Fears rise over Pakistan's nuclear weapons

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The security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal commands an extraordinary amount of attention from the intelligence community, the Washington Post says in an article based on documents it obtained from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Concern over Pakistan's nuclear weapons is hardly new though, and an article (.pdf) published Sept. 4 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that fears over the security of those weapons has been misplaced.

Their security in military facilities is adequate, says the article, authored by Jonathan Papp, a recent graduate of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

The components of the weapons are stored separately, making it very difficult for non-state actors to acquire an operational weapon. Fears rose in the media after Taliban fighters attacked a military base thought to contain nuclear weapons in 2012, but "the threat of the attack by the Taliban militants was wildly overblown," Papp adds. Even if attackers were able to infiltrate the perimeter of a base, accessing and removing the weapons or their parts from the heavily guarded base would be next to impossible, he says.

Instead, Pakistan's alleged transporting of nuclear components in civilian vehicles deserves the United States' focus, Papp says.

"Too much focus, time, and thought has been dedicated to thinking about ways to secure weapons stored on bases," he says. The United States "should focus on developing strategies to convince Pakistan that transporting unsecured nuclear weapons creates unnecessary vulnerabilities that non-state actors can exploit."

Papp's article also calls for an effort to promote dialogue between Pakistan and India, to try to build trust between the countries.

The Post reported that "fears about the security of [Pakistan's] nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else." The intelligence community has significantly increased its surveillance of Pakistan's nuclear program, the Post story also says.

In response to the story, the Pakistani government released a statement that said, "Pakistan has established extensive physical protection measures, robust command and control institutions under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, comprehensive and effective export controls regulatory regimes to ensure safety and security of nuclear installations and materials."

"As a nuclear weapons state, Pakistan's policy is characterized by restraint and responsibility," it also said.

For more:
- download the article, part of CSIS's "Nuclear Notes" (.pdf)
- go to the Post article

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