Joshua PollackAQ Khan and India: So What?

In a postscript of sorts to a recent debate in Australia over the supply of uranium to India, blogger and political scientist NAJ Taylor approvingly cites my recent article on the A.Q. Khan network and its fourth customer, and draws a rather strong conclusion:

In a large part, Pollack has assembled evidence that makes public what may already be known to investigators – although Pollack’s article was a public act which may prompt AQ Khan to be further, and more significantly, punished outside of the presidential amnesty which he was conditionally granted.

It also takes India’s involvement in the network to a level where – if it is to be believed – she must no longer be trusted.

Australia in particular, along with the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, must review recent decisions to positively discriminate in order to permit nuclear dealings with India. This is because it would be unsatisfactory for India to have acquired its civilian and military nuclear capability through clandestine networks such as AQ Khan’s.

An yet even if there does remain some doubt, surely continued nuclear cooperation with a state that defiantly remains outside of the world’s peak nuclear nonproliferation instruments becomes untenable.

Read the whole thing.

Now, far be it from me to imagine that an article in a glossy magazine — an oh-so-not-safe-for-work glossy magazine! — could overturn India’s NSG exemption. (Cut to Jeffrey’s other imagined scenes.) But there is a moral to the story. When I set out to write, what I really had in mind was to tell a juicy detective story, full of psychological interest, which is why it appeared in Playboy and not in the Nonproliferation Review or the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, as good and important as they are. Yet there are, inescapably, serious implications to the illicit transfer of sensitive nuclear technology.

Next Monday, January 23rd, I’ll be giving a talk on the A.Q. Khan network and its fourth customer with George Perkovich at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, DC. Not only is this event an opportunity to present evidence that space constraints kept out of the final, published version of the article and to bring the story up to date, but it will turn the conversation to the policy side.

The details are here. Registration is already closed, but if you’d still like to attend, try asking the organizers nicely.


  1. Jeff (History)


    Do you know if your talk is going to be webcast? If so, do you happen to have the link.

    Thanks for the post.


  2. joshua (History)

    It should appear at within a day or two of the event.

  3. Abi (History)

    “The details of these advertisements, along with documents the Indians gave potential suppliers, provide strong clues about where New Delhi’s supercritical centrifuge technology came from. Despite some changes, the design is recognizable to the trained eye: ” – appeal to authority. No source. Nothing.

    The Wisser stuff could have been compelling, but the absence of any corroborating evidence (hell, just list the bloody page on the biography or something) makes this just provocative speculation.

    • joshua (History)

      This may come as a surprise, but Playboy does not publish footnotes. Rest assured that there will be a footnoted version in due course.

  4. Sukhjinder (History)

    what an insanity, no matter what you guys want to overturn the NSG exemption for India. this forum is nothing but a radical organization , something similar to the taliban like mentality and dangerous offcourse.
    you guys are looking for excuses brand India as prolifiration risk. but the good thing no one listens to you guys anymore. the more you guys rant about india the more radical you appear.

    • joshua (History)

      Good thing nobody comments here, either.

  5. Tom (History)

    Great work, Josh.
    Further on India, the US, and the negotiations leading to the NSG exemption:
    As you mentioned, there already exist a few rather detailed accounts published in recent years (eg. Albright’s work) about how India chose to deal with illicit networks in order to procure technology for its uranium enrichment program. And what Albright knew back in 2006, certainly must have been known to US officials, too.
    So, at a time when US agencies and the brave analysts at the IAEA worked hard to understand the Khan-network and unravel what was left of it, there were these negotiations going on between the governments of the US and India about a “Civil Nuclear Agreement”.
    My question: Do you know if, during these negotiations, anyone on the American side ever asked their Indian counterparts to support the fight against illicit nuclear trade by sharing some of their (first-hand) knowledge on the workings of clandestine procurement networks? As a “gesture of good-will” maybe?
    Or, later, did any of the parties concerned bring this up during the process leading to the NSG exemption?

    • joshua (History)

      Tom, thanks for the kind words. I assume that the Albright/Basu ISIS analyses were widely read, but really don’t know anything about the state of knowledge inside the USG about India’s sources of technology ca. 2006, or earlier, or later.

  6. justin (History)

    Tom raises this, but it makes sense that the US would want to strike deals with India that give it access to what it got from Khan. What Libya gave up (maybe) was used to create Stuxnet. The deal for india is quite appealing: “we’ll let you off the hook for using the nuclear black market and help shield you from the next wave of electronic sabotage if you let us have a look at what you bought”

    Info gleaned from a deal with India might be helpful when working against North Korea or (perhaps eventually) Pakistan.

  7. Jens (History)


    I have just some questions…

    Is it possible that nuclear technology that was transferred by the Khan network to India got its way to other countries?

    Do we know something about other items (like missile related items) that were illegally sold to India (I am no MTCR expert, so I don’t know what would constitute an illegal trade to India)?


    • joshua (History)

      The ISIS reports of 2006 through 2008 on India’s centrifuge procurements expressed concern that design information could easily have leaked out because of the careless way that the Indians distributed it to potential suppliers. Beyond that, I don’t know.

      As for the MTCR, it consists of voluntary guidelines, so MTCR violations are not, strictly speaking, a legal issue. That doesn’t mean that all procurement efforts everywhere for the missile and space programs have been legal, of course.

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