Pakistan’s Nuclear Future


The risk of war between Pakistan and India and possible nuclear escalation would be bad enough, however, most American security experts are riveted on the frightening possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons capabilities falling into the hands of terrorists intent on attacking the United States.

Unfortunately, a nuclear terrorist act is only one of several frightening security threats Pakistan now faces or poses.

A new book edited by Henry D. Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, takes a long look at these threats as possible. Its companion volume, Worries Beyond War, (2008) focused on the challenges of Pakistani nuclear terrorism. These analyses offer a window into what is possible and why Pakistani nuclear terrorism is best seen as a lesser included threat to war, and terrorism more generally. Could the United States do more with Pakistan to secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons holdings against possible seizure? News reports indicate that the United States has already spent $100 million toward this end. It is unclear what this money has bought. If policymakers view the lack of specific intelligence on Pakistani nuclear terrorist plots against the United States as cold comfort and believe that such strikes are imminent, then the answer is not much. If, conventional acts of terrorism and war are far more likely than acts of nuclear terrorism, then there is almost too much to do. In the later case, nuclear terrorism would not be a primary, stand-alone peril, but a lesser included threat. What sort of Pakistan would that be? A country that was significantly more prosperous, educated, and far more secure against internal political strife and from external security threats than it currently is. How might one bring about such a state? The short answer is by doing more to prevent the worst. Nuclear use may not be the likeliest bad thing that might occur in Pakistan, but it is by far the nastiest. Certainly in the near- to mid-term, it is at least as likely as any act of nuclear terrorism. More important, it is more amenable to remediation.

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