AW: [ RadSafe ] Iran & USA
james at bovik.org
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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