More Pakistani nukes? That’s Washington’s problem

India is already under risk from the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. So what if Pakistan has some more of them?

No, it should not surprise anyone that Pakistan has been cranking up its capacity to produce more nuclear weapons and delivery systems. ISIS analysts David Albright & Paul Brannan recently sounded alarm that two new plutonium reactors in the Khushab complex might be close to being operational. As Mr Albright says, there is not even the pretence that these reactors can be used for generating electrical power. The fact that Pakistan—international migraine, mortal threat, most dangerous place in the world, 60 miles away from being taken over by the Taliban and all that—is expanding its nuclear arsenal at a time when it is pleading for international aid for almost everything has shocked the Western media, and US Congressmen. This is good—especially if it is coupled with the realisation that the fungibility of money (linkthanks Chidanand Rajghatta) renders absurd the Obama administration’s argument that aid to Pakistan will be monitored, benchmarked if not actually made conditional. [Watch this video]

Now, a bigger Pakistani arsenal increases the risk to the United States and the international community in various ways.

And because of this, it undermines Pakistan’s own security. The more fissile material Pakistan has, the higher the risk (to the international community) with regard to its custodial security. The greater the risk the United States faces, the more it will coerce Pakistan. In the ultimate analysis, Pakistan cannot continue cranking up its nuclear weapons factory without running the risk of a direct military intervention by the United States. It is strategic stupidity—a well-known pathology affecting the Pakistani army’s general staff—that causes Islamabad to expand its arsenal beyond what it has.

But it shouldn’t worry India any more than it already does. So Pakistan has not 80, but 100 warheads now. Deterrence still holds.

So yes, the United States, China and the West need to worry—perhaps even panic—about Pakistan’s expanded nuclear arsenal: what goes around, comes around. The Pakistani government needs to worry about it too. On the other hand, India need not lose additional sleep over it. That’s why calls such as the one by today’s New York Times, which suggests that it is India’s ‘responsibility’ to prevent Pakistan from blowing the beleaguered US taxpayers’ dollars on churning out plutonium for more nuclear weapons, must be ignored. On the contrary, it is for the Obama administration to demonstrate “the kind of regional and global leadership expected of a global power” by ensuring that it doesn’t indulge Pakistan’s dangerously deceitful military-jihadi complex in pursuing its maximalist nuclear ambitions.

19 thoughts on “More Pakistani nukes? That’s Washington’s problem”

  1. Nitin,
    Competely agree. . However, I dont think Pak army is stupid to take this step..they might just be ensuring enough pile stashed away in safehouses before US/Obama manage to get hold of official pile after all that sniffing going on by Adm Mullen over last few months..The NY editorial was totally uncalledfor gibberish and was patronising towards India. Not sure what they are smoking..it talks nonsense like we need to allay pak’s fears (which everyone knows are delusional and dysfunctional) and ominous reference to giving leeway on water problems.!! Pak is sure trying through Uncle Sam to extract something out of India in return for the ongoing war theatre of Swat.

  2. “In the ultimate analysis, Pakistan cannot continue cranking up its nuclear weapons factory without running the risk of a direct military intervention by the United States.”

    For that to happen, the Americans must know the location of each and every nuclear weapon, with no room for error.

  3. I’m surprised Indians aren’t going into “Kaliyugam” mode. It seems that people aren’t too big on the whole apocalypse scenario but I guess thats a good thing.

    What is Congress going to do?

    This is not only India’s problem but a real existential threat.

    Keshav

  4. Also –
    Was surprised to see no mention of Prabhakaran anywhere on INI? What gives?

  5. I liked Bruce Riedel quote: “has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth.”

    Nitin, though the equation does not change that much for India, what if that holy grail falls into the hands of swat rulers?

  6. The ISIS finding isn’t a recent one, but the timing of the issue being ‘seriously’ raised & magnified means that ultimately there would be some attempt to arm-twist India into signing the npt’s..ctbt’s…

  7. Aam Insaan,
    there is no harm in signing CTBT or NPT, i think india is already there. Elimination of nuclear weapons? well Dr K Subramanyam answers all your questions. Urge you to listen to it. I is available here.…on your right hand side!

  8. When the Americans themselves were helping Pakistan in their nuclear smuggling efforts, then who could have stopped Pakistan ?

    The reporting at the following links would suggest that top US administration officials were involved in helping Pakistan : 1 and 2

  9. Asked in an interview with Newsweek published on Sunday, if President Obama would be willing to keep the option alive to have American troops secure [Pakistan’s] nuclear weapons if the country gets less stable, he expressed confidence that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are safe and said that the Pakistani military is equipped to prevent extremists from taking over the nuclear arsenal.

    Really? Dr. Jekyll is equipped to prevent Mr. Hyde from murdering Sir Danvers?

  10. Hi,

    It is not clear what the US can do about the problem, except complain.

    After all, the only theoretically large source of leverage the US has to deny Pakistan aid. Here in the US, people tend to assume that most of the US aid goes to fighting the Taliban, in which case cutting off aid would speed up, not impede, a Taliban takeover of Pakistan’s nukes.

    My guess is that the actual effect of Pakistan’s actions is to increase the pressure, slightly, on the US. After all, people who think that a Taliban takeover of “nuclear armed Pakistan” is a threat when Pakistan has 80 nuclear weapons will probably think it is more of a threat when Pakistan has 100 nuclear weapons. The current US strategy in response to the threat that Pakistan’s 80 nukes will fall into the hands of the Taliban is to provide support for the Pakistan’s military. I assume that if Pakistan gets 100 nukes {or even 500 nukes}, the reaction in the US is likely to be the same.

    Beyond that I don’t have much to say. I’m shocked , shocked, that our Pakistani “allies” are placing their perceived interest in preparing for war with India, or preparing to deter India, ahead our interest in getting rid of the Taliban and reducing the number of nukes that may get into the hands of people hostile to the US. Next thing you know, someone will be telling me that the sun rises in the East.

    But as often happens, this is getting to be a little long. Those interested in reading more from me can consult my blog. I thank others for reading this far.

    Ray,

  11. Arun,

    The Indian PM has said he is assured that Pakistan’s nukes won’t fall into the hands of the Taliban. Given that he is among the few who actually has the facts (and the rest of us just speculate/extrapolate) we ought to take his word for it. The US president also said something to the effect. There are no certainties in this world, but this is what it is. If the Talibs do get hold of the coconuts, well, when else will we know how robust C&C systems are 🙂

    Aam Insaan,

    Whatever the purpose of Mssrs Albright & Co releasing the information now, the “India must sign the NPT&CTBT&XYZT” crowd will reflexively get into action. That’s why you saw the NYT say what it did. Part of the familiar course.

    Raymond,

    What can the US do? Well, realise that the fundamental problem since before 9/11 is not al-Qaeda and the ragged men in robes hiding in mountain caves, but the general staff in GHQ Rawalpindi. Unless the US realises that it must bring about a dismantling of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, it’ll be engaged in contradictions. Giving money to Pakistan will only feed its Taliban and nuke factories: money is fungible.

    We’re on a glide path towards the US realising the awful truth: that a confrontation with the military-jihadi complex is inevitable. Who do you think the Pakistani nukes are protecting? The people of Pakistan? Not quite—if Pakistan doesn’t mess around fomenting terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, India is likely to ignore Pakistan, not invade it. (Indians have a bad habit of ignoring their neighbours). Pakistan’s nukes are protecting the military-jihadi complex while damaging the interests of the Pakistani people. Unfortunately, the Pakistani people are brainwashed into denial and delusion that they don’t even know it.

  12. I think its about time someone create a Bollywood movie about how Jai/Veeru retrieve Pakistan’s nukes with Basanti’s help. I am sure it will at least get nominated for Oscars, if done well.

  13. Nitin wrote:

    The Indian PM has said he is assured that Pakistan’s nukes won’t fall into the hands of the Taliban. Given that he is among the few who actually has the facts (and the rest of us just speculate/extrapolate) we ought to take his word for it.

    According to the current issue of an Israeli intelligence journal Debka, however, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warned President Obama in a high level exchange between the two governmenets that certain Pakistani nuclear sites are already in the control of “Muslim extremists” (Taliban) – via Rantburg. The subheading for the article claimed, “India gets ready for a Taliban-ruled nuclear neighbor.”

    What gives?

  14. RF,

    I’d say that Pakistan’s nuclear sites have always been in the control of Muslim extremists.

    I’d just say that the good people in Debka might have had their reason for publishing that piece of news, but then, I’d still go by what the prime minister officially said. Especially on this subject.

  15. Nitin,

    First, you say that Pakistani nukes are in the hands of Muslim extremists.Then you go on to say that you are going by the PM’s statement that the nukes are safe.

    Is it your thesis that the nukes are safe because: (a) The Muslim extremists/GHQ Rawalpindi are sane enough to value their own lives and not use the nukes ever or (b) The PM knows things that we don’t know or both (a) and (b)?

    I am confused, honestly.

  16. Hi Nitin,

    Oddly enough, I think the most promising route to reducing the influence of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex is for India to settle its border dispute with China. China has both a rivalry with India and a problem with jihadis of its own. Right now, it sees Pakistan as a useful {if expensive} ally against India.

    In support of Pakistan, China can easily explain to Hillary that if it sees a serious US decision to move closer to India, it will have to assume that anti-Chinese elements in the US have been victorious. As is well known in the US, China and India, many people in the US strategic community are hoping to contain China using India as a counterweight. This may lead China, regrettably, to think that the US is thinking of becoming an enemy of China. Of course, if the US is becoming an enemy of China, it might be appropriate for China to reduce its dollar reserves and expand their holdings in other currencies.

    So I think if India wants the US to effectively pressure Pakistan, it needs to convince the Chinese that this is not a sign that the US and India are becoming allies against China. If the rivalry between India and China abates some, the Chinese may be more willing to pressure Pakistan to move a little more toward India’s position, and keep down support for anti-India terrorists. This may also reduce China’s level of concern when the US does something that seems to help India.

    Of course, this view is a little odd, and a lot of people in the US strategic community would probably be unenthusiastic about my mentioning it in an Indian forum. But I think, given China’s possession of a big stick in the form of multiple trillions of US dollars, that it is unrealistic for India to expect the US to undercut the Pakistani military-jihadi complex unless China thinks that support for the military-jihadi complex is no longer in its interest.

    Ray,

  17. To be honest, I have liked the pragmatic views of the Acorn in the past. This one befuddles me. Especially statements like this,
    “But it shouldn’t worry India any more than it already does. So Pakistan has not 80, but 100 warheads now. Deterrence still holds.”
    Really deterrence is for rational people, these are crazed terrorists if you have not noticed. They wait for a reward beyond the grave.
    And reactionary poses like this,
    “On the contrary, it is for the Obama administration to demonstrate “the kind of regional and global leadership expected of a global power” by ensuring that it doesn’t indulge Pakistan’s dangerously deceitful military-jihadi complex in pursuing its maximalist nuclear ambitions.”
    There are 2 major problems within Pak right now, one the military is doing things the Govt. cannot control and the second, Taliban and other groups are mounting a serious proxy battle. All it takes is for the Taliban to get their hands on one warhead to send it across the border. For all we know they already have their hands on a few.
    Your thoughts are akin to to a kid trying to control his sibling in the same room, using an elder’s voice who is another room in the house.
    Now the US is already stuck in 2 battles which it doesn’t seeming winning at this time. To expect it to successfully mollycoddle Pak to manage its weapons seems awfully tough, even with it controlling the funding going in. How is Hilary going to squeeze the Pak Govt.? Is going to audit what is being spent on a line by line basis? Or perhaps call the bluff and stop funding Pak totally?
    Unfortunately the UPA govt’s laissez-faire attitude is exactly the one which emboldens the terrorists to undertake another Mumbai adventure.
    A shameless plug to my blog post where we addressed this topic recently,

  18. slam to all friends worring abt pak nukes..

    i hv read above mentioned comments frm different ppl & amused how
    u ppl find it a childs play for talibans to control over pakistani nukes.>??
    wt i think is , the safeguard of the nukes r as same as the rest of the world. its the only propaganda against pakistan & its military.nothing else..
    pakistans nukes r not available like water melons nor coconuts …
    so, dont much worry abt pak nukes,bcoz they r as safe as in other nucleur capable countries,..,pak N india never ever go for a war as prvious.
    some of u, understands tht pak is making missiles nd nukes frm the US money or world donation..is rediculious bcoz pak it self hv been affected much more in WAR against TERROR than any other country in the world..not even the USA..

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