NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS
November 5, 2007: With the recent chaotic events in
Pakistan, one has to ask what sort of options the United States has. The state
of emergency in Pakistan has derailed plans for democracy, and risked the
security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
This is one of the classic situations where American ideals and American
interests may diverge big time.
The big issue in all of this is the fact that
Pakistan is a nuclear power, with as many as 95 nuclear warheads. Many of these
designs are far more powerful than the first-generation devices the United
States used in 1945, killing 140,000 people in two attacks. This is why
stability and rationality in the Pakistani government is important. The problem
is that stability may not be guaranteed. The in the 1990s, the Afghan Taliban
regime was set up with the help of at least some elements of the Pakistani
intelligence service. The other problem is Pakistan's history of coups. These
can be bad enough due to the uncertainty of where a new government stands. Now,
add the fact that nukes are involved.
The U.S. has worked quietly with the Pakistani
government, to improve the security of their nuclear weapons. The Pakistanis
are not only concerned with Indian agents harming their nukes, but also the
rather more remote possibility of criminals flitching components, or entire
bombs, for sale on the international arms market. Several Islamic radical
groups have standing offers of big bucks for functioning nuclear weapons.
Islamic radicals, and most Moslems, consider Pakistan's nuclear weapons to be
the "Islamic nukes," since Pakistan is the only Islamic nation to
build nuclear weapons so far. Islamic
terrorists openly talk about how they would eagerly use a nuclear weapon in a
terror attack. Most Moslems realize this could have grave consequences for the
Islamic world (as in a nuclear retaliation), so most Pakistanis want their
nukes kept secure. But the rampant corruption makes it easier to penetrate any
security system. Add to the mix a more volatile political situation, and you
have high risk of loose nukes.
The U.S. has few good options here. A commando raid
to spirit the nukes out of the country, only works in the movies. An air strike
to destroy them would leave highly radioactive wreckage, and make many enemies
for the U.S. in Pakistan. A deal to insert U.S. security personnel might work,
given the highly mobile American forces just across the border in Afghanistan,
and off the coast on amphibious ships. There is serious planning going on, but
there is no sure cure for this situation.
If the nukes don't make things bad enough, there is
also the fact that Pakistan is the main
supply route for coalition efforts in Afghanistan. A government in Pakistan
that decided to oppose those efforts could cut off over 40,0000 coalition troops.
This would be a huge military and political disaster, at least in terms of the
enormous cost of flying in supplies that now come across the border on truck.
Here is where the conflict comes in. Pakistani
President Perez Musharraf supports the global war on terror and thus, the
supply lines remain open. It also means Pakistan's nukes will be in relatively
rational hands. In essence, keeping Musharraf in power is in the interests of
the coalition pursuing operations in Afghanistan. It means they have reasonably
secure supply lines and air support. A new government in Pakistan might or
might not agree to continue that support.
At the same time, Musharraf is not exactly popular
in Pakistan. Much of this is due to the fact that promises to clear up corruption
have not been kept. Support of American efforts in Afghanistan has also been
unpopular in some quarters. In essence, there is a good chance that future
elections could result in part of the new government being opposed to coalition
How delicate is this situation? In 2005, violent demonstrations in Uzbekistan resulted
in international criticism of the Uzbek
government, and the United States eventually had to pull out of bases in that
country (used to ferry supplies into Afghanistan). This made America more
dependent on Pakistan. Now, that route could be at some risk. In essence, the
United States faces a very difficult dilemma. None of the courses of action are
really very good ones and all will require tradeoffs. Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)