“What?! Pak’s Lost a Nuke?!” – America’s Potential Plans of Action

Originally Produced for the Public Policy Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Assessing the Dangers to Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal: Can there be a Broken Arrow Scenario?  1

Executive Summary

As the United States proceeds with its war on terrorism, one of the darkest clouds hanging over the campaign is the question of whether the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 horrors could strike again, this time with nuclear weapons. From the US perspective, the military engagement with the Taliban has ’broken their military grip’[1], but conflict in Afghanistan might have volatile domestic ramifications in neighboring Pakistan, a declared nuclear state.

In effect to such concerns, questions about the safety of Islamabad’s nuclear explosives, fissile material stocks, and nuclear facilities have come to the fore. Pakistan’s military regime led by General Pervez Musharraf is on the horns of a political dilemma. On the one hand, the regime faces strong domestic opposition from militant Islamic groups who are opposed to any Pakistani participation in attacks on Afghanistan. On the other, U.S. pressure has placed Pakistan in the path of a direct confrontation with the Taliban, who to an extent are a creation of Pakistani military and intelligence agencies.

The Taliban have threatened Pakistan with a “massive attack” for rendering any assistance to the United States in attacking Afghanistan. Taliban leader Mullah Omar has publicly warned, “It’s possible that we will invade any country that provides access to the US.”[2] Threats from the Taliban have caused some concern in the United States that Pakistan’s key nuclear facilities could become the targets of future terrorist attacks. Observers have also expressed alarm that if the secrecy of the storage locations of fissile material stocks and nuclear explosives become compromised by Taliban-sympathizers within the Pakistani military, Islamabad could lose control over its nuclear assets. This is an attempt to consider the potential ‘broken arrow’ or ‘loose nuke’ scenario emerging during the conflict, as well as an attempt to devise a policy that would deal with such a scenario.

I. Background

As of the end of 1999, Pakistan possessed 585 – 800 kilograms of weapon-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) and 1.7 – 13 kilograms of separated plutonium; these quantities are sufficient for 30-50 nuclear bombs or warheads. According to a variety of media reports, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are stored with their fissile cores separated from the non-nuclear components.[3]

A troubling question in the current situation is that a nuclear weapon or fissile material could fall into the wrong hands. Available information suggests that, despite official statements to the contrary, the Pakistani government may not have full confidence in the security of its nuclear arsenal. According to the Energy Department official, Pakistan had requested some kind of assistance to improve its physical security capabilities even before the crisis.[4]

The security threats to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal include the following:[5]

Outsider Threat — The possibility that armed individuals or groups from outside a facility gain access and steal weapons, weapons components or fissile material. The outsiders’ objective is to gain control of these items for their own use or to transfer them to another state or to other non-state actors.

Insider Threat The possibility that individuals who work at a facility will remove weapons or weapons components without proper authorization. The insiders’ objectives may be to control these items for their own use, transfer control of the items to a previously identified outsider, or to sell these items to a previously unidentified outsider. In the case of transfer, the insider may be motivated either by profit or ideological affinity with an outside group.

Insider/Outsider Threat The possibility that insiders and outsiders conspire together to obtain weapons or weapon components. Again, the motivation for the theft may be either profit or ideology.

Leakage of Sensitive Information Insiders provide key information about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to outsiders. The information could include classified nuclear weapons data, exact storage locations, security and access control arrangements, or operational details about the weapons.

Loss of Central Control of Storage Facilities In the event of a civil war in Pakistan, clear lines of communication and control over weapons, weapons components, and information may be broken or lost entirely.

During times of relative political and social normalcy, the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is probably manageable. However, these are not normal times. Pakistan’s decision to cooperate with the United States in responding to the September 11th terrorist attacks threatens to throw Pakistan into turmoil. The threat to Pakistan’s stability is difficult to judge, and the U.S. actions appear currently to be reducing such a possibility. Nevertheless, the war on terrorism is expected to be long and drawn out, potentially subjecting Pakistan to further instability. In addition, the Pakistani military and intelligence services may still have strong ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Like the Pakistani population, many among the rank-and-file and perhaps the officer corps of the Pakistani military could be sympathetic to fundamentalist causes and hostile to the United States. Such insider threats could pose one of the most vexing problems in the current crisis.

In any case, insider and outsider threats are endemic to nuclear weapons programs world-wide. The United States struggled for many years to develop a security system to adequately protect its nuclear weapons and weapons components, and is now engaged with Russia to improve the security of Russian nuclear materials. Moreover, security technologies and procedures need to be constantly improved in order to stay one step ahead of would-be thieves.

II. Options for Action

With such a panoply of possible threats, there are a number of actions that could be taken in the near term to shore up nuclear security. Firstly, the Pakistani situation deserves careful monitoring — using surveillance and intelligence assets in the region. The U.S. government could urge Pakistani authorities to further consolidate and/or disable their nuclear devices, and beef up security around storage sites — and even offer security equipment and guards. In fact, the U.S. government should be prepared to provide arsenal security even without Islamabad’s permission if emergency circumstances dictate.

Option #1) Emphasis on Physical Protection (short-term)

Given the threats arrayed against Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, it is incumbent upon the government of Pakistan to assess the security of its nuclear arsenal and make improvements where necessary. Statements by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry that “our [nuclear] assets are 100 percent secure, under multiple custody” are untested and lack credibility.[6]

The United States can offer valuable assistance to Pakistan to make its nuclear weapons more secure. Reportedly, such assistance has already been discussed by U.S. and Pakistani officials.[7]

In offering assistance, the United States should focus on procedures and technologies that enhance the physical protection of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. In particular, the United States should emphasize that nuclear weapons be disassembled with their components stored in separate vaults or locations. Procedures for accessing these components should emphasize the need for several individuals from different parts of the government to access the different components and assemble the weapon. A fundamental principle should be that no one person can gain access to an assembled nuclear weapon, or all of the components for a complete nuclear weapon.

Option #2) Tactical Security (short-term)

The U.S. government also could begin drawing up contingency plans to ‘rescue’ the arsenal if the need arises. U.S. Special Operations forces should be kept on high alert in US Navy carriers stationed in the region for quick, covert insertion to the sites to disable or even re-locate weapons to prevent their capture by unauthorized persons. Therefore, it would be highly desirable for nuclear experts from the Department of Energy to accompany any military troops in such a scenario. DoE nuclear response teams, known as Nuclear Emergency Search Teams (NEST), are formed in a crisis from nearly 1,000 highly trained and knowledgeable individuals, and could be dispatched to the region to assist in locating and disarming any weapons. (The teams and their equipment, some on alert staging out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, know the design of Pakistani weapons based on defector reports), and could x-ray the weapons and devise a disabling procedure on the spot. Compared to the military’s commandos, these experienced civilian teams would stand a better chance of blowing up the triggering mechanisms on Pakistani weapons without causing the bomb to go off[8]. Another option for response in a crisis would be for such a joint military-civilian insertion mission to link up with a Pakistani counterpart to conduct search and disable missions together in the region.

Option #3) Macro-development (long-term)

At the same time, the United States could work to restore close working relations with Pakistan. This should include ending economic sanctions, extending credits for trade and investment; signing debt relief packages and larger export quotas; and providing aid to support social welfare, economic modernization, privatization, and the reform of tax, electoral and development mechanisms — all of which will promote Pakistan’s political and economic stability.

Option #4) Military ties (long-term)

The United States could also maintain its channels of communication to the Pakistani military, both assisting it with training and encouraging it to support the development of a more firmly rooted democratic political system. International military education and training would help keep Pakistan’s armed forces professional and linked to the West. The United States should also resume limited conventional arms sales to Pakistan that do not contribute to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programs or alter the fundamental military balance in the region.

III. Analysis

How credible is the threat?

What evidence exists to suggest that the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear installations or the command and control of its strategic forces are in jeopardy? The following section assesses some of the safety concerns surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. It imagines four scenarios to analyze conditions under which the Pakistani government could conceivably lose control over its cache of fissile material and nuclear warheads.

The first scenario addresses concerns about the potential impact of political instability in Pakistan. The latter three scenarios assess: (1) the likelihood of nuclear terrorism, (2) the possibility of rogue military commanders or units gaining access to nuclear warheads or fissile material, and (3) the consequences of any temporary loss of centralized control over nuclear storage sites.

Opposition from Militant Islamic Groups and Political Instability:

Observers fear that U.S. intervention against the Taliban with the Pakistani government’s support could trigger political instability in Pakistan. The instability could result from opposition by Islamic groups sympathetic to the Taliban and Usama bin Laden. There is also concern that in the long term, the Islamic political groups could form alliances with radicals in the Pakistani army, who then might try and dislodge General Pervez Musharraf from power. Factional infighting within the Pakistani Army could put a dangerous question mark over the command and control of Islamabad’s nuclear forces. Similarly, a wider civil war in Pakistan could jeopardize the safety and security of its fissile material stocks and nuclear installations.

Although the above scenario cannot be ruled out in theory, a closer analysis of the prevailing political conditions in Pakistan reveals that such concerns are unduly alarmist. The Islamic parties and groups such as Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamaat-i-Ulema, and Jameat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, which oppose the Pakistani government’s support for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, represent a minority. All mainstream political parties in Pakistan such as the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Muslim League (the Nawaz Sharif faction being the exception), and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement have expressed support for General Musharraf’s policies.

The Islamic political parties are vocal, well organized, and very often successful in mobilizing people on the street. However, their political base is mainly confined to Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and some urban centers in the Punjab (Lahore), and Sindh (Karachi). Furthermore, the Islamic parties are disunited. Due to Pakistan’s Westminster style first-past-the-post electoral system (as against proportional representation), they have never succeeded in winning more than a handful of seats in the national assembly. Similarly, the performance of the Islamic parties in the recent local elections organized by the military regime was dismal. Hence, the ability of the radical Islamic groups to generate heat and dust in Pakistan’s civil society should not be confused with actual political influence. In this regard, it should also be noted that the recent strike organized by these parties to express opposition to the Pakistani government’s support for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan met with limited success.

Similarly, concerns about a potential coup by a radical Islamized faction within the Pakistani army are overstated. Observers who make these predictions premise their concerns on three trends. The pessimists argue that the Islamization of the Pakistani society as a whole has created an army rank and file and officer corps more sensitive to the forces of radical Islam. Second, the social base of the officer corps has changed in the last three decades. For example, during the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of military officers came from gentrified, landed, and westernized classes. In comparison, the bulk of the officers now come from the middle and lower-middle classes. The current generation of officer corps is less westernized and more socially conservative. Third, the process of Islamization within the Pakistani military, a trend that started under the late-President Zia in the early 1980s, created a “Zia generation” of officers who believe in the greater Islamization of the Pakistani society and army. Some of these trends came to light during the aborted coup led by Major-General Zahir ul Islam Abbasi in 1995 during Benazir Bhutto’s second tenure as prime minister.

Despite the growing fears of Islamization, the Pakistani Army remains a professional force and is in no immediate danger of falling prey to the forces of radical Islam. There is certainly a greater sensitivity within its rank and file and officer corps towards Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic nation. However, the emphasis within the military on Islam is more ideological and inspirational, and not necessarily political. The majority of the Pakistani Army’s officers continue to see themselves as good Muslims and competent professionals. Regardless of their social and religious beliefs, these officers are also extremely sensitive to the corporate interests of the military. In the present context, the Pakistani military sees its corporate interests served by enduring political, economic, technical, and military links with the United States. Indeed, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf reflected this consensus among his corps commanders when he explained why he had decided to side with the United States in its conflict with the Taliban. In his address to the Pakistani people, Musharraf made it plain that Pakistan’s interests “come first.”

In the near term, Pakistan has gained considerably from the current crisis in Afghanistan. The Bush administration has rewarded Pakistan for its support by waiving all nuclear-related sanctions and a billion-dollar aid package to bail out the ailing Pakistani economy. Pakistan will also most certainly try and use its new found bargaining leverage to gain political support for Kashmir and try and prevent the United States from framing its support for the Kashmiri insurgency as support for terrorism.

Furthermore, the military regime has performed a careful balancing act. In apparent deference to the misgivings of the Islamic political groups, Islamabad has insisted upon UN authorization for any U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. In a similar vein, Pakistan has agreed to grant the United States access to its bases, airspace, and intelligence files; but it has firmly ruled out direct participation of its armed forces in military operations in Afghanistan.

The Rogue Military Commander Theory

Could a rogue military commander or military unit with sympathies to the Taliban or opposed to the Pakistani government’s cooperation with the United States, seize a cache of nuclear warheads? Although a successful seizure is possible in theory, it would be extremely difficult to achieve in practice.

The first difficulty has to do with the nature and configuration of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Although Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in May 1998 and declared itself a nuclear weapon state, it is highly unlikely that Islamabad maintains a nuclear force that is operational or on a hair-trigger alert. Statements made by senior Pakistani civilian and military officials suggest that Islamabad’s nuclear force probably remains unconstituted. The term unconstituted essentially means that in times of peace the fissionable cores of the nuclear warheads are maintained separately from their non-nuclear assemblies. As a corollary to the above, nuclear warheads are not mated with their delivery systems.

Pakistan probably maintains its arsenal in an unconstituted state for doctrinal and safety reasons. At a doctrinal level, the military has internalized the fundamental lesson of the nuclear revolution that nuclear weapons best serve a political purpose. Nuclear weapons are more useful for their symbolic value in deterring enemies than for achieving any militarily useful objective on the battlefield. Hence Pakistan’s nuclear force is designed to deter the threat of a high-intensity conventional war against India. Although no Pakistani government has publicly articulated its nuclear use doctrine, some retired senior Pakistani officials have suggested that nuclear escalation by Islamabad would be most likely in the event Pakistan’s national survival were threatened.

Since the probability of a high-intensity conventional war in South Asia remains low, both India and Pakistan maintain their nuclear arsenals in what analysts commonly characterize as a “recessed” state. The unconstituted nature of the arsenal not only minimizes the risks of nuclear weapons use through inadvertence, accident, or a command and control failure, but it also forecloses the possibility of the seizure of an assembled weapon or cache of weapons by a rogue military commander or unit. Even if a military commander or his unit were to successfully seize all the components of a nuclear warhead, they would require considerable technical assistance from other units within the military and the civilian nuclear establishment to reconstitute them. This would also be the case if an attempt were made to deploy the fissile cores or fissile material from nuclear facilities in the form of radiological weapons.

It would be reasonable to expect that highly trained and trusted military commando units guard caches of warheads or parts of disassembled warheads. Although there is an information vacuum about the organizations that safeguard Pakistan’s cache of nuclear warheads, it should not be assumed that those guarding specific components of disassembled warheads (fissile cores and non-fissile assemblies) would necessarily also have access to information about the location of all the constituent parts of the warhead. Such information would probably only be available to very senior military commanders. Hence the reconstitution of a warhead or a cache of warheads would require extensive intra-service and inter-service cooperation, particularly from the air force. Such cooperation would be unlikely in the absence of serious factional infighting within the army or the military as a whole. So far, no information has surfaced in the public domain to warrant concerns about serious policy differences or infighting within the Pakistani military.

However, it would be theoretically possible for a rogue military unit or commander to seize highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the two facilities at Kahuta and Golra Sharif, or weapons-grade plutonium from the Khushab research reactor. The alleviating factor in this regard is that all three facilities are located in the Punjab, the political, economic, and military heartland of Pakistan. In addition, all three facilities are located deep inside Pakistan, away from the turbulent Afghan border. Further, the three facilities are located close to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, which also makes it easier for the military to deploy reinforcements, isolate rogue units, and disrupt their logistics to prevent the seizure, theft, or loss of fissile material.

Possibility of Terrorist Attacks

Could the Taliban mount well-planned and organized assaults on Pakistani nuclear facilities? The short answer to this question is no. The Taliban are a lightly armed militia. They are incapable of deploying artillery, rockets, armor, or combat aircraft against the better organized and trained Pakistani military far away from the Afghan heartland. The Taliban’s problems are further compounded by the closure of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Although the Afghan-Pakistan border is highly porous, the mountainous nature of the terrain and closure of key border crossings effectively rules out the use of heavy military equipment by the Taliban for any operations inside Pakistan.

In theory, the Taliban could infiltrate Pakistan and launch attacks on nuclear facilities using light weapons and guerilla tactics. However, the small number of these facilities and their location deep inside Pakistan make the task of the attacker more difficult. In this regard, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar has indicated that his government takes the Taliban’s threats “very seriously.” Other media reports also suggest that the Pakistani government has enhanced the security of its nuclear installations by deploying elite commando units to guard them.

The possibility that the Taliban or Taliban-backed militias within Pakistan could seize nuclear weapons is also remote. This is largely because Pakistan has a small nuclear arsenal. According to publicly available sources, Islamabad has an inventory of 585-800kg of HEU, enough to probably build 30-52 fission bombs. In addition, the Khushab research reactor, which became operational in March/April 1998, is capable of producing 10-15kg of weapons-grade plutonium annually. The small number of nuclear warheads and still smaller number of facilities actually used to manufacture fissile material make it simpler for national command authorities to exercise tight centralized control.

The small size of the arsenal also puts a premium on survivability. In the absence of a secure second-strike capability, the Pakistani military relies on dense opacity to mask its nuclear arsenal and enhance its survivability. Hence, the locations of the various components of Pakistan’s nuclear force are a closely guarded national secret. It is therefore highly unlikely that a terrorist group or network of groups could identify the different locations with confidence, let alone reconstitute the stolen parts into complete weapon systems.

Loss of Local Control

Local rioting or political disturbances could also cause the federal government to lose control over parts of Pakistan temporarily. Local riots could be triggered by domestic opposition to the military regime’s policies in Afghanistan or may be the consequence of political opposition from Taliban-sympathizers or those who favor Usama bin Laden within Pakistan.

However, the potential loss of control over local areas might not be as alarming as it appears at first for several reasons. As mentioned earlier, the storage sites for fissile material, machined HEU cores, and their non-fissile assemblies, are a highly classified national secret. The nuclear weapon parts are probably distributed in a number of tightly secured facilities at different locations throughout Pakistan. Military organizations also tend to be very conservative. It can therefore be presumed that planners selected sites on the basis of their secrecy, security, political stability, access to secure communications nodes, and relative invulnerability to a pre-emptive military strike. Military planners would be reluctant to store the constituent parts of nuclear weapons in local districts known for the their political volatility. Furthermore, even in the unlikely eventuality that the federal government were to lose control over a local district or region, the new controlling authorities might not have access to the necessary intelligence to exploit their strategic advantage.

In Pakistan, military facilities are often located away from civilian population centers. This is a legacy of the British colonial administration, which adopted a conscious policy of separating the military units from their civilian social base. Thus, military units are usually stationed in self-contained communities called cantonments. This factor also mitigates the impact of any temporary loss of local control. Conceivably, military cantonments or bases under threat from political protesters would be able to conduct holding operations and defend storage sites until the arrival of additional reinforcements. It would also not be unreasonable to assume that the military probably has some contingency plans to airlift the cores and non-fissile assemblies to pre-planned alternative sites in the event the security of a single or multiple sites is threatened.

IV. Criteria for providing assistance

Before making policy recommendations, this sub-section considers criteria to evaluate the types of assistance that the United States should offer to Pakistan to make its nuclear arsenal more secure. Preventing terrorist groups from gaining access to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal should be among the top priorities of the Bush administration during this phase of the war on terrorism. The criteria that the United States should consider include, but are not limited to, the following:

Is the assistance consistent with U.S. obligations under the NPT?[9]

Under Article I of the NPT, each nuclear weapon state “undertakes…not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon state to manufacture, or acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.” The administration needs to judge, both as a matter of policy and on a case-by-case basis, whether providing particular types of assistance to Pakistan constitutes a violation of this obligation or otherwise undermines the NPT. For example, assisting Pakistan to improve the security of its nuclear weapons storage facilities may be permissible. However, assistance that improves the safety and security of a nuclear warhead itself may also significantly improve Pakistan’s ability to deploy a warhead on a ballistic missile, and may be banned under the NPT.

Will the assistance encourage nuclear testing by Pakistan? [10]

The type of assistance given to Pakistan should not motivate Pakistan to test a nuclear device to further improve its design or operational capabilities.

Does the assistance increase the chances for nuclear war in South Asia?[11]

The United States needs to take care that its assistance does not contribute to advances in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. U.S. assistance should not permit the more rapid deployment of nuclear weapons, or make the weapons more reliable. The United States should also ensure that safety assistance does not allow Pakistan to store its warheads intact. The nuclear balance between India and Pakistan is not stable, and well-intentioned but short-sighted efforts to improve the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could end up increasing the risk of nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

V. Policy Recommendations

In the light of the above analysis, it should be considerably clear that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is in safe hands. Of course, security considerations should not be taken lightly, but modes of assistance could be realistically adjusted to the current scope of the current state of security. Such assistance appears justified.

For the short term, option #2 should be employed. In the light of low risk to the safeguard and command and control mechanism[12] to the Pakistani arsenal, it is not worth it to breach the NPT by helping Pakistan with nuclear weapons safeguards (option #1) that may violate U.S. commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), inadvertently encourage nuclear testing or otherwise contribute to advances in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, or increase the threat of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. Therefore, option #2, which calls for the deployment of standby Special Operations and NEST (Nuclear Emergency Search Team) contingents to be ready off-shore in case of a ‘broken arrow’ scenario, is the more viable short-term option. As stated before, these teams can be easily grouped to work independently or with Pakistani forces (depending on cooperation from the government). This option does not compromise the larger security and regime commitments (see above) the US has in the area.

For the longer term, options #3 and #4 are both viable, but will have some complicated policy implications.

If the US employs option #3 by helping the macro-development (social, economic, political) of Pakistan to accelerate (by ending economic sanctions, extending credits for trade and investment; signing debt relief packages and larger export quotas, providing aid to support social welfare, economic modernization, privatization, and the reform of tax, electoral and development mechanisms), the immediate stability and welfare of Pakistan will definitely increase. However, in light of the current security role the US is playing in the region, the longer term may have a complicated corollary. If the US retains an extensive military presence in Afghanistan (as it has recently stated that it will do so with the stationing of ‘peacekeeping’ troops till an elected Afghan government is formed), then domestic pressures within Pakistan, especially by conservative and religious groups, and most probably the military) may increase tensions militarily and diplomatically between the two countries, and if the government is deemed weak, might lead to a change in power, which decreases the stability in question. Therefore, aiding Pakistan’s development should also include mutual security ties and arrangements.

This takes us to option #4, also viable for the longer run. Further strengthening military ties with Pakistan, especially in light of the current security scenario in the region, will gain trust of the military and also keep it more professional and secular. It should be taken into account that the Pak and US militaries have a long history of cooperation, especially in terms of intelligence sharing and special operations exercises.[13] Reestablishing the trust which was lost in the 1990’s will be essential for improved positive engagement. It may also be that option #3 may work best under the auspices of option #4, for improved security ties would enhance the Pakistanis’ tolerance for a US military presence in the area as the US engages more positively with them in a developmental setting as well.

VI. Conclusion

It should be noted that none of the recommendations allow for the sharing of command and control methods which might land the US into ‘accepting’ Pakistan as a declared nuclear state and/or breach the NPT rules. That is perhaps the strongest point of these policy recommendations, for the greatest dilemma for US officials right now is dealing with how to work around Pakistan’s near-pariah status as well as its refusal to sign the NPT. Some of the recommended measures should go forward unconditionally (like the deployment of standby special operations units off-shore ready to ‘rescue’ a ‘broken arrow’). In certain areas, however, the desire and ability of the United States to expand relations will depend on both Indian and Pakistani behavior, for the Indian factor cannot be ruled out in any discussion of Pakistani security. India’s 1997 decision to impede progress on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Pakistan’s continuing work (with Chinese help) on manufacturing ballistic missiles, the proxi-war in Kargil between Indian troops and Pakistani irregulars in 1999, Pakistan’s sordid love-affair (previous diplomatic support) with the Taliban, are as demonstrably unhelpful as the nuclear tests conducted by both countries in 1998. Moreover, destabilizing moves by either country against each other in light of the increased surge in allegedly Pakistani-backed terrorism in India by Kashmiri militants (e.g., the December 13 attacks on the Indian Parliament) would almost certainly restrict the possibilities for cooperation and might even result in the reintroduction of selective, preferably multinational, sanctions. Any such decision, however, should be made by the executive branch, after consultation with Congress and other governments and only if sanctions make sense in light of the full range of U.S. national security interests.

As for direct Indo-Pakistani relations, it is no exaggeration to describe them as less developed than were U.S.-Soviet relations at the height of the Cold War. To promote stability in the region, the United States should help defuse tensions by encouraging regular contact between the two countries in a wide variety of areas. With regard to Kashmir, one of the region’s most bitter and intractable problems, there is no “right” or realistic solution to the conflict in sight. The U.S. government does not have a great deal of leverage on this issue, and the time is not ripe for Washington to launch a major initiative. U.S. interests in both countries are best served at this point by working with other governments on a step-by-step approach towards a series of interim, rather than “final status,” objectives.

In the near term, there is little danger to either the security of Pakistan’s fissile material installations or the safety of its nuclear command and control. Fears of domestic instability and factional infighting within the military are exaggerated. Although a rogue military commander or unit could in theory gain control over a cache of fission bombs, their unconstituted nature, the enormous inter-organizational effort required to reconstitute them, and the dense opacity surrounding the location of their constituent parts, make that possibility remote. The small number of nuclear warheads in Pakistan’s inventory and still smaller number of facilities used to produce fissile material also give national command authorities considerable advantages in protecting them against potential attacks by terrorists. To be sure, local riots and political instability could result in a temporary loss of control over some storage sites. However, the secrecy of the nuclear storage bunkers, the separation of military cantonments from civilian population centers, and the presumed military contingency planning, mitigate the dangers of that likelihood.

U.S. interests in Pakistan, although not vital immediately since the Cold War, are now important and increasing. The fight against global terrorism should permit a substantial improvement in relations between Washington and Islamabad, particularly in regard to the important role the Pakistanis can play as the regional power in a volatile area. But seizing this opportunity will require more creative thinking than has been the norm — and an administration willing to engage Pakistan as a foreign policy priority.


Pakistan’s Nuclear Command and Control System:

In February 2000, Pakistan’s military government led by General Pervez Musharraf announced the establishment of a National Command Authority (NCA) to manage Pakistan’s nuclear forces. According to Pakistani government sources, the NCA is responsible for policy formulation and will “exercise employment and development control over all strategic forces and strategic organizations.”

The NCA comprises an Employment Control Committee (ECC), a Development Control Committee (DCC), and a Strategic Plans Division (SPD).

The head of the Pakistani government chairs the ECC. Other members include the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, interior; the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee; the three service chiefs; the director-general of the SPD, and technical advisors as required.

The DCC controls the “development of strategic assets.” The head of the Pakistani government also chairs the DCC. Other members include the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee; the three service chiefs; the director-general of the SPD; and representatives of strategic organizations and the scientific community.

The SPD acts as the secretariat for the NCA and is responsible for establishing a reliable command, control, communications, computer, and intelligence network. The SPD is located in the joint services headquarters and is led by a senior army officer.


– “National Command Authority Established,” Associated Press of Pakistan, 3 February 2000

– Gaurav Kampani, Center for Non-proliferation Studies, Safety Concerns About the Command & Control of Pakistan’s Strategic Forces, Fissile Material, and Nuclear Installations, 2001, Monterey


Albright, David Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein ISIS Issue Brief Securing Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal: Principles for Assistance David Albright, Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein October 4, 2001. http://www.isis-online.org

Center for Defense Information Database: http://www.cdi.org/issues/nukef&f/database

Cloughley, Brian A History of the Pakistan Army – Wars and Insurrections, 1999, Oxford University Press

Kampani, Gaurav Center for Non-proliferation Studies, Safety Concerns About the Command & Control of Pakistan’s Strategic Forces, Fissile Material, and Nuclear Installations, 2001, Monterey, California

Pakistan’s Nuclear Dilemma, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Non-Proliferation Project Roundtable, October 2, 2001, (transcript).

[1] (Colin Powell, State Department Conference Nov. 20th transcript)

[2] Dawn, October 5th, 2001

[3] ISIS Issue Brief David Albright, Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein October 4, 2001

[4] “Pakistan’s Nuclear Dilemma,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Non-Proliferation Project Roundtable, October 2, 2001, (transcript).

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Pakistani Nuclear Assets are Safe: Spokesman Says,” Kyodo News Service, October 2, 2001.

[7] Douglas Frantz, “U.S. and Pakistan Discuss Nuclear Security,” New York Times, October 1, 2001

[8] Center for Defense Information Database: http://www.cdi.org/issues/nukef&f/database

[9] ISIS Issue Brief David Albright, Kevin O’Neill and Corey Hinderstein October 4, 2001

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] SEE Appendix for a more detailed layout of the Pakistani Command and Control mechanism.

[13] Brian Cloughley A History of the Pakistan Army – Wars and Insurrections, 1999, Oxford University Press


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