While the unfolding disaster at Japan's Fukushima reactor riveted the world, Pakistan quietly observed an important milestone in its own nuclear power program. Pakistan's Chashma 2 nuclear power plant commenced operation and was connected to the electricity grid on March 15, just four days after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and initiated what is now one of the worst nuclear accidents on record. Last week, on the eve of his visit to China, Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani commissioned Chashma 2 and indicated that China would construct two additional nuclear reactors at the same site. With Pakistanis spending hours each day in the dark due to "load shedding," a euphemism for managed power outages, never has energy been more critical for Pakistan.
According to figures from the Pakistan Electric Power Company, Pakistan's current electricity supply deficit averages about 3000 megawatts, which is probably enough to power about 3 million households in Pakistan. This shortage exacts a high toll on the Pakistani people, especially in the summer when temperatures can exceed 115 degrees. The more insidious effects of Pakistan's electric shortfalls are economic. The country now finds itself in a catch 22: the moribund economy limits large investments in new or rehabilitated electric generation capacity, but won't register dramatic improvement without more and consistent electricity.
Pakistan's ability to meet its energy requirements indigenously is constrained by the relatively poor quality of its coal, the feast or famine nature of hydroelectric power in a monsoon climate, and the political and security challenges of tapping effectively the natural gas reserves in its Baluchistan province. Pakistan will have to seek energy security through a mixture of external and internal sources. As one element of a long-term plan for energy diversity, nuclear power makes sense for Pakistan, as it does for many states. But it is an ineffective solution to Pakistan's current energy needs.
At a time when pressure is piling up on the Obama administration to re-examine its relationship with (and aid to) Pakistan, the post-Osama narrative in the popular Pakistani Urdu press reflects some of the far more complex socio-political challenges facing Pakistan, challenges which will impact the country's engagement with the rest of the world. While the commentary and analysis in the English-language media has been quite similar to that of the rest of the world, the reactions and comments in the Urdu press are quite different in tone and content, focusing consistently on the importance of upholding Pakistani pride and sovereignty.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
At a recent event on Pakistan co-sponsored by Brookings and the U.S. Institute of Peace, several panelists cogently stressed the need for greater transparency on the parts of Washington and Islamabad as a necessary step in forging better relations.
Inevitably, the sad story of Pakistan's F-16s emerged during a panel discussion. In the early 1980s, the United States agreed to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets. This decision was taken when the United States worked closely with Pakistan to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan. The F-16 was the most important air platform in Pakistan's air force and it was the most likely delivery vehicle of a nuclear weapon. When nuclear proliferation-related sanctions (under the Pressler Amendment) came into force in 1990, the U.S. government cancelled the sales of several F-16s. Pakistanis routinely cite this as hard evidence of American perfidy to underscore the point that Washington is not a trustworthy ally.
With the lapse of time, many American and Pakistani interlocutors alike rehearse redacted variants of this sordid affair for various purposes. But I was dismayed when a U.S. official (speaking in his personal capacity) did so at the U.S. Institute of Peace event. He stressed, with suitable outrage, that the United States unfairly deprived Pakistan of the F-16s it purchased, demurred from reimbursing Pakistan when sanctions precluded delivery, and even charged Pakistan for the storage fees while the United States sought a third-party buyer for the planes. This particular individual has a long-standing relationship with South Asia and extensive experience in the region, which made the stylized telling all the more troublesome.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
One of the first cables released by the website WikiLeaks was a May, 2009 cable regarding the delay of removing High Enriched Uranium (HEU) by the U.S. from Pakistan's Atomic Research Reactor-1 (PARR) near Islamabad. In 2007, the Pakistani government agreed to allow the U.S. to ship the unknown quantity of HEU back to the U.S. However, in 2009 when U.S. technical experts arrived to discuss the fuel transfer, the Pakistani government balked for fear of local media backlash of the U.S. "stealing" Pakistani fuel. The event provided one more example of the poor relationship between the two countries and the U.S. not respecting Pakistani national concerns.
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi came to Washington this week armed with a long list of topics to discuss. Or to be more accurate, he arrived with a hodgepodge wishlist of unrealistic propositions. However, the most unlikely proposal -- that Pakistan be given a civilian nuclear deal similar to the one India was granted in 2008 -- could be the one that finally wins those elusive "hearts and minds."
It has become a mantra of the war on terror that poverty, desperation, and hopelessness breed militancy. A population that is contented, it is said, will never strap on suicide vests. Solving Pakistan's power crisis, a source of great exasperation for many Pakistanis that is getting progressively worse with each passing year, should be a priority in Washington. And providing nuclear energy may be the cheapest, most efficient way to deal with this crisis.
A poll conducted by Gallup in July 2009 found that 53 percent of the Pakistani population goes without electricity for more than eight hours a day. Since then the electricity shortfall in the country has increased by 42 percent from 3,500 megawatts to 5,000 megawatts. The Pakistani government has tried a variety of piecemeal measures -- building a power plant here, placing pleading ads in the newspapers begging consumers to cut their consumption there -- but technical and financial constraints do not allow wholesale reform. There is also a lack of will on the part of political governments to invest in long-term solutions since the benefits of such investment would not be felt for many years to come. This is where the United States and its civilian nuclear deal could rush in and save the day.
The benefits to the United States of such a deal should be obvious. Millions of electricity-starved Pakistanis might be thankful to the United States for providing aid that has a tangible impact on their lives. The civilian and military aid currently provided by the United States has not touched the life of the average Pakistani. This will also allow the Obama administration to keep a closer watch on Pakistan's nuclear activities. By attaching the condition that all nuclear materials and technology provided under the agreement be monitored by the Americans, the U.S. government will gain greater knowledge of Pakistan's nuclear know-how. The Pakistani government, though, would have to spin such conditions to patriotic Pakistanis by boasting that Pakistan has been offered the same nuclear deal as the one given to India. The desire for parity with India should override questions of sovereignty, especially if the deal comes with a guarantee that Pakistan's existing nuclear capabilities will remain untouched and unmonitored. In the long run the United States could help avert the next regional war, which may well be over the water that Pakistan so desperately relies on for electricity generation -- water that Pakistan is now accusing India of withholding.
The most outlandish objection to a Pakistani nuclear deal is that the Taliban will take over Pakistan and with it the nuclear material provided by the United States. Given that the Taliban only control parts of the tribal areas in the country's rugged northwest -- land that has never been fully under the authority of the central government in Pakistan's history -- and that even the mainstream religious parties have never won more than 10 percent of the vote in general elections, this is an eventuality this is unlikely to come to pass. Then, there is the fear that Pakistani soldiers and officers with extremist sympathies could hand over a 'dirty' bomb to the Taliban, which somehow ignores the fact that the Pakistani army already has plenty of nukes to distribute to the Taliban if they so desired.
Pakistan might not "deserve" nuclear technology given its illegal past proliferation. By that standard, Pakistan also didn't ‘deserve' vast amounts of U.S. military aid to fight the Taliban considering its previous support for the regime. But international politics doesn't work on the principle of treating countries like schoolchildren. Give Pakistan the civilian nuclear deal and leave the demerit-badges-for-past-performance idea for the Boy Scouts.
Nadir Hassan is a journalist working for Newsline magazine in Pakistan.
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
By Austin Long
According to the Times of India and Pakistan's Daily Times, India's Army chief, Deepak Kapoor, chided Pakistan on Wednesday for overkill in its nuclear arsenal. The Times of India quotes him as saying:
There is a difference between having a degree deterrence, which is required for protection, and going beyond that. If the news reports of (Pakistan) having 70 to 90 atomic bombs are correct, then I think they are going well beyond the requirement of deterrence."
This statement raises two questions. First, if Pakistan's arsenal is too large, what does that say about India's arsenal? A 2008 assessment in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists puts the number at around 70, with the expectation that it will grow in the coming years. If accurate, this would indicate rough parity in arsenals. Of course, the Indians might argue that their arsenal must be big enough to deter both China and Pakistan, while the Pakistanis need only deter India.
Second, and more difficult to assess is the question of is this enough for deterrence? The United States sought to grapple with this issue throughout the Cold War, though it was perhaps most acute during the early years of the Cold War. One assessment by the U.S. Navy in 1957 argued "[t]he first 10 delivered weapons would produce a major disaster with fully a quarter as many casualties as the first hundred." In contrast, a subsequent assessment under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put the threshold of diminishing returns for additional warheads against the Soviet Union at roughly 1,000.
This latter estimate achieved the destruction of roughly 25 percent of the Soviet population and 60 percent of its industrial capability. As long as the United States had high confidence that this many warheads would survive a Soviet first strike, it was deemed to have "assured destruction."
Holding aside for a moment whether these numbers are right, does Pakistan have sufficient nuclear warheads to inflict this level of damage? This requires Strangelovian mathematics but unfortunately my copy of the indispensable tome of nuclear analysts, Samuel Glasstone's Effects of Nuclear Weapons, is in transit so the following assessment is really, really back of the envelope. First, let's assume that each warhead in Pakistan's arsenal is roughly 50 kilotons (kt), roughly three times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. It claims to have tested a weapon in this range in its 1998 series of tests, though independent observers think the yield was much lower based on seismic data. But for the sake of argument, let's give it to them, bearing in mind that actual yields and therefore lethal effects may be significantly less. A 50 kt weapon will produce lethal effects (mostly from prompt radiation and thermal effects) at a range of one to two miles from ground zero. Let's call it a mile and a half -- this means each weapon will cause immediate lethal effects over roughly seven square miles or eighteen square kilometers (km).
To cover all of Mumbai, with an area of about 600 square km, with this level of lethal effect would require about 33 weapons. However, there will be secondary fires and other effects from each explosion that would kill more people, so let's cut the requirement in half, to about 15 weapons. This would kill the entire population of Mumbai -- about 14 million. Delhi is more spread out with an area of about 1,480 square km. Covering it with lethal effects would require about 82 weapons, halved to about 40 weapons. This would kill the population of Delhi, another roughly 14 million. Bangalore, with an area of about 740 square km, would require about 20 weapons using the same math, killing about 6 million more. Thus with 75 warheads, Pakistan could expect to destroy India's three largest cities, killing a total population of 34 million. This is gruesome, but represents only 3 percent of India's population.
As a proxy for industrial destruction, 2008 estimates indicate that the three cities contribute roughly 15 percent of India's GDP.
Of course, this is just immediate lethal effects. Radioactive fall-out would kill more people and wreak more economic damage. But this would be limited if each weapon were airburst (that is detonated several thousand feet above the ground) in order to achieve maximum immediate effect. Even if the fallout effects tripled the lethality and economic effect (highly unlikely) Pakistan would still fail to achieve the criteria considered essential for the Pentagon in the early 1960s. Of course, some would argue the Pentagon was out to lunch with this assessment but it does provide at least a benchmark assessment.
The Pakistani military, rightly or wrongly, are at least as fearful of India as the United States was of the Soviet Union in the 1960s so using a similar benchmark seems plausible.
It is also important to note that this is 75 warheads that survive any initial Indian attack and also assumes that each warhead and delivery system is perfectly reliable. In reality, a reliability rate of 90 percent would be good and would mean Pakistan would need to launch about 83 warheads to have 75 actually reach the target and detonate. If the Pakistani's assume that an Indian first strike might destroy even 20 percent of their warheads, they would need to deploy about 105 warheads to have 83 survive. I am also assuming Pakistan's weapons can reach these targets, which is not a given as it does not appear to have operationally deployed 75 of its longer range Ghauri and Shaheen-II missiles. This means it likely has to rely to some degree on the shorter range Shaheen/M11 as well as aircraft to deliver some of these warheads, both of which are more vulnerable to Indian attack or air defense.
Finally, the same macabre math applies to the Indian arsenal. Killing the roughly 20 million people of metro Karachi, which sprawls across 3,500 square km, would require nearly 100 of the 50 kt warheads. However, this would represent over 10 percent of Pakistan's population and 20 percent of its GDP, closer to the assured destruction criteria.
Pakistan and India at present have nuclear arsenals of modest but significant size, capable of inflicting substantial damage on the other. They have helped keep the peace through several crises. However, neither is so large that it could be said to definitively exceed the requirements for deterrence.
PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
AfPak Channel contributor Shaun Gregory's article in the CTC Sentinel on Pakistan's nuclear security has sparked a debate about three attacks on Pakistan's nuclear facilities. Shuja Nawaz and Peter Bergen have both contributed to the discussion, which is continued below with a comment from the editor of the CTC Sentinel.
Dr. Shaun Gregory's article in the CTC Sentinel examines how Pakistan secures its nuclear weapons, while also addressing a number of security weaknesses. A paragraph in the article references three attacks on Pakistan's nuclear facilities. When read in context, the purpose of referencing these three incidents is to demonstrate the importance of improving Pakistan's nuclear security. Considering that militants have already launched attacks at or outside facilities known or suspected to be involved with the country's nuclear program, the risk exists that a more complex attack could make nuclear weapons infrastructure sites vulnerable to a number of hazards. These hazards are identified in the article.
Several media outlets have taken this paragraph out of context. The effect has been to suggest that three attacks with the objective to steal nuclear weapons have already occurred. Dr. Gregory did not state that the objectives of these three attacks were to steal a nuclear weapon, nor should the article be read as implying such.
Erich Marquardt is the editor of the CTC Sentinel.
CQ's Jeff Stein has given us permission to repost the following item, which follows up on the debate Peter Bergen's blog post re-sparked last week on the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons facilities.
What could Islamic terrorists actually do if they were able to blast their way into a Pakistani base where nuclear weapons are stored?
The short answer is: Not much. They'd be surrounded.
That fact got buried in last week's flash of hysteria over reports of militant Islamist attacks on Pakistani nuclear facilities.
In any event, incinerating hundreds of thousands of fellow Pakistanis in an atomic fireball is not what followers of the Taliban or al Qaeda are after.
It's us. And the terrorist's modus operandi would be stealth, not a frontal assault that would leave most of them dead.
Moreover, it's not the specter of terrorists carting off a nuclear warhead that has scientists and intelligence professionals wringing their hands.
"What really worries the experts," a top nonproliferation consultant told me over drinks this week, "is HEU [highly enriched uranium] - before it is weaponized and delivered to the Pakistani army, and while it is still in the hands of the scientific and technical establishment at the enrichment facilities."
Some of the scientists and technicians are rigorous Muslims, whose wives -- they are almost all men -- wear the hijab or chador. That is cause for worry to some.
But it's the X-factor -- the unknown number of secret Islamicists -- that gives the experts pause.
According to some published reports, such civilians are not vetted nearly as heavily as the military personnel responsible for protecting nuclear sites and materials.
"In Pakistan, the military provides generally respected security for the (mostly) HEU-based nuclear weapons material in their possession, and carefully vets the responsible personnel," said the nonproliferation expert, who cannot be identified because he works on sensitive U.S. government programs.
"However, there's concern over security at the civilian plants where the HEU is actually produced."
"HEU," he added, "is far easier to fashion into a nuclear weapon than is plutonium."
And easier to slip off the base.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier is a border in name only, its border guards easily, and routinely, bought off.
And from there, it's not a hard shot to the United States.
The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in 2006, is a work in progress.
Its only signatory in Southeast Asia is Cambodia, not Indonesia or the Philippines, where Islamic terrorists are organized and active.
Its Balkan member is Croatia, not mostly Muslim Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union, mostly Muslim, have signed up, but their borders are porous, as are Chechnya's.
There's not a Predator in the sky that can find a device smaller than a bowling ball, hidden in a truck or a wooden cart.
A barrel of water or fiberglass can conceal the weapon's radioactive emissions.
All the satellites whirling the globe cannot detect a carefully laid plot to smuggle spheres of HEU out of Pakistan and onto a ship headed for, say, Long Beach, Calif.
A few good spies. And who can be confident we've got them?
AfPak Channel contributor and Harvard PhD candidate Vipin Narang touched on the insider threat to Pakistan's nukes, and Shuja Nawaz has also pushed back on the intentions behind the attacks on the nuclear facilities.
By Peter Bergen
Here is how I
quoted Professor Shaun Gregory's own words regarding the three supposed
attacks on facilities in Pakistan's nuclear weapons complex over the past two
years that he had written about in the current CTC Sentinel: "These have included an attack on the nuclear
missile storage facility at Sargodha on November 1, 2007, an attack on
Pakistan's nuclear airbase at Kamra by a suicide bomber on December 10, 2007,
and perhaps most significantly the August 20, 2008 attack when Pakistani
Taliban suicide bombers blew up several entry points to one of the armament
complexes at the Wah cantonment, considered one of Pakistan's main nuclear
weapons assembly sites."
Not much ambiguous about these claims, upon which Shuja Nawaz, a leading expert in the world on Pakistan's national security apparatus, has poured considerable cold water for the AfPak Channel. I find Nawaz's rebuttal of Gregory to be persuasive, but there is only one person who can clear up this matter and that is Professor Gregory. Paging Professor Gregory.
Peter Bergen is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of The Osama bin Laden I Know.
By Shuja Nawaz
Few issues grab more attention on the global stage today than the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. The assumption in the West has always been that Pakistan cannot adequately safeguard these weapons and that radical Islamists will grab them, putting Western interests at risk in the region. While the fears may be real, the stories that emerge are often not so real.
The latest version of the old "telephone game" seems to be the piece that Shaun Gregory wrote for the CTC Sentinel at West Point and that Peter Bergen blogged about recently. Bergen's post pointing out Gregory's claims on the AfPak Channel unleashed a virulent series of comments in the blogosphere and a slew of follow-on press reports. The gist of the message was that three attacks had been launched on Pakistan's nuclear facilities. Gregory wrote that "a series of attacks on [Pakistan's] nuclear facilities has ... occurred."
The unstated assumption was that these attacks were coordinated and aimed to capture nuclear weapons or materials. Gregory is a scholar who is not wont to make claims without clear and verifiable evidence. Only he can clarify what his intent was. Bergen's position of authority in the world of journalism gave the story a fresh life.
Unfortunately, the message published on the AfPak Channel was picked up worldwide with the speed of a brush fire and its assumptions are not supported by the facts about these three attacks. None of them was aimed at getting into or seeking control of nuclear assets.
Bear in mind the following:
The facility at Wah is a massive ordnance complex that is known to manufacture conventional weapons. It may or may not have nuclear weapons facilities inside its enormous perimeter. Gregory does not offer any evidence on its nuclear activity. The attack of August 21, 2008, on one gate and another explosion in a bazaar near another gate of the Wah facility was acknowledged to the BBC by Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar as retaliation for the deaths of "innocent women and children" in the tribal territory of Bajaur. No mention of any intent to penetrate or capture nukes.
The attack of November 1, 2007, on the Pakistan Air Force bus carrying trainees near Sargodha in Central Punjab also was not an attack on a nuclear facility or storage site. It was a lone suicide bomber on a motorcycle who crashed into the bus carrying the airmen. Security experts saw this as retaliation for the air force attacks the previous months in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan.
Again, one may assume that the Sargodha air base might be used for loading or launching airborne nuclear weapons. But there was no indication that this was an attack aimed at the Pakistani nuclear facilities or capabilities. Sargodha lies on the road often used by Sunni Punjabi militant groups traveling to the Afghan border region where they support the Pakistani Taliban, and sometimes al Qaeda, as franchisees. This may well have been their bloody handiwork against a target of opportunity. But there's no evidence of any attack on nuclear facilities here either.
The third attack on Kamra in December 2007 again does not provide any evidence of a plan to penetrate the aeronautical complex where military and civilian aircraft and spare parts are manufactured. The target was a bus carrying more than 30 children of Air Force personnel on their way to a school inside the complex. At least five of them were injured. Kamra produces, among other things, parts for the Boeing 777. There is no evidence offered by Gregory of any nuclear work being conducted at Kamra.
The blogosphere has now picked up this story and no doubt it will become part of the hyperbolic record on Pakistan's nuclear safeguards. Unless it is retracted or clarified by the source: Shaun Gregory.
There is no perfect security for any nuclear system. Even the United States cannot account for all its nuclear assets or materials nor stop someone from flying a nuclear armed bomber across the country. But Pakistan appears to be very serious about securing its nuclear assets. Its nuclear safeguards are "robust" according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies of London. Indeed, Gregory too uses the same word to describe Pakistan's nuclear safeguards.
This latest story on Pakistan may be gripping but when not supported by facts; it creates more noise than substance.
Shuja Nawaz is the director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford 2008) and FATA: A Most Dangerous Place (CSIS 2009).
By Vipin Narang
An excellent series of recent articles on the subject by Shaun Gregory, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (a former director of intelligence at the Department of Energy), and Brig. Gen. Feroz Hassan Khan (Ret.) assess the very grim threat of Pakistan losing control over its 60-warheads-and-growing nuclear weapons arsenal. Given the lack of publicly available data on this critical issue, such articles by extremely knowledgeable scholars and practitioners represent some of the best information we have on realistic threats to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
Gregory's article has gotten some recent attention for noting that there have worryingly been several attacks at the perimeter of bases that may house nuclear components, though U.S. intelligence officials are quick to point out that there is little reason to believe that nuclear assets were ever at risk. So what are the primary risks to the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?
In answering this question, it is important to differentiate between the various organizations involved with Pakistan's nuclear weapons, and where and when nuclear assets are more or less vulnerable to internal and external threats. The bigger threat is probably not the Army losing control of nuclear assets, but rather insider-outsider collusion or diversion of nuclear material from the civilian nuclear agencies during either the production phase or transfer to Army locations.
The good news is that once the Pakistani Army takes custody of nuclear assets, the threat of terrorists successfully boosting a warhead or fissile cores -- either through direct attack or facilitated by insiders -- is reassuringly low. The Pakistani Army has every incentive to ensure firm control over the country's nuclear assets since, should they be lost or stolen, there would literally be hell to pay.
A combination of security measures instituted by the Strategic Plans Division, headed by Lt. Gen Khalid Kidwai (Ret.), has increased confidence that the Pakistani Army has firm control over nuclear assets, particularly during peacetime with India, when Pakistan's nuclear weapons are believed to be kept in component form with warheads disassembled and separated from the missiles that would deliver them, in highly secret fixed locations that are easier to protect through concentric rings of security forces (believed to include the ISI, regular Army, and dedicated elite forces to protect nuclear assets).
Even in the unlikely event that Bruce Riedel's nightmare scenario of a jihadist takeover of the Pakistani government unfolds, there is little reason to believe that the Army would give up or lose control of nuclear weapons -- indeed, there is little evidence that the Army has relinquished control even to Pakistan's current civilian government. The highly professional nature of Army units charged with guarding Pakistan's nuclear assets, procedural protections that require at least the "two-man rule," the SPD Personnel Reliability Programme (which monitors the loyalty and mental states of military personnel), and the ability to protect fixed locations against most realistic terrorist threats suggest that in peacetime the Pakistani nuclear arsenal that is in the custody of the Army ought to be relatively secure.
Now, for the potentially bad news. As Gregory, Khan, and Mowatt-Larssen all suggest, the primary risk to the Pakistani Army's ability to safely secure nuclear assets in its custody would likely be during crisis scenarios -- either against India or due to a perceived Western threat to the integrity of Pakistan's arsenal -- that might cause Pakistan to move to a higher state of nuclear readiness. If the Army feels compelled to rapidly disperse or relocate nuclear components and loses the defensive advantage of protecting them in secure fixed locations, insider foreknowledge of movements and the loss of centralized control could increase the probability of theft or loss.
This threat could be magnified if the Pakistani Army assembles warheads before moving them for procedural or technical reasons, thereby removing some -- if not all -- safeguards preventing unauthorized or accidental detonation. There is some ambiguity about the so-called Pak-PALs (Permissive Actions Links, which are basically locks for nuclear warheads) that Kidwai claims Pakistan has developed to prevent unauthorized or accidental use. Modern U.S. PALs, for example, are digitally integrated into the firing system of a fully assembled weapon, so developing PALs for disassembled weapons may perhaps involve only rudimentary physical locks to prevent assembly of the weapon without a proper code (either colocated with the assets or held centrally) that are easier to bypass.
The removal of already-weak safeguards as Pakistan moves to a higher state of nuclear readiness would be consistent with its nuclear posture of credibly threatening the early first use of nuclear weapons against Indian forces to deter an Indian conventional attack, but it increases safety and security risks.
There are some indications, though no clear publicly available evidence, that Pakistan has moved or readied nuclear assets several times, and only in response to external threats: in the 48 hours after 9/11 when General Musharraf feared that the U.S. might attack Pakistan and perhaps during 2002 when Pakistan feared that a major Indian conventional attack was imminent during the Parakram crisis. So although crisis scenarios may pose the greatest risk to the Pakistan Army's ability to securely guard Pakistan's nuclear weapons, the empirical record suggests that Pakistan has only alerted forces in supreme emergencies when the state's survival was potentially threatened by external threats, so this threat -- while very real -- should not be overstated.
Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is also vulnerable at several points before the Army takes control of assets from the civilian nuclear infrastructure in fixed locations. Thousands of civilian personnel are responsible for the production of Pakistan's nuclear weapons components. In recent years Pakistan has established a Human Reliability Programme (HRP) to regularly monitor civilian nuclear personnel, ensuring that there are no extremists within the system, and has also established a Nuclear Security Action Plan to establish best practices and deal with recovering orphaned radioactive sources (mostly contaminated metals).
There are a few scenarios that could pose risks to Pakistan's nuclear weapons, aside from the obvious risks of direct attacks on civilian nuclear installations or radical insiders within the organization who might transfer nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations (e.g. a repeat of the UTN episode or an A.Q. Khan-like figure willing to do business with al Qaeda or the Taliban); security around nuclear installations is robust and tight, though nothing is ever totally impenetrable, while the PRP/HRP is tasked with ensuring that the latter scenario does not unfold.
The first risk is the threat of a diversion of fissile material at the production stage by one or more Pakistani nuclear scientists, either at once or slowly over time, with the latter being more difficult to detect. Given the accounting uncertainties in even the world's most secure nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, it might be impossible to detect the diversion of a few kilograms of fissile material accumulated over long periods of time, particularly as Pakistan is ramping up production of the weapons-grade material (both plutonium and HEU) needed to make nuclear weapons.
While protection and accounting in Pakistan's nuclear establishments have reportedly improved since 2001, perhaps partly with U.S. assistance (though much of this remains highly classified and it is not clear how much Pakistan trusts or would accept U.S. assistance), it was considered rudimentary prior to that and it is therefore a daunting task to ensure that 100 percent of Pakistan's fissile material produced over the past 20 years is accounted for, since accounting uncertainties of just a few tenths of a percent could be sufficient to develop a radiological or nuclear device -- and no regulatory authorities may even realize the material is missing.
The second point of vulnerability is during the transfer of nuclear assets from civilian organizations to Army locations. Mowatt-Larssen writes that Pakistan "transport[s] and deploy[s] weapons clandestinely rather than in convoys that have a stronger, highly visible security profile" which could "paradoxically ... backfire in the event a malicious insider gained access to locations of weapons storage sites, transportation routes, and similar insider information, especially because more moving parts are involved in assembling weapons when they are being deployed. In such a case, there would be fewer barriers between an outside group and the bomb."
That is, Pakistan relies on less-guarded, secret transfers instead of heavily armed convoys, which means that an attack that either knowingly (through insider collaboration) or by chance targeted a nuclear transport would have a higher probability of successfully boosting nuclear material. This could be a particularly attractive mode of attack since terrorist organizations might be able to successfully steal nuclear assets with only the assistance of a lone malicious insider who had foreknowledge of transport times and routes.
The key point here is that there are different organizations responsible for the production and stewardship of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and each one presents its own points and scenarios of vulnerability. The Pakistani Army may face acute challenges ensuring centralized command and control of nuclear assets during times of crisis. And with respect to the civilian nuclear agencies, highly accurate accounting and controls, rigorous screening procedures, and secure transfer of materials to and by the Army are crucial to ensuring that Pakistan's nuclear assets are not vulnerable to corrupt insiders or external terrorist threats.
Vipin Narang is a Ph.D. candidate in the Harvard University Department of Government and a research fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Recent jihadist attacks on Pakistan's nuclear facilities did not threaten the security of the weapons inside, an American intelligence official says.
A report in the July issue of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which has prompted blaring headlines in the Indian media but drawn little attention elsewhere, said that "home-grown terrorists" had attacked three Pakistani nuclear facilities over the past two years.
"These have included an attack on the nuclear missile storage facility at Sargodha on November 1, 2007, an attack on Pakistan's nuclear airbase at Kamra by a suicide bomber on December 10, 2007, and perhaps most significantly the August 20, 2008 attack when Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers blew up several entry points to one of the armament complexes at the Wah cantonment, considered one of Pakistan's main nuclear weapons assembly sites," Shaun Gregory, Director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, wrote in the CTC Sentinel."The significance of these events is difficult to overstate," Gregory said.
But a U.S. intelligence official, speaking in exchange for anonymity because he was not authorized to articulate an official view on the matter, downplayed Gregory's conclusion.
None of the attacks, he said, posed a real threat to the security of the nuclear installations, much less the weapons inside.
"These are large facilities. It's not clear that the attackers knew what these bases might have contained," he said.
"In addition, the mode of attack was curious. If they were after something specific, or were truly seeking entry, you'd think they might use a different tactic, one that's been employed elsewhere -- such as a bomb followed by a small-arms assault.
"Simply touching off an explosive," he added, "outside the gate of a base -- with no follow-up -- doesn't get you inside. For those reasons, I wouldn't extrapolate from these incidents any kind of downgrade in the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsensal."
Gregory himself made note of Pakistan's multi-layered web of security methods to prevent the unauthorized use of the weapons.
"I don't know how much this is hyped," said a prominent nonproliferation expert who asked not to be identified because he was also not authorized to speak on the issue. "It might be slightly, but this is worrying, even if half true."
"While many are aware of the careful stewardship of the Pakistani Army in general," he added, "the pattern of such incidents is beginning to be disturbing."
The New York Times' The Lede blog has also picked up this story.
Gregory, by the way, has signed up as an AfPak channel contributor; his remarks on the situation in Kandahar can be found here.