Thursday, June 12, 2014

The World Should Pay Closer Attention to Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons

     It appears that peace talks between the Pakistan government and the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), are over.  Last weekend, Pakistan's busiest airport was under siege from militants who later affirmed that their ultimate goal was to hijack a plane.  The Wall Street Journal reported that the Pakistani government has responded by ramping up air strikes and offenses against the Taliban.  In fact, it was reported the United States even conducted their first drone strike in Pakistan since Christmas.  The Taliban in Pakistan does not seem interested in talking anymore, leaving some experts to wonder what's next on their agenda?

     Pakistan is a nuclear country.  Becoming a nuclear nation typically instills a great deal of responsibility.  Pakistan is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor is their hated neighbor, India.  Pakistan is also the world's largest manufacturer of fissile material, the material necessary for producing nuclear weapons, according to Peter Lavoy, former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Deputy Director of National Intelligence.  Many experts believe, and the Taliban has orated, that similar attacks to the one on the Karachi Airport are forthcoming (the TTP even attacked the airport a second time in just three days).  As Claude Rakisits, director at Politact, believes, the attack on the Karachi Airport is proof the TTP does not want to negotiate.  Even more troubling, Rakisits's biggest concern is Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure: "My biggest fear is, what if they attack a nuclear installation? How will the world react then?" The Wall Street Journal reported that the US State Department has confidence in the Pakistani government's ability to secure their nuclear facilities quoting a spokesperson who said, "we believe the Pakistani government understands the importance of protecting all of its arsenal, including things related to its nuclear reason at this point to think it's anything but safe."

     The Group of Seven, or G7, (formerly G8 until Russia was excluded following their annexation of Crimea) met in Brussels in June for their 2014 summit.  One of the issues discussed by the world's seven largest economic powers was the future and security of weapons of mass destruction, specifically non-proliferation and disarmament.  The group wrote in a memorandum, "We are committed to seeking a safer world for all. Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction...Such proliferation poses a major threat to international peace and security as recognized in UN Security Council Resolutions...In seeking this safer world, we reiterate our commitment to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in accordance with the goals of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)."  

     Despite the G7's commitment to non-proliferation, there is no mention of Pakistan or their nuclear program.  Iran is mentioned many times as the world continues to negotiate and remains concerned about their potential proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Zbigniew Brzezinski has referred to Pakistan as the most dangerous threat in the Middle East given their nuclear capabilities and their shady relationship with terrorist groups.  Pakistan, especially their intelligence arm, has always maintained familiar relations with militant groups such as the Taliban who has served as their proxies in conflicts such as the Afghan-Russian conflict. 

     The world is focused on Iran at the moment but the fact is Pakistan already possesses nuclear weapons and has been in a regional struggle for dominance with nuclear neighbor India since the 1940's.  Some fear a terror attack on Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure with the purpose of creating a reactor meltdown, which would release dangerous levels of radiation.  Worse, terrorists could potentially get their hands on fissile material and use it to construct a "dirty bomb."  As Nathan Myhrvold, chief executive and founder of Intellectual Ventures, wrote in a paper titled, "Strategic Terrorism, A Call to Action," terrorists, or stateless actors, once they acquire WMD's, are harder to hold accountable for their actions because they are stateless.  Nuclear nations can be retaliated against if they launch a nuclear strike because, as Myhrvold stated, "Nation states have an address, and they know that we will retaliate in kind. Stateless groups are much more difficult to find which makes a nuclear counterattack virtually impossible."  Think after 9/11.  Despite the United States waging war in Afghanistan immediately following the attacks, the authorization to use force was against those responsible for the attacks and those who harbored them, i.e. al-Qaeda, not an official state.

     Securing/protecting Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure should be a top global concern as well as quelling Taliban insurgencies.  The Taliban has enjoyed legitimacy, albeit covert in most cases, in Pakistan for years but peace talks have broken down and the fighting has resumed.  Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a major concern but should not overshadow Pakistan's already established program which is continuing to produce fissile material in more quantities than any other nation.        

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