Monday, February 21, 2011
Pakistan’s Nuclear Folly
With the Middle East roiling, the alarming news about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons buildup has gotten far too little attention. The Times recently reported that American intelligence agencies believe Pakistan has between 95 and more than 110 deployed nuclear weapons, up from the mid-to-high 70s just two years ago.
Pakistan can’t feed its people, educate its children, or defeat insurgents without billions of dollars in foreign aid. Yet, with China’s help, it is now building a fourth nuclear reactor to produce more weapons fuel.
Even without that reactor, experts say, it has already manufactured enough fuel for 40 to 100 additional weapons. That means Pakistan — which claims to want a minimal credible deterrent — could soon possess the world’s fifth-largest arsenal, behind the United States, Russia, France and China but ahead of Britain and India.
Washington and Moscow, with thousands of nuclear weapons each, still have the most weapons by far, but at least they are making serious reductions.
Washington could threaten to suspend billions of dollars of American aid if Islamabad does not restrain its nuclear appetites. But that would hugely complicate efforts in Afghanistan and could destabilize Pakistan.
The truth is there is no easy way to stop the buildup, or that of India and China.
Slowing and reversing that arms race is essential for regional and global security.
Washington must look for points of leverage and make this one of its strategic priorities.
The ultimate nightmare, of course, is that the extremists will topple Pakistan’s government and get their hands on the nuclear weapons. We also don’t rest easy contemplating the weakness of Pakistan’s civilian leadership, the power of its army and the bitterness of the country’s rivalry with nuclear-armed India.
The army claims to need more nuclear weapons to deter India’s superior conventional arsenal. It seems incapable of understanding that the real threat comes from the Taliban and other extremists.
The biggest game-changer would be for Pakistan and India to normalize diplomatic and economic relations. The two sides recently agreed to resume bilateral talks suspended after the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. There is a long way to go.
India insists that it won’t accept an outside broker. There is a lot the Obama administration can do quietly to press the countries to work to settle differences over Afghanistan and the disputed region of Kashmir. Pakistan must do a lot more to stop insurgents who target India.
Washington also needs to urge the two militaries to start talking, and urge the two governments to begin exploring ways to lessen the danger of an accidental nuclear war — with more effective hotlines and data exchanges — with a long-term goal of arms-control negotiations.
Washington and its allies must also continue to look for ways to get Pakistan to stop blocking negotiations on a global ban on fissile material production.
The world, especially this part of the world, is a dangerous enough place these days. It certainly doesn’t need any more nuclear weapons. The New York Times