Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Yorker article examines security of Pakistan's suitcase nukes in time of instability

The New Yorker has an important article by Seymour M. Hersh, suggesting that reporters can read between the lines of what the Pentagon and Obama administration will say and conclude that American forces could take extraordinary measures to secure 80 or so small nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The article is titled “Defending the Arsenal: In an unstable Pakistan, can nuclear weapons be kept safe?” link here. The article is headed by a not-so-amusing Strangelove-like cartoon. The author of the article had interviewed various Pakistani officials to confirm his impression. The need to fine tune the arsenal for strategic gamesmanship vs. India complicates securing them from Al Qaeda, however.

If a weapon went missing, it could precipitate a crisis, as there might be no way for sure to know when someone tries to smuggle it into a western country or even tries to detonate it at a higher altitude for an EMP effect. It’s important for the US and allies to know the status if the cache at all times.

Last night, a former State Department employee told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Afghanistan is primarily at civil war. The same may be true in Pakistan with the Taliban and Al Qaeda (however their purposes cross or do not), but maybe the stakes are much higher after all.

Update: Nov. 21

Wolf Blitzer interviewed Seymour Hersh (Pulitzer prize holder) on CNN Situation Room tonight, and Hersh emphasized that the main concern is a radical coup in Pakistan, with resulting grab on the mini-nukes. The State Department reacted to Seymour's article, denying that the US will interfere with the Pakistani government. Hersh says that the Taliban is not necessarily interested in destroying the US (unlinke Al Qaeda) and describes them as a "mercantile society."

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