Besides dashed hopes for the open Islamic democracy that might have been, Washington’s angst over President Musharraf’s rickety emergency rule is rooted in something much, much more worrisome: Fears of what a weakened nuclear-armed Pakistan might bring. It is not merely a fatally deflated zeal to combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but the prospect of a politically radicalized Pakistan with loose nukes allied with such groups, or worse, controlled by them, that has Washington truly nervous.
This fear is reasonable. Yet, despite grasping this long-term headache, Washington analysts have yet to spotlight that America’s full-on promotion of nuclear cooperation with India, and its coincidental (and shameless) inattention to India’s strategic ties to Iran, are spooking Pakistan into expanding the very nuclear capabilities we are so worried about. If the U.S. is to keep the danger of Pakistani nuclear diversions to a mild roar, it’s imperative that Congress and the Executive restrain our diplomats from getting so far forward on their skis with India. At the very least, we need to connect the dots.
Unfortunately, the Pakistani government already has. In April of last year, after the U.S. announced it would help India modernize its “peaceful” nuclear and rocket space launch efforts, Pakistan’s National Command Authority publicly announced
that if such nuclear and space cooperation destabilized the regional strategic nuclear balance, Pakistan would have to reevaluate its nuclear weapons requirementsTheir statement was anything but idle puffery. Only seven months later, satellite photos revealed Pakistan’s construction of a new, large military production reactor and a plutonium reprocessing plant. Earlier this month, Pakistani officials also announced
a major uranium enrichment expansion program to support plans to enlarge Pakistan’s nuclear energy sector at least 20-fold by 2030.
This crash nuclear effort — and the increased difficulty of securing the additional bomb materials it will produce — clearly raises the stakes to stabilize the Pakistani government and to do so from here on out. Indeed, even if we skirt the nuclear worst during this crisis, Musharraf has given us all a nuclear wake up call to keep the Pakistani nuclear threat from growing.
Unfortunately, on this front, we meant to do better than we’ve done. A case in point is our effort to secure Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons holdings against illicit seizure. Despite spending over $100 million dollars to try to accomplish this, we still don’t know where all of Pakistan’s nuclear assets and bomb holding are. Nor do we know who is working within the Pakistani nuclear weapons program or how loyal this work force might be.
As for the U.S. military preparing for a nuclear weapons extraction raid on Pakistan, this would be quite a stretch even under the best of circumstances. A recent analysis done for my center details just how mixed the results of such a raid would be, even if the U.S. forces had the full cooperation of the Pakistani government. It was completed by Tom Donnelly, a hawkish supporter of the Iraq war. His bearish conclusion is captured in the title of his study, “Bad Options: Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Live with Loose Nukes.” The chances of a successful U.S. raid, even with Pakistani government backing, he argues, are not even slim.