Pakistani Nukes in Step Vans Have Ripple Effect on Iran

Pakistan, writes Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room, “is making the world a vastly more dangerous place.” Is he referring to support by its military and intelligence to the Taliban and the Haqqanis in their fight against Afghan and coalition forces? Not exactly.

Freaked out about the insecurity of its nuclear arsenal, the Pakistani military’s Strategic Plans Division has begun carting the nukes around in clandestine ways. That might make some sense on the surface: no military wants to let others know exactly where its most powerful weapons are at any given moment. But Pakistan is going to an extreme.

The nukes travel “in civilian-style vehicles without noticeable defenses, in the regular flow of traffic,” according to a blockbuster story on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in The Atlantic. Marc Ambinder and Jeffrey Goldberg write that tactical nuclear weapons travel down the streets in “vans with a modest security profile.”

In short, writes Ackerman, “Pakistan is taking nuclear paranoia to a horrifying new low.” It’s hyper-alert to the lust that militants experience for its nukes — tactical, as well as strategic — right? Again, not exactly. Ackerman explains.

It’s trying to safeguard its nukes from us. The Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden has made important Pakistani generals think that the U.S. military’s next target is Pakistani nukes. So off the vans go … trying to throw off the scent of the U.S.

As with its failure to rein in the militants that it supports in Afghanistan, never underestimate Pakistan ability to underestimate the terrorist threat on its own soil.

Ackerman writes: “The irony is that the U.S. isn’t planning to steal Pakistan’s nukes — but Pakistan’s cavalier attitude toward nuclear security is making the U.S. think twice about whether it should.” No, not steal Pakistan’s nukes, but “revise some worst-case-scenario contingency planning.”

Furthermore, Pakistan’s skewed nuclear-security priorities might have a trickle-down effect on the West’s attitude toward Iran’s nuclear program. As if the attitude toward Iran’s nuclear plans of many in the United States government and, of course, Israel weren’t at least as overwrought as Pakistan’s attitude towards designs it thinks that the United States has on its nuclear program. In the end, Pakistan’s behavior only adds to the tendency of the West to divide the world into states that we deem of sound enough mind to administer a nuclear-weapons program and those that we don’t.