WWIII rhetoric: Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, safe or not?

An assault on a naval base in Karachi is the latest militant attack on military installations in Pakistan, raising fears about the safety of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world and in a decade could pass France as the fourth-largest nuclear power, so such brazen attacks on secure military establishments — militants also attacked the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009 — give Western leaders nightmares about militants acquiring nuclear materials, or worse, an entire weapon.

Pakistan first tested nuclear weapons in 1998 in response to tests by old rival and neighbor India.

WHAT IS THE U.S. POSITION?

President Barack Obama said in 2009 he was confident about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal although he was “gravely concerned” about the overall situation in Pakistan because of its weak government.

Despite that, there is a growing concern among U.S. officials that militants might try to snatch a nuclear weapon in transit or insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.

Pakistani analysts see the mixed signals from the United States as adding to pressure on the government, which the United States wants to see getting to grips with the militant threat.

The killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2 just a couple of hours drive from the capital in the military town of Abbottabad raises fears that he had help from friends in Pakistan’s military or spy agencies — suggesting that al Qaeda sympathizers might also be among those guarding Pakistan’s nukes.

WHAT IS PAKISTAN’S POSITION?

Pakistan rejects such fears over its nuclear weapons as “misplaced and unfounded” saying it has very robust, multilayered command and control systems.

Many Pakistanis believe the ultimate U.S. aim is to confiscate Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and analysts say reports of U.S. fears about nuclear security fuel such conspiracy theories.

WHO CONTROLS THE WEAPONS?

Pakistan does not release details of its nuclear arsenal. Estimates vary on the size of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, although analysts suggest Pakistan has between 60 and 120.

The weapons are under control of the military’s Strategic Plans Division (SPD). During a period of political instability last year the division boosted security at nuclear facilities and launched a public relations offensive to counter what Pakistan regards as scaremongering over nuclear weapon security.

Pakistan maintains there is no chance of Islamist militants getting their hands on atomic weapons.

Read more here.

Editor’s note: the amount of information flowing out of the mainstream news outlet pointing fingers and hyping up the violence in Pakistan is unmatched. Hopefully this is just an attempt to put indirect pressure on the Pakistani government to move back towards the United States and allow continued drone attacks. However, I think that might be very unlikely due to the fact that China is lending a great deal of support and even going as far to say that an attack on Pakistan would constitute an attack on China. The recent move China made to send 50 fighter jets into Pakistan is also of some concern.

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