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Are nuclear weapons safe in Pakistan?
November 10, 2009 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Defending the Arsenal: In an unstable Pakistan, can nuclear warheads be kept safe?
posted by homunculus (21 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Short answer: nope.
posted by GuyZero at 10:59 AM on November 10, 2009


Safe how?
Obama is correct that the nukes are safe from militant hands in that they're not going to bust into a facility and get a usable nuke.
But - picture the Dominionists in the U.S. successfully infiltrating and subverting not only the military but civil society. Fait accompli. The nukes are theirs, technically, without firing a shot, busting into a facility, anything like that. They just have to wait, consolidate power, gain rank and influence as they've been doing. Not much the rank and file could do about it really.
Sure Delta, the SEALs, etc. are all swell like the Pakistani special forces, but if Joe Nutjob is in charge on the civilian side and Joe Crazy is a General - not a lot they can do short of a coup. And that's a new can of worms. And you still have to secure the nukes, perhaps from the very men sitting on them who answer to Gen. Crazy.
(Not that that could happen here, we're entirely too stable and broad and silly with civilian control, for now anyway, especially compared to Pakistan)

So Hoodbhoy is entirely correct that they're only as 'safe' as the people handling them. Easy enough for radical elements to play the same game they're playing now. Put up a respectable front and slide the goods backdoor to the extremists and have plausible deniability when something very bad happens. I'd posit that the terrorist attacks on/near the nuke sites are, if not just a pretext, at least doing double duty as an excuse for having a nuke missing. There are safeguards on them. It's highly doubtful that an unskilled outfit could make any real use of them without the proper triggers/codes/etc.

And Pakistan is finding, like most countries, that the nukes become an albatross around your neck if you decide to hinge your deterrence to invasion on them rather than conventional forces.
(Apt analysis by the "retired senior Pakistani intelligence officer" on that - but I disagree with Gen. Hamid Gul, the Russians would side with the U.S., although yeah, the Chinese, yeah, that'd be bad)

And this game we're playing hedging India as sort of a buffer... really dangerous.
The only real consolation is that corrupt thugs are easier to deal with than fanatics. Thugs, if push comes to shove, will cut a deal. Fanatics will still try to cut your throat even if it means cutting their own. Bit of a catch-22 there though. The thugs block any real progress towards stability and the fanatics will always have a cause as long as the thugs are in charge and corruption exists.
What's needed is minimal military profile (a U.N. law enforcement/IEA sort of thing) and overwhelming international support effort to ensure security at the India/Pakistan boarder, something really solid with vested interests of international parties written into the treaties so neither side gets paranoid and can get rid of the nukes and spend the money on more important stuff like feeding folks, getting them jobs all that, so the fanatics have zero ability to mobilize people (a steady job and a future tends to make people less antsy) and the region stabilizes.

Buuuut that ain't going to happen, so I'll just ride off on my new pony.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:34 AM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Better fire them all right away, just in case!
posted by Sys Rq at 11:59 AM on November 10, 2009


That was a pretty depressing read, in that there doesn't seem to be much way forward. Pakistani military are becoming more aligned with religious extremism (though fair criticism could be leveled at American military, too) but the air of bitter mistrust is scarier.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:20 PM on November 10, 2009


I read this article over the weekend, and the short answer is "no", because:

a) the US plans to safeguard or neutralize the warheads is based on transporting the trigger assemblies - for all 100 warheads - out of the country, and from an actuarial perspective it will be difficult to secure all of them

b) Americans are basing their knowledge on the location of the triggers on Pakistani intelligence, which is unreliable

c) it's generally assumed that the triggers are stored at a large base the size of Andrews Air Force Base; it might be tactically difficult to search this giant air force base for the triggers while being shot at by Pakistani security forces

d) and then there's all that other stuff about fundamentalist/Caliphate infiltration of the Pakistani military

On a brighter note, the article does point out that even though the elected Pakistani government is weak, the military has not moved in and taken power, indicating there is some desire on the part of the army to make things work.

As well, there is significant trust between India and Pakistan so that Pak is able to shift two divisions away from the Indo-Pak border to fight in tribal areas.

But at the end of the day, it seems likely Al Qaeda or some other group will probably get its hands on a nuke, and the entire Afghan adventure is the prime reason for instability in Pak.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:25 PM on November 10, 2009


Pakistan rejects unsecured nukes report
posted by homunculus at 12:41 PM on November 10, 2009


Heh, good old Seymour Hersh.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:10 PM on November 10, 2009


What's needed is minimal military profile (a U.N. law enforcement/IEA sort of thing) and overwhelming international support effort to ensure security at the India/Pakistan boarder

It's a nice thought, but I can think of few nations that would accept the loss of sovereignty that this would entail. Two countries that have been colonies in living memory, even less so.

Here's an article by a Pakistani published in an Indian magazine last week, opining that sovereignty is at the heart of much of how Pakistanis see India, in particular India's role in the secession of East Pakistan in 1971.

Some more light reading about 1971, from a US diplomacy/Chuck Yeager perspective.
posted by vanar sena at 1:35 PM on November 10, 2009


Researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University in Vancouver have launched a new research blog on Pakistan called the Pakistan Conflict Monitor. It’s only a few days old, but if its founders can maintain the level of quality they have started with, it will be very useful to journalists, analysts, and other Pakistan watchers—alongside, of course, the AfPak Channel. via
posted by semmi at 4:18 PM on November 10, 2009


How to read a Sy Hersh piece.
posted by shothotbot at 4:37 PM on November 10, 2009


Short answer: nope.

Uh, did you read the article? That's not really the short answer at all, which is that different people have different opinions. The Pakistanis seem to think their nukes are under their control, while those in the U.S. have worries, particularly about fundamentalists inside the military. The Indians think there are hard liners inside the military itself, but pretty much no one think the Taliban is going to grab them, which is an idiotic line spouted by no-nothing neocons who advocate greater involvement with "Af-Pak"
posted by delmoi at 5:12 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read this article over the weekend, and the short answer is "no", because:

The question isn't "are Pakistanis nukes under U.S. control" the answer to that is "why would they be?" The question is are the nukes going to fall into terrorist hands, which is pretty unlikely. Apparently some people in the U.S. think they would be vulnerable during the "reassembly" phase, but that's about it.
posted by delmoi at 5:15 PM on November 10, 2009


Not much the rank and file could do about it really.
Sure Delta, the SEALs, etc. are all swell like the Pakistani special forces, but if Joe Nutjob is in charge on the civilian side and Joe Crazy is a General - not a lot they can do short of a coup.


First of all, the Pakistani military can overthrow the civilian leadership whenever they like, and of course the military leadership can control their own promotion. The only reason they haven't overthrown Zardari is because the U.S. is so invested in him, being the husband of Benazer Bhutto and all. The Pakistani people are not, in general, going to vote for the Taliban, which is first and foremost a pashto nationalist movement.

asy enough for radical elements to play the same game they're playing now. Put up a respectable front and slide the goods backdoor to the extremists and have plausible deniability when something very bad happens.

What evidence is there that they are "playing that game"? Where is the "respectable front side"?

Blah, the whole idea
posted by delmoi at 5:21 PM on November 10, 2009


oops, the last line should have been removed.
posted by delmoi at 5:25 PM on November 10, 2009


MetaFilter: Blah, the whole idea.
posted by homunculus at 7:29 PM on November 10, 2009


“It's a nice thought, but I can think of few nations that would accept the loss of sovereignty that this would entail. Two countries that have been colonies in living memory, even less so.”

It’s got nothing to do with sovereignty. At least as far as my point is concerned. I’m not sure what you have in mind. What I’m speaking of is a structure of incentives and disincentives that guarantee security and greater prosperity locally in exchange for giving up a nuclear weapons programs and/disarming.
It worked for Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan (who had nukes after the fall of the Soviet Union) And Brazil. And Argentina. And South Africa.
Especially South Africa. The international community had a hand in changing their internal and external (security) circumstances and they saw the program as an unnecessary drain on their economy and military resources.
Argentina and Brazil switched from a militaristic society (government at least) to a more civilian controlled structure and saw less need for them.
Circumstances drive policy. The international community can address circumstances. Policy, you almost have to put a gun to someone’s head. Which is sort of what we’re choosing to do.
We stopped this “nyah nyah can’t hear you” B.S. with Iran on their program and – Wow – they’re actually willing to negotiate about nukes and not so fanatic as Bushco portrayed them.
We can address their security concerns, especially externally. And typically that kind of demilitarization of the economy has an effect on the domestic social sphere. Which leads to greater civilian control, typically. Which in the case of Iran would be a massive boon to the world. Probably take about 10 to 20 years. Could be 5 if Obama gets everyone on board. And suddenly you have less of a theocracy and more (and more) of a democracy. In the middle east. Without lots of shooting. Just a change of circumstances.

“First of all, the Pakistani military can overthrow the civilian leadership whenever they like, and of course the military leadership can control their own promotion.”
Good job reading the article and having any clue to the concept I’m referencing. Just go ahead and comment. Kick ass!
What use is a fifth column? People aren’t going to vote for fifth columnists Smedly, gosh! Idiot. And it doesn’t make a difference how many articles a journalist writes.
You are aware that special forces are dangerous outfits yes? That Rome had some problems with that kind of thing? That American special forces command is, by design, fractured and set in a kind of command opposition purposefully, yeah? That the Pakistani special forces model is ostensibly similar but in fact have ideological ties as well as organizational ties through the ISI? That this is, y’know, dangerous since regular forces and politically powerful individuals are connected to the same perspective. Thus the point that it’s as dangerous as if Dominionists in the U.S. controlled key positions in the … ah, why bother.
“What evidence is there that they are "playing that game"? Where is the "respectable front side"?”
Ah, the Pakistani government isn’t at all being duplicitous as a matter of course – not to mention the fractiousness in the exercise of power? So … what, there’s no such thing as the Taliban? Pakistan is completely stable? There aren’t extremists in their power structure both civilian and military that don’t have an agenda at odds with Pakistani government policy?
So, the government itself makes no pretense to legitimacy?
Did you want to actually make some sort of point regarding reality and the concepts discussed in the article or did you just want to infer and argue what you think I’m saying?

Yeah, blah, the whole idea. If you're not immediately aware that the U.S. is battling the Taliban and extremists in Afghanistan including the Haqqani and Hekmatyar outfits - which elements of the ISI (and why bother knowing who they are before disputing any of this) are aiding those groups inside Afghanistan while cooperating on Taliban outfits inside Pakistan that are threatening the Pakistani government - then no one could possibly be right about some craziness that high level internal Pakistani military and intelligence cadre giving money, military supplies and/or strategic planning to them in the future if it serves their interests. And why would other officials deny that if it were going on? It would almost like their strategic interests weren't perfectly aligned with the U.S.'
Pfft. Crazy.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:19 PM on November 11, 2009


Smedleyman, It’s got nothing to do with sovereignty. At least as far as my point is concerned...Policy, you almost have to put a gun to someone’s head. Which is sort of what we’re choosing to do.

Sovereignty is relevant in Kashmir (India/Pakistan/China) and Sikkim+Arunachal Pradesh (India/China). Both will need a solution before security concerns are addressed, and will require someone to blink first. I'm interested in hearing what your Gun of Policy would entail in these cases.
posted by vanar sena at 9:40 PM on November 11, 2009


"I'm interested in hearing what your Gun of Policy would entail in these cases."

So English isn't your first language then. WTF are you talking about MY Gun of Policy? I used that example as a pejorative, as what we're doing in the U.S., choosing to do, that is wrongheaded.
You should not, in fact, go and put a gun (metaphorically) to a given nations head to force policy change when you can, as an international community, incentivise in order to change the environment.
Sovereignty is relevant. But it has nothing to do what what I'm talking about concerning nuclear weapons and world security. Security in the Kashmir region - different story. And somewhat related to security. Claiming sovereignty is useless if you can't back it up or no one else recognizes it. Enforcing a claim would be more possible if the international community took a unified position one way or another, perhaps gave incentives to the side that loses - but that's off the cuff speculation and generally speaking and - again - not what I'm addressing for purposes of this discussion.
Unless you wanted to discuss in whole the entire political and economic spectrum of those regions, their impact on their respective nation's policies and how the international community can address that Gordian knot without pulling the sword (possible I think, but extremely convoluted) and without getting entangled, not to mention the religious and cultural clashes, tribal matters, etc etc.
But no one's going to pay me to write a broadly based OSI analysis of the situation here. Just commenting on one aspect related to, y'know, the topic concerning nukes there Mr. Gun of Policy. This requiring someone to blink perspective of yours was addressed by Winston Churchill who said that the idea that nothing but perfection will do can be spelled "p.a.r.a.l.y.s.i.s."
It's a beautiful region, but it's not that big, and I don't think any of the countries involved gives a damn about the seven odd million people living there, but is it worth killing the world over? What, so someone 'blinks?' Didn't anyone learn anything from Kargil? That pretty much froze out the international community in the first place. No one wants to stick their hand in a running buzz saw.
Hell, feel free to slug it out much as you want. I doubt the international community would, or should, care much, except for the fact that fallout can carry pretty far.

Thus far the international community hasn't seen that it's worth their while to change the circumstances before any given conflict in a region there gets hot.
My argument is only that it IS worth their while. They should get involved and make the effort and investment to find a way to make it politically and economically worthwhile to find a solution that eliminates what seems to be an inevitability: the use of WMDs in that region by local nations against each other.
A solution can be found that does not use force. Or at least not much force beyond necessary to maintain the political/economic solutions (whatever those might be in detail).
We're not doing that. We're not investing enough in a peaceful solution. I don't like that. Nukes bad. For everyone.
I don't know how I can make that clearer.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:37 PM on November 12, 2009


So English isn't your first language then

wai u must poke fun at my the angrezi!!1

Your argument boils down to "surely these nationalism-crazy people can be made to see sense!" You are correct, it would be lovely! Yet, with three nations convinced that each is trying to split up the other, advice on nuclear demilitarization coming from countries that are not willing to give up their own is going to be treated with a certain level of bemused contempt. You can argue that there is a precedent for it, and I agree, but sitting where I am (one of the major targets of any nuclear exchange) I don't see it happening.
posted by vanar sena at 11:34 PM on November 12, 2009


I thought I'd point out some of what the right-minded international community is up against.
posted by vanar sena at 1:48 AM on November 13, 2009


"You can argue that there is a precedent for it, and I agree, but sitting where I am (one of the major targets of any nuclear exchange) I don't see it happening."
Pretty much the entire gist of my first comment. Hence the desire to ride off on a pony.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:33 AM on November 13, 2009


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