AW: [ RadSafe ] Iran & USA

James Salsman james at
Thu Apr 13 15:39:53 CDT 2006

Weak Pakistani government is greater nuclear threat than Iran

Sunday, April 09, 2006

by David Wood, Newhouse News Service

While the United States struggles to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions, a 
more-frightening nightmare is developing in Pakistan, where a weak but 
nuclear-armed government is being buffeted by radical Islamist 
influences, terrorism and several bloody insurgencies.

Among all the perils the United States faces, "Pakistan is the most 
horrific and the hardest one to do anything about," said Charles D. 
Furguson, a senior nuclear-proliferation expert at the Council on 
Foreign Relations who served as a naval officer on a nuclear missile 

The nation does not have enough troops to speedily and simultaneously 
"lock down" all of Pakistan's nuclear weapons sites if that became 
necessary because of civil strife, an attempted coup or a terrorist 
attack, officials and outside analysts said.

The U.S. president's only option might be nuclear - a desperate attempt 
to destroy Pakistan's weapons rather than risk their falling into 
terrorists' hands and ultimately detonating in an American city.

"To date we don't have anything that can get there quickly, except for a 
nuclear weapon," Assistant Defense Secretary Peter C.W. Flory told a 
panel of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 29. He was 
speaking generally about targeting terrorists in possession of nuclear 
weapons, not about Pakistan in particular.

By "quickly," officials mean one to four hours. "For that small, highly 
important set of targets . . . a goal we have set is to be able to 
address those targets in one hour anyplace" with ballistic missiles, 
Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, who commands all U.S. strategic 
missiles and bombers, told the senators.

Pakistan's loss of control over some or all of its nuclear weapons has 
been quietly discussed and war-gamed at senior levels in the Defense 
Department. But given the political sensitivity of discussing possible 
armed intervention in an allied country, Pentagon officials declined to 
answer questions. Lt. Col. Tracy O'Grady-Walsh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, 
said, "Unclassified answers do not exist."

Though Pakistan is considered a close ally in the war on terrorism, its 
military and secret intelligence service have worked closely with 
radical Islamist insurgents operating in Kashmir, and with al-Qaida and 
the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001.

Starting that fall, the United States began using Pakistan as a major 
base for the war in Afghanistan and demanded that Pakistan cut its ties 
with Islamist groups.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, has tried since 
2001 to gingerly rein in domestic Islamists who are violently opposed to 
Pakistan's cooperation with the United States. Musharraf's dilemma, 
analysts said, is to respond to U.S. pressure without provoking an open 

Pakistan announced in May 1998 that it had successfully conducted five 
nuclear tests. It is thought to have between 30 and 52 nuclear bombs and 
missile warheads, according to data compiled by the Natural Resources 
Defense Council, a nonprofit research organization in Washington.

Pakistan is not as unstable as it sounds, said Ashley J. Tellis, who 
recently directed strategic planning for South Asia in the White House 
and was a senior adviser to the U.S. ambassador to India. The Pakistani 
military has tight control over its nuclear weapons and it is "highly 
unlikely" that anything could crack that control, said Tellis, currently 
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

But the risk must be considered, because failure could mean a stealthy 
terrorist nuclear attack on the United States, said John Gordon, a 
retired Army officer who is a strategic analyst at RAND Corp., a 
nonprofit think tank that works primarily for the Pentagon.

"If you fail to secure nuclear weapons in a country that may be torn by 
a civil war, coup attempt or insurgency, you fail massively," Gordon said.

There has been little public discussion of the issue, he said, because 
"it is painful to think through a problem like this. The nuclear thing 
is still in a really hard-to-do box."

According to analyses by operations experts, tens of thousands of 
American troops would be needed to "kick in the door" and seize 
Pakistan's nuclear sites. The United States has neither the troops nor 
the airlift capacity to get to Pakistan within days, let alone the hours 
required in a crisis.

"We lack the military capability," said Bruce Nardulli, a specialist in 
ground warfare at RAND. "These sites would have to be brought down and 
secured, locked down, simultaneously, in the middle of a huge conflict 
and among a hostile population. You'd need an army much larger than what 
you have today."

Pakistan's nuclear weapons are believed to be kept, disassembled, at six 
missile and air bases. Other sites would have to be guarded in a crisis, 
including the nuclear reactor facility at Joharabad and the Kahuta 
uranium enrichment facility in northern Pakistan, which is believed to 
be producing plutonium.

Finding and securing such sites is a mission shared among the Defense 
Threat Reduction Agency, the U.S. Special Operations Command and the 
U.S. Strategic Command under Gen. Cartwright. It requires fresh and 
precise intelligence, something the United States lacked in Iraq and 
elsewhere, U.S. officials acknowledge.

"We've been surprised before," Flory said in his Senate testimony.

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