NBC Weapons: Pakistan Piles On The Plutonium




July 20, 2011: The U.S. believes that Pakistan is building three more nuclear reactors, to be used to produce plutonium for new nuclear weapons. It is believed that Pakistan has over a hundred nuclear weapons. Two years ago, the U.S. thought that Pakistan had 60 nuclear weapons, and was producing nuclear material for at least 5-6 more bombs a year. That turned out to be an underestimate. Pakistan appears to be increasing its annual production of nuclear weapons. This has created growing fear that one of those weapons could end up in the wrong hands.

The U.S. has provided money and technical assistance to ensure the security of those weapons. It is believed that Pakistan stores its nukes with the nuclear material kept separate from the rest of the weapon (which contains the explosives that compress the plutonium or enriched uranium, causing the nuclear explosion, as well as the electronics and warhead components needed to trigger the explosion.) The Pakistanis also provide layers of security for their nuclear weapons, and do background checks on anyone involved in building, handling or guarding their nukes. Still, there are so many Islamic radical supporters in Pakistan, and the country is so corrupt (as in so many people are for sale or rent) that even the most stringent security efforts are not as effective as they would be in the West (or even China or Russia.) As Pakistan expands its nuclear weapons program, it increases the risk of someone getting away with a nuke, or nuclear material (that could be used for a "dirty bomb" that spreads the nuclear material around using explosives.)

Pakistan built its nuclear weapons in order to provide some protection from Indian invasion and conquest. But India has no interest in conquering Pakistan. That would nearly double the number of Moslems in India, as well as adding an area that has a lot more poverty and corruption. Then there are the Pakistani tribal territories, with over 20 million tribal people who have, for thousands of years, raided into, and occasionally invaded, India. A growing number of Pakistanis are coming to accept this Indian attitude as true, and for the last seven years, the two countries have been negotiating to settle the territorial and political differences that have caused decades of violence (and four wars) between the two nations. Most people, on both sides of the border, agree that a nuclear war would be a tragic disaster for both nations, insuring that neither could claim "victory" with a straight face. But so far there is no peace deal, and Pakistan keeps building more nukes.

Pakistan denies that it is expanding its nuclear arsenal, but U.S. intelligence (and their Indian counterparts) believe otherwise. Sixty weapons should be sufficient to maintain the "balance of terror" with India. What no one wants to discuss openly is the risk of Pakistan selling its "surplus" of nukes to another country. Pakistan certainly needs the money, and already has a track record of peddling nuclear weapons technology. The UN IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) continues investigating Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist A Q Khan's illegal nuclear weapons technology smuggling organization. IAEA believes that Khan's group not only had a wider reach than previously thought, but is still in business. Khan recently showed off a letter from North Korea, discussing a $3.5 million payment for nuclear weapons technology.

Khan is suspected of peddling nuclear secrets as far back as the late 1990s. In 2004, Khan finally admitted it. There was popular outrage in Pakistan at a local politicians suggestion that A Q Khan, who originally stole technology from the West that enabled him to create Pakistan's nuclear bombs, be questioned by foreign police for his role in selling that technology (as a private venture) to other nations (like Libya and North Korea). Khan was placed under house arrest after he confessed, and kept away from journalists, but was otherwise untouchable, because he was a national hero for creating the "Islamic Bomb." Popular demand eventually led to Khan being released from house arrest three years ago.

The IAEA continues to question Khan's customers, some of whom have been very cooperative. It is now known, for example, that most of the nuclear weapons documents provided were in electronic form. Thus the information could be easily copied and distributed. There's no way to track down how many copies there are or who has them. It is known that the documents are not in wide distribution, but it is likely that someone (especially in Iran and North Korea) has copies. But there are indications that the documents are still on the market.

A prime potential customer for Pakistani nukes is Saudi Arabia, which fears increased Iranian aggression once Iran acquires nukes. The Saudis have already bought ballistic missiles from China (which is suspected of supplying Pakistan with some nuclear weapons technology.) Saudi Arabia has the cash to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan (along with the technology to build a ballistic missile warhead for them). Saudi Arabia would need several dozen nuclear weapons to provide them with an adequate counter to Iranian nukes. This would benefit Pakistan in that Iranian control of Arab oil in the Persian Gulf would put Pakistan at a disadvantage against their Iranian neighbor.




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