The research arm of Congress noted that Islamabad in the last decade has made considerable improve- ments to the security surrounding its grow- ing nuclear arsenal, which the report estimates at today encompassing 90 to 110 warheads.
“However, instability in Pakistan has called the extent and durability of these reforms into question. Some observers fear radical takeover of a government that possesses a nuclear bomb, or proliferation by radical sympathizers within Pakistan’s nuclear complex in case of a break- down of controls,” the analysis reads.
“While U.S. and Pakistani officials continue to express confidence in controls over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, continued instability in the country could impact these safeguards.” ”The collapse or near-collapse of the Pakistani government is probably the most likely scenario in which militants or terrorists could acquire Pakistani nuclear weapons,” according to CRS non-proliferation experts Paul Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin.
**State Failure Would Provide Terrorists An Opportunity To Acquire Nukes**
Incoming CIA head David Petraeus, while commander of U.S. Central Command in March 2009, told Congress that “Pakistani state failure would provide transnational terrorist groups and other extremist organizations an opportunity to acquire nuclear weapons and a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks.”
White House point man for arms control and nonproliferation Gary Samore in May told Arms Control Today that “what I worry about is that, in the context of broader tensions and problems within Pakistani society and polity …. even the best nuclear security measures might break down. …They have good programs in place; the question is whether those good programs work in the context where these broader tensions and conflicts are present.”
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that same month in an interview with CNN said that “as long as the armed forces of Pakistan are there, there is no danger of the nuclear assets or strategic assets falling in any terrorist hands.”
**The Taliban And The U.S. Raid**
Islamabad is faced with continuing threats from the Taliban and other violent extremist operating within the country. Its security arm was also rocked in May by the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad and the subsequent militant assault on a Pakistani naval base in Karachi.
The congressional researchers reasoned that Islamabad’s current chief nuclear security issues are “keeping the integrity of the command structure, ensuring physical security, and prevention illicit proliferation from insiders.”
The United States does not have a detailed picture of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including where all associated facilities are located, officials have acknowledged.
**‘U.S. Prepared To “Try” To Deal With The Problem’**
Washington has taken steps to prepare for a Pakistani government collapse that provides a window for extremists to acquire nuclear weapons or material.
“We have noted this problem, and we are prepared to try to deal with it,” then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in January 2005. That response plan would not involve a U.S. military incursion during an emergency, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage indicated in November 2007.
Rumors about U.S. contingency plans have caused considerable concern inside Pakistan. A Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman asserted in November 2009 that Islamabad would never “allow any country to have direct or indirect access to its nuclear and strategic facilities.
He added that “no talks have ever taken place on the issue of the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal with U.S. officials.”
Washington is assumed to have supplied some atomic security aid to Pakistan by way of “the sharing of best practices and technical measures to prevent unauthorized or accidental use of nuclear weapons, as well as contribute to physical security of storage facilities and personnel reliability,” the analysis states.
**Washington Offered Assistance To Secure Or Destroy Radioactive Materials**
“The U.S. government has also reportedly offered assistance to secure or destroy radioactive materials that could be used to make a radioactive dispersal device, and to ship highly enriched uranium used in the Pakistani civilian nuclear sector out of the country,” according to the report.
“Pakistan’s response to these proposals is unclear, and downturns in the bilateral relationship overall may have complicated efforts to make progress in this area.”
The authors said it was uncertain if Pakistan’s increased pace of nuclear weapons development was a result of the atomic civilian trade agreement that India and the United States struck in 2008. Islamabad has repeatedly said the agreement undermines strategic parity with its longtime rival.
With its 2008 waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, India would now be able to purchase nuclear material for its civilian atomic energy reactors from the international market, allowing domestically mined uranium to be used for fueling more warheads, the report states.
**Pakistan Blaming India**
Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Wajid Shamsul Hasan last October wrote in a newspaper editorial that eight Indian reactors have not been opened up to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Those reactors together have the potential to enrich enough material for 280 bombs every year, he said. New Delhi is now estimated to hold anywhere from 60 to 100 weapons, according to the CRS report.
“Pakistani officials have stated that the government may need to increase significantly its nuclear arsenal in response to possible Indian plans to do the same,” the researchers wrote.
**Islamabad Promised No-First-Use**
Additionally, India’s significant investment in new military hardware and its focus on reaching “technical superiority” in its reconnaissance, monitoring and ability to precisely strike key targets inside Pakistan could cause the Pakistani government to “respond by lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons,” according to nuclear weapons expert Peter Lavoy.
The CRS analysis notes that “Pakistan has pledged no-first-use against non-nuclear-weapon states, but has not ruled out first use against a nuclear-armed aggressor, such as India” (Congressional Research Service report, July 20).
*This is a slightly abridged version of this report, which was first published by Global Security Newswire on July 29, 2011. http://gsn.nti.org/gsn/nw_20110728_8136.php
2011 Human Wrongs Watch