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The Nuclear Gift That Keeps on Giving

The Arab revolutions have overthrown autocrats, but whether they bring democracy, theocracy, or simply a new face to military dictatorship remains an open question. The only certainty is uncertainty. Against the backdrop of this revolutionary upheaval, it is time the Obama administration revisit one of the George W. Bush administration’s more misguided initiatives: the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). In 2006, the State Department announced that the program was designed “to envision a future where we can bring the benefits of nuclear power to the developing world.” Amongst those developing countries to which the Departments of State and Energy sought to transfer nuclear technology were Egypt and Yemen.

The logic behind GNEP transfers was that provision of “safe” nuclear technology might tie these countries to the United States and make their energy programs reliant on proliferation-proof technologies. The problem was, however, that proliferation experts did not agree that the technology supplied was proliferation-proof, only proliferation-resistant. When I attended a small group discussion with Hosni Mubarak’s son and presumed successor Gamal Mubarak in 2006, he said, literally with a wink, that Egypt sought to have a civilian nuclear energy program “just like Iran.”

In 2008, Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman met Hosni Mubarak to trumpet Egypt’s GNEP participation. Partners, observers, and invitees include Bahrain, Jordan, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Congress has dragged its feet on funding GNEP but hasn’t eliminated funding all together. Perhaps the Republicans are waiting to be in the majority in the House of Representatives?  Nor has the Obama administration abandoned its own efforts to supply these regimes with nuclear material. Perhaps the lesson of the 2011 revolutions is that it is never wise to encourage nuclear development in any dictatorship or radical state. Then again, if Obama’s intelligence chief believes the Muslim Brotherhood is a secular organization, why not give the group that spawned Hamas and al-Qaeda nuclear technology, and at American taxpayer expense no less?


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