The increasing size of the Pakistani nuclear weapons complex increases the challenges in keeping all the assets secured against militants operating in the country, one analyst said in a National Public Radio report on Thursday (see GSN, June 22).
Reports in recent months of Pakistan's aggressive efforts to increase the size of its nuclear arsenal have come alongside fresh concerns about its ability to secure the weapons and related materials (see GSN, July 1).
"The more nuclear weapons you have, the more nuclear weapons storage sites you have to have, the more nuclear weapons in transit at various times you have to have," said Shaun Gregory, of the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, who studies Pakistani nuclear security. He added that this also requires "more people involved in the safety, security, manufacture, deployment, [and] preparedness for use you have to have."
Gregory also cited as a concern the level of preparation that went into the attack on the Pakistani army's central installation in Rawalpindi in 2009 and on a naval installation in Karachi in May. The extremists possessed army outfits and fake identification cards, passed through several security positions and took hostages, he said.
"They appeared to have some insider knowledge about the base and its operations," he said. "They even knew where surveillance cameras were."
Those attacks essentially provide the schematic for a workable strike on a nuclear arms site, Gregory said. "I think we are looking at the possibility of a very serious breach of Pakistan's nuclear security before too long," he added.
"Particularly the most recent attack is really chilling," said David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. "And you have to worry that nuclear sites could be targeted, and the attackers could muster the resources to do it."
Pakistani officials have consistently emphasized the effectiveness of nuclear security measures that include vetting personnel and establishing military teams assigned specifically to watch over the arsenal.
The United States has publicly supported Islamabad's assertion regarding its nuclear security. Islamabad has also learned from Washington's example, said Feroz Khan, a former official with the Pakistani nuclear branch.
"The United States is the most advanced nuclear power with the best practices in the world," Khan said, "and the Pakistani system actually tries to emulate them and learn from them. They have not been shy of doing that."
However, there are also concerns in Islamabad that the United States might in an emergency find it necessary to itself secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Tensions between the two sides have been particularly high following the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden not far from the Pakistani capital (see GSN, June 30).
"What they're worried about is the U.S. stealing their nuclear weapons, so what they all point to is the raid on Osama bin Laden," said George Perkovich, an issue expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "That's the demonstration of the threat that they worry about."
"It is a paradox that they seek a lot of cooperation from the United States, as far as nuclear security is concerned," Khan said. "But then they have to draw a line at some point, because it tips over to a place where they cannot fully trust the U.S. in terms of the location" (Mike Shuster, National Public Radio, July 7).