—where they have the technology or material for weapons but do not openly deploy nuclear weapons.

Dr. Pajak is almost certainly right in stressing the importance of trying to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, but the end result seems likely to be delay and not prevention. We are almost certainly going to have to live with a growing nuclear dimension in the Middle East military balance. 


Anthony H. Cordesman is International Policy Editor of the Armed Forces Journal.

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