Belmont Club

A World Without Nuclear Weapons

Even as President Obama dreams of a world without nuclear weapons, Pakistan is emptying its arsenals — by putting taking its nukes on the road. In vans. Wired reports:

Freaked out about the insecurity of its nuclear arsenal, the Pakistani military’s Strategic Plans Division has begun carting the nukes around in clandestine ways. That might make some sense on the surface: no military wants to let others know exactly where its most powerful weapons are at any given moment. But Pakistan is going to an extreme.

The nukes travel “in civilian-style vehicles without noticeable defenses, in the regular flow of traffic,” according to a blockbuster story on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in The Atlantic. Marc Ambinder and Jeffrey Goldberg write that tactical nuclear weapons travel down the streets in “vans with a modest security profile.” Somewhere on a highway around, say, Karachi, is the world’s most dangerous 1-800-FLOWERS truck.

Why would Pakistan remove its nukes from facilities which the United States has given them millions of dollars to upgrade? Why because it is the United States that the Pakistanis principally fear. Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic says that Pakistan is making no secret of the fact that they would rather put their weapons out where al-Qaeda of Haqqani can find them than leave them where Uncle Sam knows they are:

Pakistan insists its nuclear arsenal is well-defended, and the widespread fear among many Pakistanis is that the main threat stems not from al-Qaida or the Taliban, but from suspected U.S. plans to seize the country’s weapons. These fears were heightened by the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

Washington has insisted it has no plans to seize Pakistan’s weapons. But the recent article in The Atlantic magazine quoted unnamed American military and intelligence officials as saying the U.S. has trained extensively for potential missions in Pakistan to secure nuclear weapons or material that fall into the wrong hands.

Hence, the vans. Wired says the US has contingency plans for trying to clean up any nukes that go missing, an “Abbottabad redux”. Possibly that is because the US is unlikely to trust Pakistan to recover them. “An anonymous military official tells the pair that the Joint Special Operations Command ‘has units and aircraft and parachutes on alert in the region for nuclear issues, and regularly inserts units and equipment for prep.'” Things might be harder after a coup, when the US will be unable to tell friend from foe, unlike now.

Fear that the U.S. could seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is driven by widespread anti-Americanism in the country. Despite billions of dollars in American aid, 69 percent of people in the country view the U.S. as an enemy, according to a poll conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center in June. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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