The US has "secret plans" to secure Pakistani nukes in case the country falls into the wrong hands, according to a report by the AFP.
The United States has secret contingency plans to safeguard Pakistani nuclear weapons if they risk falling into the wrong hands, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
But US officials worry their limited knowledge about the location of the arsenal could pose a problem, it said, a week after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency.
"We can't say with absolute certainty that we know where they all are," one unidentified former US official told the newspaper, adding that any US effort to secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal "could be very messy."
The messiness is probably inherent in a situation where you have to trust someone to help you take something away from himself at the moment when he loses control of himself. The problem is similar to taking away a gun from somebody when you've decided he's gone nuts. The need for cooperation will be greatest just when it is least likely to be afforded.
Senator Joseph Biden provides an insight into Washington's thinking.
"I'm very concerned about it. Not immediately, but over the next year to two years," Senator Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential contender, said on CNN.
Biden, chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States needed to shore up anti-Musharraf moderates or risk seeing Pakistan go the way of Iran three decades ago.
That sounds suspiciously like a program for a controlled regime change; one in which the Pakistani Army's power over politics is reduced while simultaneously ensuring that the "right" persons come to power. Taken together with the need to keep Pakistan's nukes from falling into the wrong hands it seems like the political equivalent of yanking a tablecloth from underneath a set dinner without spilling the soup.
Two questions immediately arise in this regard. First: what levers of power can the United States avail of to pull off this result? Are US diplomatic and intelligence assets equal to this task? Second: the security of the nukes is probably best achieved sooner, rather than later. It is probably unwise to wait until Pakistan slides into chaos before taking decisive steps because by definition a country slipping into anarchy provides progressively fewer options to intervene peacefully.
Whenever a person is afflicted with a progressively degenerative disease prudence requires that all arrangements be undertaken before the patient slips into a coma or dementia. Similarly, preparing a "secret plan" to secure the Pakistani nukes when things become "too bad" is like waiting for a person to get full-blown Alzheimer's disease before getting him to settle his estate. Maybe a nonsecret, open approach to the problem would work better.
The opposition and the Army could together sign a consensus pact which would place nuclear weapons in an agreed state of storage. International guarantees could be made to protect those storage areas from a pre-emptive strike by India. This would be the equivalent of a national Pakistani program to store all the dynamite in designated places in place of having sticks of it lying around in secret places. It would be like a Living Will executed by a patient who suspects he might be losing his faculties.
This would have the effect of addressing the security fears about Pakistani nukes early. By moving its resolution forward to a time when the Pakistani state is still relatively stable, the uncertainties inherent in dealing with a possibly collapsing state can be avoided.
Richard Armitage asserts that everything is under control -- for now.
Richard Armitage, who as deputy secretary of state led the US effort to get Musharraf on board the anti-terror struggle after the September 11 attacks of 2001, dismissed fears over the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
"You know as well as I do that that nuclear arsenal is one, dispersed, and second, carefully guarded by the army," he told CNN.
"Now we have had, historically, discussions with the Pakistani army about the safeguarding of those nuclear weapons," the former official said.
"So I think in the short or even medium term, should things turn badly, we are not going to worry about nuclear weapons in the first instance."
This may in fact be the time to initiate strong political action. Now, while things are still under control.