Friday, February 15, 2008

Pakistan Questions Safety of US Nukes

Pakistani nuclear weapons safety has been in the news lately. There are widespread concerns being expressed in the Western media about the possibility of Pakistani nukes falling in to the hands of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or their alleged sympathizers. Even Mohamed El-Baradie of IAEA has chimed in on this issue. However, the Pakistani nukes are not the only ones making the news recently. The US nuclear weapons safety and handling procedures have also raised concerns, especially since the news of of a US Air Force B52 bomber loaded up with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles by mistake. What is even more alarming is the fact that the American B52 crew was not aware they were carrying nuclear weapons. This may sound like a "Man Bites Dog Story" but the Pakistanis have seized on this news and they are questioning the US right to raise alarm about Pakistani nuclear weapons safety, when in fact, it is the US whose procedures are more lax than Pakistan's. For example, the Pakistani nuclear warheads are kept separate from the missiles but the US nuclear warheads and missiles are always kept ready to launch at any moment, even though the Cold War has now been over for about two decades. Furthermore, it takes two levels of approval in the US versus three levels required in Pakistan. Pakistan's Gen Iqhman offered to provide technical advice and assistance to the United States on improving its nuclear weapons handling procedures. Here's the story from The Bulletin Online, a non-profit specializing in global security news and analysis:

A Pakistani view of U.S. nuclear weapons
By Hugh Gusterson | 5 February 2008
"The [U.S.] Air Force has made substantial changes in its handling of nuclear weapons in the wake of a B-52 flight last August during which the pilots and crew were unaware they were carrying six air-launched cruise missiles with nuclear warheads."
-- "Air Force Alters Rules for Handling of Nuclear Arms," Washington Post January 25, 2008.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN, JANUARY 25--At a press conference in Islamabad today, Pakistani Brig. Gen. Atta M. Iqhman expressed concern about U.S. procedures for handling nuclear weapons. Iqhman, who oversees the safety and security of the Pakistani nuclear force, said that U.S. protocols for storing and handling nuclear weapons are inadequate. "In Pakistan, we store nuclear warheads separately from their delivery systems, and a nuclear warhead can only be activated if three separate officers agree," Iqhman said. "In the United States, almost 20 years after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons still sit atop missiles, on hair-trigger alert, and it only takes two launch-control officers to activate a nuclear weapon. The U.S. government has persistently ignored arms control experts around the world who have said they should at least de-alert their weapons."
Iqhman also questioned the adequacy of U.S. procedures for handling nuclear weapons. He expressed particular concern about the August 29, 2007, incident in which six nuclear weapons were accidentally loaded under the wing of a B-52 by workers who did not observe routine inspection procedures and thought they were attaching conventional weapons to the B-52. The flight navigator should have caught their mistake, but he neglected to inspect the weapons as required. For several hours the nuclear weapons were in the air without anyone's knowledge. "The United States needs to develop new protocols for storing and loading nuclear weapons, and it needs to do a better job of recruiting and training the personnel who handle them," Iqhman said.
Iqhman added the Pakistani government would be willing to offer technical advice and assistance to the United States on improving its nuclear weapons handling procedures. Speaking anonymously because of the issue's sensitivity, senior Pentagon officials said it is Washington's role to give, not receive, advice on nuclear weapons safety and surety issues.
Iqhman pointed out that the August 29 event was not an isolated incident; there have been at least 24 accidents involving nuclear weapons on U.S. planes. He mentioned a 1966 incident in which four nuclear weapons fell to the ground when two planes collided over Spain, as well as a 1968 fire that caused a plane to crash in Greenland with four hydrogen bombs aboard. In 1980, a Titan II missile in Arkansas exploded during maintenance, sending a nuclear warhead flying 600 feet through the air. In a remark that visibly annoyed a U.S. official present at the briefing, Iqhman described the U.S. nuclear arsenal as "an accident waiting to happen."
Jay Keuse of MSNBC News asked Iqhman if Pakistan was in any position to be lecturing other countries given Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan's record of selling nuclear technology to other countries. "All nuclear weapons states profess to oppose proliferation while helping select allies acquire nuclear weapons technology," Iqhman replied. "The United States helped Britain and France obtain the bomb; France helped the Israelis; and Russia helped China. And China," he added coyly, "is said by Western media sources to have helped Pakistan. So why can't Pakistan behave like everyone else?"
Iqhman's deputy, Col. Bom Zhalot also expressed concern about the temperament of the U.S. public, asking whether they had the maturity and self-restraint to be trusted with the ultimate weapon. "Their leaders lecture us on the sanctity of life, and their president believes that every embryo is sacred, but they are the only country to have used these terrible weapons--not just once, but twice. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the plane that bombed Hiroshima, said he never lost a night's sleep over killing 100,000 people, many of them women and children. That's scarcely human."
While Iqhman glared reproachfully at Zhalot for this rhetorical outburst, Zhalot continued: "We also worry that the U.S. commander-in-chief has confessed to having been an alcoholic. Here in Pakistan, alcohol is 'haram,' so this isn't a problem for us. Studies have also found that one-fifth of U.S. military personnel are heavy drinkers. How many of those have responsibility for nuclear weapons?"
John G. Libb of the Washington Times asked if Americans were wrong to be concerned about Pakistan's nuclear stockpile given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. Colonel Zhalot replied: "Millions of Americans believe that these are the last days and that they will be raptured to heaven at the end of the world. You have a president who describes Jesus as his favorite philosopher, and one of the last remaining candidates in your presidential primaries is a preacher who doesn't believe in evolution. Many Pakistanis worry that the United States is being taken over by religious extremists who believe that a nuclear holocaust will just put the true believers on a fast track to heaven. We worry about a nutcase U.S. president destroying the world to save it."
U.S. diplomats in Pakistan declined comment.



Anonymous said...

USA has bombed two cities with nukes, USAF can carry nukes without them knowing and all they are worried about it Pakistani stuff.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post report on "doubling of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal":

Pakistan's nuclear arsenal now totals more than 100 deployed weapons, a doubling of its stockpile over the past several years in one of the world's most unstable regions, according to estimates by non-government analysts.

Wary of upsetting Pakistan's always-fragile political balance, the White House rarely mentions the country's arsenal in public except to voice confidence in its strong internal safeguards, with warheads kept separate from delivery vehicles. But the level of U.S. concern was reflected during last month's White House war review, when Pakistan's nuclear security was set as one of two long-term strategy objectives there, along with the defeat of al-Qaeda, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A publicly released summary of the classified review document made no reference to the nuclear issue, and the White House deflected questions on grounds that it was an intelligence matter. This week, a spokesman said the administration would not respond to inquiries about the size of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor referred to Obama's assurance at last spring's Nuclear Security Summit that he felt "confident about Pakistan's security around its nuclear weapons program." Vietor noted that Obama hs encouraged "all nations" to support negotiations on the fissile cutoff treaty.

"The administration is always trying to keep people from talking about this knowledgeably," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a leading analyst on the world's nuclear forces. "They're always trying to downplay" the numbers and insisting that "it's smaller than you think."

"It's hard to say how much the U.S. knows," said Hans M. Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists and author of the annual global nuclear weapons inventory published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. "Probably a fair amount. But it's a mixed bag - Pakistan is an ally, and they can't undercut it with a statement of concern in public."

Beyond intelligence on the ground, U.S. officials assess Pakistan's nuclear weapons program with the same tools used by the outside experts - satellite photos of nuclear-related installations, estimates of fissile-material production and weapons development, and publicly available statements and facts.

Four years ago, the Pakistani arsenal was estimated at 30 to 60 weapons.
Only three nuclear countries - Pakistan, India and Israel - have never signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. India is estimated to have 60 to 100 weapons; numbers are even less precise for Israel's undeclared program, estimated at up to 200. North Korea, which has conducted nuclear tests and is believed to have produced enough fissile material for at least a half-dozen bombs, withdrew from the treaty in 2003.

Those figures make Pakistan the world's fifth largest nuclear power, ahead of "legal" powers France and Britain. The vast bulk of nuclear stockpiles are held by the United States and Russia, followed by China.
While continuing to produce of weapons-grade uranium at two sites, Pakistan has sharply increased its production of plutonium, allowing it to make lighter warheads for more mobile delivery systems. Its newest missile, the Shaheen II, has a range of 1,500 miles and is about to go into operational deployment, Kristensen said. Pakistan also has developed nuclear-capable land- and air-launched cruise missiles.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts of Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Nuclear Book on "non-strategic" nuclear weapons possessed by Pakistan:

In this Nuclear Notebook, the authors write about nonstrategic nuclear weapons—starting with the difficulty of finding a universal definition for them. Although the United States and Russia have reduced their nonstrategic stockpiles, significant inventories remain. And other nuclear weapons states appear to have nonstrategic nuclear weapons as well. Today, at least five of the world’s nine nuclear weapons states have, or are developing, what appears to meet the definition of a nonstrategic nuclear weapon: Russia, the United States, France, Pakistan, and China. The authors present information on the weapons at each of these arsenals.
Like France, Pakistan characterizes all its nuclear weapons as strategic. However, Pakistan is developing a new short-range rocket with nuclear capability that certainly would be characterized as a nonstrategic nuclear weapon if it belonged to Russia or the United States. Moreover, even the Pakistani statements about the weapon clearly place it in a different category.

The new weapon, the Nasr, is a 60-kilometer ballistic missile launched from a mobile twin-canister launcher. Following its first test launch in April 2011, the Pakistani military news organization, Inter Services Public Relations, described the Nasr as carrying a nuclear warhead “of appropriate yield with high accuracy,” with “shoot and scoot attributes” that was developed as a “quick response system” to “add deterrence value” to Pakistan’s strategic weapons development program “at shorter ranges” in order “to deter evolving threats” (Inter Services Public Relations, 2011).

This language, which has been repeated after subsequent Nasr tests, strongly indicates a weapon with a new mission that resembles nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

Riaz Haq said...

#IAEC recorded 2,734 nuclear incidents worldwide, 5 in #India, zero in #Pakistan in 40 years. #NuclearSecuritySummit …

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhary, who is here to attend the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by US President Barack Obama, said that the International Atomic Energy Agency has recorded 2,734 nuclear incidents worldwide, including five in India, but "not a single accident or breach happened in Pakistan, although our programme is 40 years old".
Pakistan has a modest nuclear programme with "full ownership of its people, essentially for its defence and not to threaten anyone," he told reporters at the Pakistan embassy in Washington.

"Pakistan's nuclear installations are not only secure but the world also acknowledges that they are," he said. "Pakistan has worked very hard to ensure their security."
"India, on the other hand, has an ambitious nuclear programme, and an equally ambitious conventional weapons programme," he said. "We have a modest programme because we feel we have the right to defend ourselves."
"Pakistan has short-range and long-range missiles, and the purpose behind both is to deter aggression," he said.
He said Pakistan was working with the international community to ensure the security of its nuclear installations, which were always in safe hands. "The National Command Authority, headed by the Prime Minister, is fully in charge."
He said the perception created in the media that Pakistan had the fastest-growing nuclear programme was wrong, and pointed that several studies showed that India had a bigger nuclear programme.
He said Pakistan's preparedness was tied to the threat posed by India and the deterrence varied accordingly. "If the threat level increases we have to meet that and their conventional and nuclear levels are increasing too," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

U.N. Warns ‪#‎Trump‬ May Be 7 Months Away From Acquiring ‪#‎Nuclear‬ Weapons. Poses ‪#‎Global‬ Risk via The Onion
According to an alarming new global risk report published Tuesday by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump may be just seven months away from acquiring nuclear weapons. “A year ago, the threat didn’t seem great enough to warrant serious concern, but at this moment, a nuclear-capable Trump is now a very real and very imminent possibility,” said UNODA high representative Kim Won-soo, adding that the agency’s current projections showed Trump potentially procuring nuclear weapons, as well as advanced ballistic missile technology, as early as January of next year. “The longer we wait to act, the closer he comes to obtaining a nuclear arsenal. The final red line for preventing him from acquiring this devastating capability comes in early November. If he is not properly dealt with before then, there will be no way to stop him from going nuclear.” While U.N. officials said the international community should prepare for the destabilizing effects of Trump acquiring such weapons, they still held out hope that citizens of his nation might yet rise up against him and topple the extremist before he posed a global existential threat.