Sunday, May 31, 2009
Pakistan has developed a second-strike Nuclear capability
Pakistan may have developed a second-strike capability to again attain nuclear parity with India even as the United States has breathed new life into long-dormant talks in Geneva for a multi-nation treaty to cap production of bomb-making fissile material.
The Pakistani breakthrough was disclosed in a US Congressional report prepared last month, amid growing concern in world capitals about the safety and security of its nuclear arsenal even as Islamabad is reported to be accelerating and expanding its nuclear program.
''Pakistan has reportedly addressed issues of survivability through second strike capability, possible hard and deeply buried storage and launch facilities, road-mobile missiles, air defenses around strategic sites, and concealment measures,'' the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in a May 15 report to US lawmakers.
The reported breakthrough ties in with President Asif Ali Zardari’s statement in late 2008 that Pakistan will not be the first to use nuclear weapons against India, in what was virtually an offer of a no-first use pact. The statement, pilloried by hawks in the Pakistani establishment, was seen at that time as an off-the-cuff remark by an inexperienced leader eager to make peace with India.
But it now appears that it stemmed from new-found confidence that Pakistan has developed a second-strike capability.
India’s has long had an official no-first use policy because its nuclear stance is based on a defensive posture that factors in surviving a first strike and then retaliating. In contrast, Pakistan has deliberately adopted a first-strike policy, in part because of its smaller and more vulnerable arsenal. That aspect now appears to have been addressed by ensuring survivability – through dispersion, concealment and enhanced security and protection.
The CRS report offered some clues as to how Pakistan came to develop its second-strike capability. It transpires that as the US prepared to attack the Afghan Taliban after September 11, 2001, President Musharraf ordered that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal be redeployed to ''at least six secret new locations.''
''This action came at a time of uncertainly about the future of the region, including the direction of US-Pakistan relations,'' the CRS report notes, adding that ''Islamabad’s leadership was uncertain whether the US would decide to conduct military strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear assets if Islamabad did not assist the US against the Taliban. Indeed, it recalls, President Musharraf cited protection of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile assets as one of the reasons for Islamabad’s dramatic policy shift.
Such exigencies, including the military face-off with India in 2002 following the attack on India’s parliament by Pakistani terrorists, appear to have compelled Islamabad to ensure survival of its nuclear arsenal from a first strike.
The disclosure of proliferation by A Q Khan also pushed Pakistan into developing better security systems.
The CRS report recalls that US plans to secure Pakistani nuclear weapons in case of a loss of control by the Pakistani government were ''famously'' addressed in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation hearing in January 2005.
In response to a question from Senator John Kerry asking what would happen to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event of a radical Islamic coup in Islamabad, Secretary Rice answered, ''We have noted this problem, and we are prepared to try to deal with it.'' The report also notes that the Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson subsequently said that, ''Pakistan possesses adequate retaliatory capacity to defend its strategic assets and sovereignty.''
To the extent Pakistan attains the same status and adopted the same posture as India, some analysts reckon it might help defuse tensions arising from Islamabad’s past display of eagerness to use its nuclear weapons in any confrontation with India. But experts also caution that the dispersion of the weapons -- the key to survivability and second-strike capability -- has its downside, including making it vulnerable to any attempted jihadi snatch.
''The guardians of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal currently sit on the horns of a dilemma: Consolidation of Pakistan’s nuclear assets would protect most effectively against insider threats, while dispersion of Pakistan’s nuclear assets would protect most effectively against preemption by external threats,'' notes Michael Krepon, co-founder the Stimson Center and an expert on risk reduction in the region.
Disclosures about Pakistan’s advances in nuclear weapons survivability came even as Washington achieved an important breakthrough in Geneva, where the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament decided to resume talks on the so-called Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), aimed at capping production of bomb-grade material.
The initiative was led by the US, replete with excess of fissile material, while it was largely resisted by countries such as China, India and Pakistan, each of which believed it did not have enough fissile material to deter its rival further up the nuclear hierarchy.
But on Friday, the 12-year old deadlock on the issue was broken, amid mounting concerns over developments in Pakistan and North Korea.
The breakthrough came on the heels of President Obama’s landmark April 5 speech in Prague, where he revived Washington’s non-proliferation agenda starting with slashing US. and Russian arsenals, adopting the treaty banning all nuclear tests, and negotiating a ''new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons.''
The previous Bush administration had said such a pact could not be verified by inspections and monitoring.