Exploring the law of unintended consequences: it has been reported in the press that the US plans on over-running Pakistan to grab their nuclear weapons if there is a possible military mutiny. As a result the Pakistani government reportedly decided to distribute their nuclear components across the country. But distribution of their weapons makes them more vulnerable to internal mutiny- is this an example of the law of unintended consequences?

Exploring the law of unintended consequences: it has been reported in the press that the US plans on over-running Pakistan to grab their nuclear weapons if there is a possible military mutiny. As a result the Pakistani government reportedly decided to distribute their nuclear components across the country. But distribution of their weapons makes them more vulnerable to internal mutiny- is this an example of the law of unintended consequences?

In the early 1990’s when the USSR was morphing and Russia turning back into an independent nation a number of nuclear diversion cases came to light involving nuclear weapons uranium (90% U-235). This was unusual and such high quality material had not been seen before on the black market. As a result, the German government seeking to lasso any loose material off the market began to set up sting operations. But the problem was it appears to have begun to drive the market by establishing a buyer for nuclear materials. Therefore it was never clear – was material being diverted because there was a buyer or in hopes of finding a buyer? Did the German sting operation actual help set up a market and therefore increase nuclear material diversions from the Russian institutes? The Germans soon shut down their operations. This can be seen as an example of the law of unintended consequences.

Or the recent example of the US government selling guns to the Mexican cartel only to have one of their own agents shot with one of their own guns. In other words, it happens with the best of intentions. Yet somehow, what seems to make sense can actually cause negative things to occur.

I think we should ask – is it happening now? Are the US’s good intentions to keep Pakistani nuclear weapons from not falling in to the hands of military extremists or terrorists actually causing the Pakistanis to place their weapons in a less secure configuration?

Then, if they did fall in to the hands of the “bad guys” the US can say – see we told you there was an issue and they aren’t safe.

Part of the issue is neither side appears to trust the other. After the US crossed in to Pakistani national space to abduct Osama Bin Laden followed by a few cross border raids using drones, it would appear that the Pakistani government doesn’t completely trust the US military, and vice verse.

Pakistan is the 6th largest nation in the world with an estimated population of 170 million people. It is a substantial nation with strong and historic ties to China.

According to a recent article by NTI:

  • Deeply held suspicions in the Pakistani security establishment hold that the United States has a secret plan to seize its nuclear arsenal has led the South Asian state’s military to disperse its atomic stockpile and produce a greater number of warheads, according to Wednesday report by Foreign Policy magazine.
  • News organizations have reported the U.S. Defense Department has developed contingency plans for securing and disarming Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event the government collapses.
  • “We look at these stories in the U.S. media about taking away our nuclear weapons and this definitely concerns us, so countermeasures have been developed accordingly,” said an unidentified Pakistani general.

So how many nuclear weapons are we talking about?

“The Federation of American Scientists  estimates that Pakistan, the only Muslim country known to possess nuclear weapons, has from 90 to 110 nuclear weapons and is moving them around the country. But this strategy increases the cost of safeguarding the weapons and makes it easier for jihadist groups to attack individual facilities”. (publicintegrity)

A hundred nuclear weapons represents a significant stockpile and it is growing as Pakistan continues to produce nuclear materials. 

Back in 2009 Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker:

  • The principal fear is mutiny—that extremists inside the Pakistani military might stage a coup, take control of some nuclear assets, or even divert a warhead.
  • A retired senior Pakistani intelligence officer, who worked with his C.I.A. counterparts to track down Khalid Sheikh Mohammed , “My belief today is that it’s better to have the Americans as an enemy rather than as a friend, because you cannot be trusted,” the former officer concluded. “The only good thing the United States did for us was to look the other way about an atomic bomb when it suited the United States to do so.”
  • A former high-level Bush Administration official was just as blunt. “If a Pakistani general is talking to you about nuclear issues, and his lips are moving, he’s lying,” he said.

Sounds like there are some fundamental trust issues to be resolved.

Perhaps the best and brightest possibility in this situation are the high-level government talks between India and Pakistan to reach a peaceful understanding. The best solution for Pakistani nuclear weapons security is to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons in the stockpiles by reducing the tension in the region. Perhaps the two nations will learn something from the US-Russian nuclear weapons stand-off – building up and maintaining these large weapon stockpiles was incredibly expensive in terms of resources, its ecological impact, and national fear. In the end, some may argue that the nuclear arms race kept the two nations from going in to a direct war, but if true, this nuclear truce could have been achieved with a fraction of the number of nuclear weapons produced and the large number of delivery systems including submarines, bombers, and missiles.

It took the US and USSR over 50 years to reduce the size of the nuclear weapons stockpiles. I hope India and Pakistan can consider our history and find a peaceful solution sooner.

In the end you have to ask – how many nuclear weapons do you really need? Do you need any at all?

Cheers Susan

(image: cowboys http://miraimages.photoshelter.com/image/I0000oSfJV67k498)

(modified by author)

Terrorist incidents:

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2011/06/28/5048/after-bin-laden-militants-closer-pakistan-nukes

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