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Nuclear Security in Pakistan

Pakistan developed its first nuclear weapon over 20 years ago, and now has an estimated 80-100 nukes scattered throughout the country. When asked about the safety of these weapons the day after an armed attack against an army GHQ in Rawalpindi, Secretary of State Clinton said, “We have confidence in the Pakistani government and the military’s control over nuclear weapons.”

Seymour Hersh, writing for The New Yorker, said the United State’s biggest fear at the moment is not a terrorist or insurgent group seizing a weapon, but a rogue element within the Pakistani army taking control of or diverting a warhead. President Obama, in remarks made in April, said that he was very concerned with the fragility of President Asif Ali Zardari’s civilian government in Pakistan. Obama said that the US has a strong national security interest in making sure Pakistan’s nukes were safe, and that the US could play a role in the safety of the arsenal.

In June, Congress allocated $400 million to a program that would provide funds for the Pakistani military to ensure that those tasked with guarding its nuclear weapons would receive equipment and training, as well as to provide for improved housing and facilities.

There has also been rumors of a deal negotiated between the US and Pakistan that would allow specially trained US forces to respond in Pakistan to situations that might endanger the security of the nuclear arsenal. However, Hersh said in his New Yorker article, officials in the Pakistani army view this deal as a way to placate the nervous US government. Many Pakistanis view their nuclear weapons as an integral component of their military, and a hedge against nuclear-armed Indian aggression.

Hersh also said that certain steps Pakistan has taken to secure its arsenal from being deployed by a rouge, trigger-happy military commander in confrontations with India have also made the arsenal more vulnerable to attack. Pakistan has built a system of tunnels used to store and transport its nukes deep underground, but war game scenarios show that the weapons and triggers, which are stored separately, are most vulnerable when they are being transported, which happens often.

Read more in The New Yorker.


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