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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

 State Information Service(SIS)
Ministry of Information (MOI)
  Arab Republic of Egypt

Letter from Cairo

No.201
June 7 - June 10, 1998


A Time to Dare

    In the aftermath of the nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan, analysts have revealed possible new dimensions of future cooperation in nuclear research. Cooperation between India and Israel in nuclear research has been mentioned in several reports, which go so far as to hint that certain of India's tests were conducted on Israel's account. The two countries are said to have been cooperating for some time in the military domain, particularly in the production of nuclear weapons.

    Exaggerated reports of Israeli warplanes on alert at Indian air bases, waiting for the signal to strike at Pakistan's nuclear reactors, aside, there is no doubt that nuclear weapons technology has proliferated enormously in recent years. There were reports, not so long ago, that China had obtained nuclear secrets from Israel, while Israel has expressed fears that nuclear technology may have leaked to hostile regimes such as Iran or Iraq.

    Military relations between India and Israel have flourished in recent years. It is no secret that the two countries have concluded military agreements which developed into assistance to India to improve and upgrade its MIG-21 warplanes, and to establish a tight air defense system.

    The Jerusalem Post recently noted that Israel was not one of the states condemning the Indian nuclear tests, and had taken no steps to reduce its military cooperation with India. In fact, the new Indian government has asserted its intention to establish solid relations with Israel, emulating ties between Israel and Turkey. It has also denied the existence of any political hurdles to its cooperation in arms production with Israel, the development of satellites or the strengthening of intelligence exchanges. Israel's only fear, following the Indian tests and the beginning of a nuclear arms race in Asia, according to the newspaper, is the possibility of US intervention to disrupt such cooperation between the two countries, as part of the package of sanctions imposed on India.

    Pakistan's entry into the nuclear balance of power and the success of its latest nuclear test [is certainly a new development on the international scene]. In consequence, India may be driven to expand its cooperation with Israel to new areas, in a bid to address what it calls the "fundamentalist nuclear threat" from the Middle East. The strategic talks conducted by the commander-in-chief of the Indian Armed Forces during his March 1998 visit to Tel Aviv, however, may have helped identify the nature of the common threats and gains anticipated by the two countries in the wake of the latest developments, and of the phenomenal nuclear success attained by other Middle Eastern states. Though the states said to have achieved such success were not specifically identified, the Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post implies they are Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Syria.

    Israel still adheres to its policy of "nuclear ambiguity as a means of deterrence". Unlike India and Pakistan, Israel conceals its nuclear potential, and refrains from shows of nuclear prowess, reserving its nuclear might for such time as it will prove useful. On the ground, it is clear that Israel has gone a long way, though just how far is uncertain, toward forming military axes with countries like Turkey and India, which entertain less than cordial relations with Arab or Islamic countries.

    Whatever role Israel may be playing in all these developments, which threaten to catch Egypt, the Arab region and the Middle East in the heat of a nuclear conflict, the latest developments compel the entire Arab region to reconsider the collective nonchalance that has dominated our approach to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We can no longer afford to be negative on this matter: we must take more decisive and daring positions. Calling for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East is no longer enough.

By: Salama A. Salama - Al Ahram Weekly


A Nuclear Boost

    A major goal of the Egyptian government is an ambitious annual economic growth rate of seven per cent. According to a study by Dr. Ismail Sabri Abdallah, former Minister of Planning, the only way to substantially improve the status of the Egyptian economy is through an increase in the production of internationally competitive manufactured goods. The rationale of this option is that, due to modern production techniques, raw materials often count for less than 10 per cent of the final price by the end consumer.

    Any steady and significant economic growth will result in an increase in the demand on available energy (particularly electricity) and water. Estimates of electricity generated by 2017 vary between 88 and 225 Twh (million kilowatt hours) as against 46 Twh in 1994-95. The corresponding annual demand for potable water varies between 5 and 10 billion cubic meters, as compared with a present consumption volume of 4 billion cubic meters. Because of political constraints on developing a natural supply of fresh water, the use of desalination technology will increase over the years. This will require energy: electricity and/or heat.

    Because primary energy resources are limited in Egypt, and because of economic restrictions on the large-scale use of solar and wind energies, nuclear energy must play an important role in providing for future energy needs, ensuring the diversity of sources of energy, and saving fossil fuels (oil and natural gas) for future generations to use, mainly in chemical industries. Nuclear power plants could play an important role in meeting Egypt's expanding energy needs.

    Nuclear power plants, however, are not only an alternative energy source. They could serve in Egypt as a vehicle for development. The spill-over and spin-off effects could provide energy to the entire manufacturing sector of Egyptian industry, playing a role similar to that of the High Dam in the 1950s.

    To most Egyptians, the High Dam is not just the colossal engineering project that tamed the Nile and saved the country from famine during the drought of 1981-1988, Rather, it symbolizes the possibility of self-determination, resistance to Western domination, and the ability to build a modern, free country.

    In the case of Egypt, it is important to combine development plans and projects with inspiration. The implementation of the Egyptian nuclear power program has always been resisted by the US. In an astonishing echo of the World Bank's attitude towards the construction of the High Dam in the 1950s, EXIM Bank, a US firm, issued a statement in 1985 declaring Egypt bankrupt and warning against any extension of credit to finance the project.

    In the mid-1970s, however, the US had promised to provide Egypt with eight nuclear power plants and the necessary cooperation agreements were signed. In the late 1970s, the US unilaterally decided to revise the bilateral agreements and introduce new conditions that were unacceptable to the Egyptian government. As a result, the decision was taken to ratify the NPT, with one goal in mind - the implementation of a nuclear power program.

    A political decision to revive the Egyptian nuclear program, in light of the above and other challenges, will be similar to President Nasser's decision to nationalize the Suez Canal. It will revive the spirit and the feelings of national pride which would provide the basis of popular support for the development plans and the sacrifices that may be required.

    The introduction of nuclear power and nuclear technology will place specific new burdens on the county's infrastructure and require long-term national commitments involving substantial efforts. Only a long-term program could justify the effort required to plan and implement infrastructural development and the necessary organizational structures and activities.

    A nuclear power project must entail national participation. The plant must be built, the equipment and components installed and tested, and the plant must operate and be maintained within the country. Construction firms are a basic requirement, as are operation and maintenance capabilities. Advantage should also be taken of the many technological and social demands on the industrial infrastructure. Advanced technology is involved, which in turn is usually dependent on technology transfer from foreign suppliers; very strict safety and reliability standards must be met; cost should be kept reasonably competitive. The requirements are manifold. Therefore, Egyptian industry will have to improve its capabilities. This means upgrading quality assurance and control, acquiring new technology, installing additional equipment and changing methods and procedures. In the long run, these measures will prevent excessive dependence on foreign sources of supply, enhance the quality of Egyptian products, and hence create export opportunities.

    Beside nuclear power's potential role in mobilization and modernization, its role in enhancing Egyptian national security should not be neglected.

    The only country in the Middle East which uses advanced nuclear technology for military purposes is Israel. Because it is not a party to the NPT. Israel can continue to develop its nuclear arsenal without fear of international reprisals. Moreover, because of its special relationship with the US, Israel is almost the only country in the region able to apply advanced military science to computer and space technology as well as communications. This could pose a major threat to Egyptian national security. The introduction of nuclear power plants could help counterbalance this threat.

    The peaceful utilization of nuclear energy is different from, and does not necessarily lead to, its military application. Furthermore, the nuclear safeguard system applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency makes clandestine diversion of nuclear material from nuclear installations very difficult. A mastery of nuclear technologies, however, cannot be reversed or compartmentalized; under certain conditions, it could facilitate the production of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons can always be developed when there is a political will. This could be the reason for US and Israeli resistance to the introduction of nuclear power plants in Egypt.

    It is time to revive the Egyptian nuclear program and to declare a strong governmental commitment to a clearly formulated, long-term policy for the deployment of important national resources. The long-term aspect is particularly important in creating the confidence necessary to attract investment and industrial support.

By: Mounir Megahed- Edited from Al Ahram Weekly




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