Book Review: “The Nuclear Jihadist”

Jeff Koopersmith reviews an important new book about one of the most dangerous men alive – and finds far more of interest within than the mere biography and exploits of Dr. A.Q. Khan.

The Nuclear Jihadist
By Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins
Hachette Book Group, 2007

Oct. 23, 2007 – Geneva ( – Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins offer "The Nuclear Jihadist," the story of Dr. A.Q. Khan, who might be called the father of 21st Century nuclear weapons proliferation and – although out of commission and held under close house arrest today " his legacy, born in Pakistan and possibly still spreading around the globe.

The history of Khan's growth from student to mega-millionaire nuclear arms dealer is in itself compelling, but this reader was far more interested in the impact Khan had on others, including European and American companies who chose to break the law and provide him, and later his "clients," with not only the requisite and costly parts needed to prepare for the assembly and delivery of a nuclear weapon, but also plans for the warheads – which may already be strewn about the third world in the "things to do" basket of man's worst offspring.

Make no mistake, while American spies and others were concerned about Mr. Khan far earlier than we've been told, policymakers on both sides of the aisle were concentrating more on mollifying Pakistan than in what Pakistan might be delivering to the rest of the world – especially Islamic governments, in particular Iran and Libya.  

Even though Khan is now closely guarded, at least supposedly, our great friend – still Mr. and General Musharraf – was diligent in aiding Khan to perfect Pakistan's atomic bombs and was also agreeable to turn a blind eye to what Khan was doing with Iran, North Korea, and with Libyan strongman Muammar Khadafi.

As it turns out, Libya has chosen, at least publicly, to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons – although it still maintains the ability to gain them: the plans, the knowledge of where to go for equipment, and the fact that if Khan could do it, so can any nation with at least a modicum of scientific talent and moxy.

More interesting in "The Nuclear Jihadist" is the authors' focus on Iran.

To read this book one cannot escape the conclusion that Iran is certainly on its way toward nuclear weaponry that can be delivered atop Iranian missiles anywhere in the Middle East and most of Europe.

The authors may miss one important point, however: many believe the threat of nuclear war is merely a tactic used by governments to better control their own populations. That argument goes, "What kind of madman would it take to unleash an international nuclear conflict?" Even the Russians never produced a leader insane enough to actually use "the bomb." Of course, we in the West automatically assume that Iran is run by madmen obsessed by an extremist misinterpretation of the Koran and a lust to acquire a nuclear device for "Islam" and to use it.

I think it was Marshall McLuhan who told us that if governments were serious about nuclear war, they would put missile silos in shopping centers.

The most important information in this fine account by Frantz and Collins is one demonstrating how easily one nation or another can acquire the tools necessary to build nuclear weapons capable of killing hundreds of thousands of non-combatants in one go.

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