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Thinking about Pakistan's Nuclear Security in Peacetime, Crisis and War

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  • July 17, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Brahma Chellaney
    Discussants: R R Subramanian and Sitakanta Mishra

    The main focus of this paper is the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and for this purpose the secrecy of nuclear weapons is the most important aspect. However Clary presumes that even the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan may not have knowledge about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and its placement plans. The paper seeks to collate, sort through, and organize the reams of publicly available information to provide a systematic assessment of Pakistan’s nuclear security apparatus. It also attempts to examine the scenarios which are associated with various types of nuclear risks. After reviewing available evidence, the author concludes that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is reasonably secure. He examines three elements of Pakistan’s nuclear posture - that is peacetime, crisis and war and under these scenarios he probes the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The paper concludes by examining the policy implications that emerge from this analysis.

    The author examines in detail the scale and general disposition of Pakistan’s nuclear force, Pakistan’s nuclear command and control as well as role and importance of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD). He elaborates how SPD sought to operationalize the deterrent after the 1998 nuclear tests and come to grips with the A. Q. Khan nuclear supplier network even as it sought to ameliorate international concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. He also analyses the threats to the civilian nuclear apparatus in Pakistan. The author establishes a baseline that during peacetime, the system is reasonably secure, though the risk of “insider threats” is perhaps more pronounced than in other established nuclear weapons states.

    Describing the war time posture, the author discusses changes in nuclear risk factors in Pakistan. There is a corresponding increase in nuclear risk in the event of India-Pakistan crises. He points out three dangers associated with Pakistan nuclear arsenal during war time. First, there is a modest increase in the risk of an accident since Pakistan’s road infrastructure is poor and the traffic system is terrible. For the liquid-fueled missiles, the mobile platform would have to be accompanied by a highly flammable fuel. It appears likely that mobile launchers would be sent away from the forward edge of battle that means they would most likely be sharing the road with internally displaced people also moving away from combat. All of this contributes to the potential for accident in transport. Second, maintaining a communications link between the mobile launcher and the National Command Authority may prove difficult during an attack on command and control nodes. Third, there has been some concern about the security of mobile nuclear units, when they are away from the static and reinforced security provided at a fixed storage sites. Though Clary points out that this concern is overblown since any mobile launcher is likely to be accompanied by a large security team. He points out that a risky situation which is not completely under the control of central policymakers raises the most critical question, whether commanders of individual nuclear units either have the authority or the technical ability to launch weapons if they believe Pakistan’s nuclear redlines have been crossed. According to the author there is insufficient information today to definitively conclude one way or the other on this matter.

    In the last section, Clary examines how such a system would likely respond under the stresses of large-scale domestic instability or internal crisis. Distinguishing between different types of instability can assist with thinking about associated nuclear risks. He describes five different types of instability which can lead to associated nuclear risks. First, the most extreme form of risk would be the take over of Pakistan by radical Islamists, a scenario that Bruce Riedel has documented at length. Second, an internal coup within the Pakistani Army would result in Islamist officers overthrowing the more moderate current Army leadership. This is one route by which it can be imagined an Islamist Pakistan despite the fact there is no majority support for such a regime. Third, there might be an internal coup attempt or some sort of lower-level fracturing within the Pakistani officer corps. Lower-level officers of an Islamist bent, perhaps together or separately with ethnic Pashtuns, angered by support to the United States or Pakistan’s operations along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border might be able to launch a successful, localized mutiny. Fourth, Pakistan faces a sudden loss of territory to Islamic or separatist insurgents. Fifth, this is related to some sort of sudden, multifaceted state collapse. After describing these scenarios, Clary concludes that the current Pakistan command and control arrangement appears to be designed to confront the most plausible scenarios with regards to domestic instability in Pakistan. He suggests that the international community should continue efforts to stabilize Pakistan, in part so that scenarios that currently seem implausible, do not become more likely.

    Clary concludes his presentation by putting forward two recommendations, one to India and second to the United States. His recommendations appear to be guided by the concerns related to Pakistan’s reactions to Indian and American actions. He suggests Indian policy makers have a clear strategic vision on their broader strategic equations while making efforts to improve the accuracy of nuclear-capable missiles and programs to develop missile defenses. India must take into greater account Pakistan’s reactions to its technical developments and decisions. Clary also suggests to the United States that its officials must take into account Pakistan’s reactions to U.S. discussions about Islamabad’s nuclear stewardship. While acknowledging that US officials have taken the right tone, he points out that discussion about whether or not, there are U.S. plans to secure Pakistani nuclear weapons in a worst-case scenario are remarkably unhelpful. Clary concludes his presentations on a cautious note that nuclear risks are shared risks and awareness of this interrelationship is one of the important consequences of the nuclear revolution.

    Points Raised during the discussion:

    • It is difficult to conclude that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals are in safe hands. Intent, motivation and capability of nuclear weapons are crucial factors which must be taken into consideration while discussing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and its security.
    • Sabotaging the nuclear installations in Pakistan may be possible. This danger cannot be ignored. Similarly dangers posed by a dirty bomb also exist.
    • It is worth examining how Pakistan’s emergency response mechanism works. However the threat level should not be exaggerated.
    • There is a need to identify grey areas in Pakistan’s nuclear security apparatus.
    • There should not be too much attention on Pakistan’s heavy water and natural uranium research reactor, Khushab.
    • There could be a comparison between North Korea and Pakistan but Pakistan’s nuclear programme cannot be compared with Iran’s.
    • Pakistan nuclear arsenal is India specific.
    • The question remains how safe and secure is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Pakistan has developed a code system which runs the risk of being decodified.
    • It is important to understand that all is not well within the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) in Pakistan. SPD is facing a lot of pressure to be staffed by politicians. The New establishment in Pakistan is planning to put its own people inside SPD. There is a power tussle within SPD.
    • There is a poor security culture in Pakistan which is evident by the release of nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. The situation in Pakistan cannot be brought under control.
    • China factor has not been taken into consideration.
    • The author should use interviews within Pakistan to obtain more data on the subject.
    • It is very difficult to stop nuclear black marketing with laws and regulations.
    • The paper should have mentioned the Special Forces Programme as well.
    • The paper should highlight what are the fundamental problems in Pakistan. Pakistan is not a normal state, rather it is an abnormal state. There are fundamental challenges to Pakistan’s security, including radicalization both of society and even more importantly the military
    • People implementing the Personal Reliability Programme in Pakistan seem to have a Jihadi mindset. In such a scenario personal reliability cannot work.

    Prepared by Sanjeev Kumar Shrivastav, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.