It’s Not Just Pakistan Whose Nuclear Program Is in Danger of Infiltration

It’s bad enough that Pakistan couldn’t have developed a nuclear-weapons program without the help of the nuclear black market and that its program exists outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it never signed. It may now possess even more nuclear weapons than the supposed raison d’être for its nuclear-weapons program — India. But, in an article for Zurich’s ISN (International Relations and Security Network), Yogesh Joshi explains that deterring India from attacking it with nuclear weapons isn’t the only reason for Pakistan’s build-up.

[It's] clear that nuclear weapons have become Pakistan’s chief currency of recognition in a world where international prestige is increasingly being measured in terms of . . . development. After national security via deterrence, prestige is generally accepted as one of the secondary rationales states use to justify developing nuclear weapons.

More to the point, though, Joshi writes

Increasing Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities would allow it to make economic . . . gains. In the future, if the agenda for disarmament gains momentum, the larger a state’s nuclear inventory, the better its bargaining position.

North Korea is an example of a state that uses the components of its nuclear-weapons program as chips to be bargained for economic aid. As for Pakistan, at the Diplomat, Manpreet Sethi wrote in March that its

. . . ability to use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip — for conventional weaponry, for financial support from other Muslim nations, for evading sanctions over nuclear proliferation . . . has been proven time and again. No wonder nuclear weapons are seen as the most important strategic asset of the Pakistani military establishment.

But another reason exists to provide economic aid to a state with an illegal nuclear-weapons program and Pakistan is an all-too-perfect example. Joshi again.

The threat of economic collapse in a state that holds substantial nuclear weapons capabilities could make the international community more likely to come to the [financial] rescue. One of the reasons behind the US’ continued financial aid to Pakistan is the necessity of keeping a nuclear armed state functioning as a viable political entity.

In other words, the United States apparently needs to continue providing Pakistan with economic aid, not, at this point, to bargain away its nuclear programs, but just to keep Pakistan politically solvent. When the Soviet Union dissolved and much of its enriched uranium went unprotected, Russia and the other former Soviet states lucked out. Not only were terrorists such as Chechnyan or Islamist extremists, for the most part, asleep at the switch, but the United States, via the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Program, jumped into the void to help secure the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons and material. Should another country with a nuclear-weapons program become a failed state, don’t count on fortune to smile on us again.

You would think that for a state technologically sophisticated enough to develop nuclear weapons, the wherewithal to secure them would be a fait accompli. In fact, the threat to Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program is less about physical security than it’s about infiltration of its nuclear security forces by Islamist extremists, despite efforts by the Pakistan military to exclude them from nuclear security.

Faith in the Pakistan military took a serious hit with its lack of awareness and resistance to the U.S. attack on bin Laden’s compound. A sample headline read: “Pakistan humiliated by Bin Laden revenge attack.” It was further undermined by the May 22 attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi by Pakistan’s Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban — the TTP) that lasted for 17 hours and killed 10 security personnel. According to Pakistan’s Dawn, the TTP

. . . knew the location of their targets, both men and material, and displayed utter contempt for the naval personnel through their astonishing speed and firepower. No disrespect is meant for the navy, some of whose men paid the ultimate price in the line of duty, but the incident raises quite a few questions about the state of preparedness of our defence forces in general and the navy in particular.

Humiliation would be the least of Pakistan’s worries if the TTP or al Qaeda got ahold of any of its nuclear weapons. Ostensibly because “Pakistan is the only Muslim nuclear-power state,” a spokesman for the TTP spokesman claimed that the organization has no plans to attack Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons arsenal. Inspiring even less confidence was another spokesman, this one for the U.S. State Department, who said to journalists of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, “I would just say that our understanding is that they’re — they are safeguarded.” Our “understanding”? Whatever happened to knowledge gained via intelligence?

While North Korea — ever the tease — dangles its nuclear-weapons program before the West, it’s arguably less savvy than Pakistan, which leverages funds from the United States without, at the moment anyway, drawing down its nuclear-weapons program as a condition. But when even the most sober of observers, such as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, entertains doubts about the security of its nuclear program, it’s obvious that Pakistan is enjoying fewer of the perks of possessing nuclear weapons than North Korea.

Of course, the United States must also guard against domestic threats to its nuclear-weapons program. What — from white-power militias? Of course not: obviously, the physical security of the U.S. nuclear-weapons program isn’t at risk. Like Pakistan’s, however, turns out it might be vulnerable to infiltration by extremists. As George Will remarked to Christiane Amanpour on ABC News’s This Week

The threshold question, not usually asked, but it’s in everyone’s mind in a presidential election. ‘Should we give this person nuclear weapons?’ And the answer [in Palin's case], answers itself.