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A.Q. Khan, ‘Death of A Princess,’ and Angry Letters

16 Apr

Some things that you find in archives are just downright odd. One curious find that, in the end, did not make it into my thesis was a rambling letter in tiny script that I found in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office records at The National Archives, Kew. This letter was written by none other than Abdul Qadeer ‘A.Q.’ Khan, probably the most famous nuclear proliferator of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

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Thatcher, Begin, and the “Islamic Bomb”

29 Aug

As part of the research process, you often find interesting little snippets that, while not hugely significant themselves, form part of something bigger. On May 17, 1979, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin wrote a short letter to newly installed British leader Margaret Thatcher. His letter formed part of a wider popular outburst centred around the idea of an “Islamic bomb.” Although the idea of an “Islamic bomb” – an imagined nuclear weapon that transcends state boundaries and spans a transnational religious community – had come up in previous years, it was only in 1979 that the issue really burst into the consciousness of policymakers and the public.

The concept was founded in the rhetoric surrounding the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. Indeed, it was the two markedly different Pakistani leaders Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohammed Zia ul-Haq who gave birth to the idea. But it was the Western (and to a lesser extent, Indian) media that really gave life to the notion that one Muslim state would automatically share the fruits of its nuclear labours with other Muslim states.

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HOTCUS 2013

20 Jan

Has it really been that long since the last post? It appears it has. Regardless, new year, new regime. Things are no less busy, but hopefully I’ll find time to post more over the coming year.

Once again I’ll be giving a paper at the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States Conference. This time it takes place at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle. Last year, my paper was focussed on a very tight time period. This year, I’ve chosen to go a little bit broader and also address some of the wider themes of my doctoral thesis. Full paper outline after the jump.

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Confronting the Conspiratorial

1 Mar

I never imagined when I started this Ph.D that would have to confront conspiracy theory as part of the project. Just goes to show how much I know. Not that my topic area involves any of the big conspiracy theories: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Kennedy assassination, or allegedly faked moon landings to name but three of the most widespread and popular.

The condensed version of the theory that impinges on my research goes like this: Western governments (mainly the U.S. and to a lesser extent the UK) willfully looked the other way when it came to the Pakistani nuclear programme and in some cases actively encouraged nuclear proliferation amongst states that would become (or were) enemies of those self same Western nations.

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Why Should You Be Interested In Nuclear History?

23 Jan

There is a degree of arrogance involved in publishing your thoughts at random on the internet. A vain assumption that there are people out there who will be interested in what you have to say (and as an aside: hello and welcome to both of you!) This is perhaps even more apparent when you are dealing with the obscurities and super-specific geekiness of academic history. One reason for this particular blog is the hope that it might interest an audience outside of what is often called ‘the academy.’

That leads into the main question: why in heavens name should you be interested in nuclear history? I for one am not going to pretend that I have all – or even a minority of – the answers to this question. But, I’m enough of a bloviator to think that I might be able to stumble towards a few basic thoughts on the matter.

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HOTCUS Conference 2012

21 Dec

The other day I received notification from the organising committee of the 2012 Historians of the Twentieth Century United States (HOTCUS) conference that my paper proposal had been accepted. My intention is to discuss US-UK motivations towards the Pakistani nuclear issue in 1978-79, looking a how ideas of democracy, civilisation, and religion influenced their stances alongside the more traditional geopolitical and Realist conceptions of international relations. Here’s the abstract:

During 1978 and into 1979 it became apparent to Western observers that Pakistan was engaging in covert efforts to produce the raw material for nuclear weapons. In light of this, the United States and United Kingdom jointly engaged in diplomatic strategies aimed at curbing the emergent Pakistani nuclear programme. Using recently declassified and previously unseen sources from both sides of the Atlantic, this paper argues that US-UK cooperation in the (ultimately fruitless) attempt to prevent Pakistani development of nuclear weapons capability was far closer and more involved than traditionally suggested.

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The Subtle Art of the Demarche

16 Dec

I meant to post about this ages ago, when the documents were first released, but other stuff got in the way as usual. However, this is so interesting that I had to talk about it at some point.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University continues its excellent work in obtaining the release of previously classified nuclear documentation with this recent set of diplomatic messages.(1) They highlight the efforts of the United States in trying to restrain Pakistani nuclear ambitions while concurrently attempting to achieve other – often conflicting – foreign policy objectives.

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