This IISS Strategic Dossier on nuclear black markets provides a comprehensive assessment of the Pakistani nuclear programme from which the Khan network emerged, the network’s proliferation activities, and the illicit trade in fissile materials.

The arrest and public confession of Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan in 2004 confirmed the existence of a global proliferation network which had, over almost two decades, provided nuclear technology, expertise, and designs to Iran, North Korea, Libya and possibly other countries. Khan was not the only nuclear arms merchant and Pakistan was not the only country implicated in his shadowy network. It spanned three continents and eluded both national and international systems of export controls that had been designed to prevent illicit trade. The discovery of the network highlighted concerns that nuclear technology is no longer the monopoly of industrially advanced countries, but possibly can be purchased off-the-shelf by both states and terrorist groups. The IISS Strategic Dossier on nuclear black markets provides a comprehensive assessment of the Pakistani nuclear programme from which the Khan network emerged, the network’s proliferation activities, and the illicit trade in fissile materials. In addition, the Strategic Dossier provides an overview of the clandestine nuclear procurement activities of other states, along with the efforts made both by Pakistan and the international community to prevent the reoccurrence of further proliferation networks and to secure nuclear technology. The final chapter assesses policy options for further action.

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  • Introduction

    On 31 January 2004, Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was arrested for his central role in the black market network that had sold Pakistani nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya and had offered the technology to Iraq and possibly other, as yet unknown, countries. After a televised confession on 4 February in which he claimed sole responsibility for his proliferation activities, Khan, who is revered as...
  • Chapter One: Pakistan's Nuclear Programme and Imports

    Pakistan’s nuclear programme began for purely peaceful purposes. Pakistan produced two power reactors to generate electricity, is currently constructing a third and is planning a fourth. All are, or will be, safeguarded against military diversion by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under Pakistan’s facility-specific INFCIRC/66 safeguards agreement. Like India, however, Pakistan has never accepted full-scope safeguards on its entire nuclear industry or signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the...
  • Chapter Two: Nuclear Black Markets: Other Countries and Networks

    Pakistan has not been the only country to utilise the private sector and exploit loopholes in export control regimes in order to further a nuclear programme. The black and grey markets in nuclear technology and expertise have existed for decades. However, they became more significant following India’s ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ in 1974, after which supplier nations began to impose more rigorous controls on nuclear commerce. Previously, the transfer of nuclear...
  • Chapter Three: A.Q. Khan and Onward Proliferation from Pakistan

    This chapter examines the known cases of nuclear exports undertaken by the A.Q. Khan network (and, in the case of North Korea, by Khan himself, independent of his foreign associates) and is intended to enable a fuller understanding of the involvement and responsibilities of each of the various actors at work: Khan, his foreign business partners and the relevant Pakistani authorities, military and civilian. After describing the conditions that allowed...
  • Chapter Four: The End of the A.Q. Khan Network

    At a regular weekly briefing on 2 May 2006, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to questions regarding the release a few days earlier of Dr Muhammad Farooq, a former director at Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) dealing with centrifuges, and the last of A.Q. Khan’s Pakistani associates to remain incarcerated. The spokesperson said that ‘as far as we are concerned this chapter is closed’.1 In other words, Farooq’s release – apparently...
  • Chapter Five: Pakistan’s Nuclear Oversight Reforms

    A.Q. Khan’s proliferation activities were not the only source of international concern about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. In October 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the standard of security requirements for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons became a matter of grave concern to the US. Early that month, Washington learned that two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashirudin Mahmood and Abdul Majid...
  • Chapter Six: Illicit Trafficking in Radioactive Materials

    The smuggling or illicit trafficking of fissile material is potentially more dangerous than the black market sale of nuclear technology. If states or non-state actors seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon were to obtain sufficient quantities of weapons-usable material, they could cut years off the difficult process of independently producing plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU). However, it is not known whether this has actually been done, and there is...
  • Chapter Seven: Global Efforts to Stop Illicit Nuclear Trade

    Revelations about the methods used by A.Q. Khan and his network to traffic nuclear technology served as a wake-up call for many nations, prompting them to support several new international initiatives to prevent proliferation. The resulting patchwork of legal tools and ad hoc mechanisms can be described as a multifaceted approach to enhance scrutiny and enforcement at each stage of potential proliferation. This chapter summarises the key multilateral and international...
  • Chapter Eight: Policy Options

    The policy aim underpinning this strategic dossier is to preclude nuclear black markets. Are concerned countries and international organisations doing all they can to stop the clandestine acquisition of nuclear technologies and materials for weapons purposes? The answer, unfortunately, is ‘no’. The nuclear black market has been constrained but not eradicated. The history of the non-proliferation regime has been a game of catch-up: regulators belatedly tighten controls after digesting the...
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Strategic Dossiers

Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A.Q. Khan and the rise of proliferation networks - A net assessment

An assessment of the Pakistani nuclear programme from which the Khan network emerged, the network’s proliferation activities, and the illicit trade in fissile materials.

Strategic Dossier Press

Nuclear Black Markets

A press release for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

A press statement for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

Strategic Dossiers

Harnessing the Institute's technical expertise to present detailed information on the key strategic issues.