3 Proliferation networks in theory and practice

Abstract

The discovery of the A.Q. Khan proliferation network has sparked inquiry into the roles of clandestine transactions in the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their delivery systems. Although the scale of Khan’s operation is perhaps greater than that of previous networks, such networks (clandestine or not) are hardly new. Is the A.Q. Khan network unique among clandestine proliferation networks? How easily can it be fragmented, taken apart, and shut down? Will it regenerate or be reproduced by parallel networks? Despite the impressive scale of Khan’s operation, its structure as a proliferation network is not unique. Very little has been written about why proliferation networks look the way they do. Like the demand-side question of why states seek weapons, the supply-side question of how states try to obtain needed materials is affected by efforts of powerful actors to limit access to nuclear technologies. Assessing these efforts, however, requires some knowledge of the structure of proliferation networks. Without taking this structure into account, efforts to limit network structures can be useless, or even counterproductive, if shutting down one supplier only results in others taking its place. This chapter incorporates theories from transaction-cost economics and network analysis to explain the general structure of proliferation transactions as markets, networks, or hierarchies. It also explores theories accounting for why particular network ties are formed. After exploring a few proliferation structures to see which mechanisms seem to dominate transactions, the chapter concludes by briefly outlining some policy implications produced by the emergence of proliferation markets.

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