US war games weigh options to secure Paks nuke arsenal

December 2nd, 2007 - 2:53 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 2 (ANI): The Bush administration has conducted several secret war exercises in recent years to examine various options and scenarios under which Pakistan’s nuclear weapons can be kept in a safe custody, according to a leading US daily.

The Washington Post said in a report on Sunday that such exercises, which have been conducted without official sponsorship from any government agency, apparently due to the sensitivity of its subject, are aimed at exploring strategies for securing Pakistan’s nuke arsenal if the country’s political institutions and military safeguards began to fall apart.

These war games try to find out that how many troops might be required for a military intervention in Pakistan; could Pakistani nuclear bunkers be isolated by saturating the surrounding areas with tens of thousands of high-powered mines, dropped from the air and packed with anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions; and the possibility that whether such a move would only worsen the security of Pakistan’s arsenal.

However, former US Ambassador to Pakistan Robert B. Oakley feels that although officials have confidence in the current security measures, but the more they examine the risks, the more they realize that there are no good answers.

“Everybody’s scrambling on this,” Oakley was quoted as saying.

A participant of the last years exercise said the conclusion of that war game was that there were no palatable ways to forcibly ensure the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons — and that even studying scenarios for intervention could worsen the risks by undermining US-Pakistani cooperation.

“It’s an unbelievably daunting problem,” said this participant, a former Pentagon official, on the condition of anonymity.

He went on to say that the planners really have not developed answers for how to deal with nuclear weapons stashed in Pakistan’s big cities and high mountain ranges.

“The bottom line is, it’s the nightmare scenario,” added retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, who participated in an earlier exercise that simulated a breakup of Pakistan. “It has loose nukes, hard to find, potentially in the hands of Islamic extremists, and there aren’t a lot of good military options,” he said.

According to an expert on Pakistani terrorism, who did not attend last year’s war game but learned about some of its conclusions, senior US officials “weren’t pleased with what the game told them; they were quite shocked.”

The US efforts related to securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal involve “really, really black SAPs” — that is, among the most highly guarded “special access programs,” he said.

Zia Mian, a Princeton University physicist and expert on nuclear proliferation in South Asia, expressed the view that such exercises may actually make things worse. Among other negative repercussions, he predicted, any US effort to secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal “would really increase anti-Americanism.”

However, a senior US intelligence officer expressed the concern that in an internal breakup, a contending faction might seek to grab some of the nuclear warheads, not necessarily to use them but to wield them as a symbol of authority.

“I think there is a lot of concern about this, and the less stable the government and the society become, the greater the concern,” he was quoted, as saying. That said, he added in an interview, the sense inside the intelligence community currently is that the threat isn’t dire.

Contrary to the idea of war games, Stanford University expert in counter-proliferation Scott Sagan feels that retaining the cooperation of the Pakistani government, especially its military, is crucial.

“Our best bet to secure Pakistan’s nuclear forces would be in a cooperative mode with the Pakistani military, not an adversarial one,” Sagan said.

Sagan predicted that in a crisis, Islamabad might begin to move its nuclear weapons from secure but known sites to more secret but less-secure locations.

“If Pakistan fears they may be attacked,” he said, then the Pakistani military has an incentive “to take them out of the bunkers and put them out in the countryside.”

According to Oakley, “the only way you can safeguard them (nuclear weapons) is to work very, very closely with the Pakistani army.”
He said that attacking the Pakistan Army would erode the one institution that is keeping the weapons under control. “If you want nukes to get loose, that’s the way to do it,” he added. (ANI)

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