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Pakistan Spreads Nukes Around Territory
Deeply held suspicions in the Pakistani security establishment that the United States has a secret plan seize its nuclear arsenal has led the South Asian state's military to disperse its atomic stockpile and produce a greater number of warheads, according to Wednesday report by Foreign Policy magazine.
News organizations have reported the U.S. Defense Department has developed contingency plans for securing and disarming Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event the government collapses.
"We look at these stories in the U.S. media about taking away our nuclear weapons and this definitely concerns us, so countermeasures have been developed accordingly," said an unidentified Pakistani general.
One result of these measures has been to make the nuclear weapons more difficult to protect from extremists operating within the country, though Pakistani officials insist their arsenal is safe from both foreign and local threats.
"Pakistan struggled to acquire these weapons against the wishes of the world," former Pakistani Lt. Gen. Talat Masood said in an interview. "Our nuclear capability comes as a result of great sacrifice. It is our most precious and powerful weapon -- for our defense, our security, and our political prestige. We keep them safe."
The August Taliban attack on the Minhas air base was the fourth strike in half-a-decade against the installation. A minimum of five separate critical military sites have been assaulted by local extremists in the last five years, according to the report.
Warheads and their means of delivery are understood to be housed in different locations in Pakistan. An estimated 15 installations are thought to house nuclear bombs and they receive the most comprehensive protections available in the nation. For this reason, experts believe the more pressing atomic threat is of corrupt officials or covert radicals inside the growing Pakistani fissile material production program gradually smuggling out enough material to construct a simple atomic weapon.
"With 70 to 80 kilos of highly enriched uranium, it would be fairly easy to make one in the basement of a building in the city of your choice," Quaid-i-Azam University atomic physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy said.
India, notably, has confidence in its longtime foe's ability to protect its nuclear arsenal against insider and extremist threats.
"No one can be 100 percent secure, but I think they are more than 99 percent secure. They keep a very close watch on personnel. All of the steps that could be taken have been taken," ex-Indian air force chief of staff Shashindra Tyagi told the magazine. "This business of the Taliban taking over -- it can't be ruled out, but I think it's unlikely. The Pakistani military understands the threats they face better than anyone, and they are smart enough to take care it."
A potentially more worrisome possibility is for a nuclear war breaking out between India and Pakistan, according to the magazine.
Islamabad's recently developed nuclear-capable Hatf 9 ballistic missile can carry warheads small enough to fit into a suitcase. Pakistan is understood to have created the low-yield, highly mobile tactical weapon for possible use against a rapid incursion by the Indian army.
"What one fears is that with the testing of these short-range nuclear missiles -- five in the last couple of months -- this seems to indicate a seriousness about using theater nuclear weapons," Hoodbhoy said.
Regional experts believe a nuclear attack caused by a misunderstanding between the two opposing nations is substantially more probable that extremists acquiring a warhead. Analysts say the possibility of a strategic miscalculation by Pakistan and India would go up significantly if Islamabad fields its theater-level nuclear missiles to front-line military detachments
"It lowers the threshold. The idea that tactical nukes could be used against Indian tanks on Pakistan's territory creates the kind of atmosphere that greatly shortens the distance to apocalypse," according to Hoodbhoy.
It is foolish to think that any use of a Pakistani battlefield atomic weapon would not lead to a broader nuclear war, according to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace South Asia program expert Ashley Tellis. "The only move that you have control over is your first move; you have no control over the nth move in a nuclear exchange."
Moving components of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal into the field would also increase the threat that a fully assembled weapon could fall into the wrong hands, according to Foreign Policy.
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Sept. 27, 2013
A fact sheet on current and projected costs of maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent, produced by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.