Friday, August 26, 2016


How Safe Is Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal?

A short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile is launched from an undisclosed location in Pakistan.
A short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile is launched from an undisclosed location in Pakistan.
By Abubakar Siddique
Militants' storming of a Pakistani Air Force base where some nuclear warheads are reportedly stored has once again sounded the alarms about the security of the country's atomic weapons.
Minhas air base, located just 40 kilometers west of Islamabad in the eastern Punjab Province, is considered a key military facility. It houses warplanes and some of Pakistan's most advanced weapons systems -- possibly including nuclear warheads.
So the August 16 attack that left nine suspected Islamic radicals and one Pakistani soldier dead once again raised eyebrows over Islamabad's claims that its nuclear installations are under foolproof security.
Much of the concern is predictable, but misdirected, according to experts. 
The location of Pakistan's nuclear weapons are a highly guarded secret, but despite news reports to the contrary, most observers doubt that warheads are stored at Minhas.
Retired General Talat Masood says the real concern is the increasing frequency of high-profile attacks on military facilities. 

"When defense installations are being targeted so easily -- and we have seen a series of events taking place, starting from the [military's General Headquarters] GHQ to the Mehran [Naval] base, and now this Air Force base -- it shows that these places are vulnerable and Pakistan will have to do a lot more," Masood said.
Embarrassing Breaches

The country's military, which controls the nuclear arsenal, has suffered numerous embarrassing attacks on key bases in recent years. 
In May 2011, at least two naval surveillance aircraft were destroyed and 10 people were killed when militants stored the Mehran naval bases in the southern seaport city of Karachi. In October 2009, militants stormed the headquarters of the Pakistani military in Rawalipini close to Islamabad. They took scores of hostages, who were freed after nine attackers were killed in a nearly 20-hour gun battle.
Retired Pakistani Brigadier-General Asad Munir, who formerly served in the senior ranks of the military's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, says that all nuclear installations -- whether civilian or military -- are guarded with elaborate security arrangements. 
He says that Western countries' concerns that nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands have been put to rest.

"They know it. They have been here, they have seen the system. They know that it is not easy. It is almost impossible [to breach the nuclear security]. Otherwise they would have taken action. The people who matter know that nobody is in a position to take these installations and take away nukes," Munir said.
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, considers Pakistan's nuclear program safe and secure.

Islamabad has established an elaborate nuclear security apparatus called the Strategic Plans Division. It reportedly keeps the fissile core of Pakistan's nuclear warheads separate from their delivery systems.

Islamabad has received some $100 million in U.S. assistance since 9/11 to improve its nuclear safety. Pakistan has reportedly developed its own technologies to prevent accidents and to implement an elaborate system of checks and balances. 
And as Munir notes, those measures are backed by a strong human deterrent.
"As long as the Pakistani army is there, there is no threat to the nuclear weapons. Not even 1 percent," Munir said.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
August 19, 2012 14:33
Oh come on, even a school child knows you need to have launch codes.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
August 20, 2012 05:58
Any school childe knows, but RFE/RL "analysts" apparently don't :-)).
In Response

by: American Troll
August 20, 2012 08:24
A launch code, by definition, enables the launch of a *missile*, hence the subtle use of that word "launch." Hollywood notwithstanding, launch codes are irrelevant to arming and detonating a *warhead*, which could be removed from a missile and delivered to the target cartoon-style by pack mule, rubber raft, or trebuchet if circumstances warranted, particularly if survival was optional for the attacker.

As for a Jack Bauer-style dramatic countdown that can be started and stopped by some memorized code, well, why? Anyone with the resources to acquire a nuclear weapon can find a couple of poor schmucks willing to die for The Cause. That's safer than expecting a crude automated timer not to malfunction or tempting fate with a phone-activated trigger like that Chechen woman in Moscow two years ago who blew up prematurely because her phone/trigger received the world's best-timed "Happy New Year!!" spam text.

As the article says, no one's even sure if warheads are kept at Minhas, but bear in mind that Pakistan has little strategic need to keep missiles and warheads within constant proximity. American and Russian strategic nuclear policies are built with each other in mind, which makes long-range delivery systems a bit of a necessity. Pakistan's strategic doctrine is built entirely around an immediate neighbor. Yes, targets at the far ends of India are best neutralized via missile, but the smart money is that most targets in a South Asian nuclear war, both strategic and tactical, will be close to their mutual border (including both national capitals). The irony is that they're probably kept as far from India as possible, hence closer to the AfPak border area. That also means it's unwise to presume that they're kept in anything so secure and remote as US/Russian-style missile silos. Their containment structure may well be a glorified warehouse in a town or city. Hopefully at least the "glorified" part can be taken for granted, but no promises.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 20, 2012 21:15
First of all, I would bet your American life savings that Pakistani, Indian, and even Chinese nuclear weapons are much better protected than American and probably Russian weapons too.
Secondly, no, detonating nuclear weapon is not that easy. It is Hollywood that actually makes it seem like that. You can steal it, then drop it from a plane if you want, place it in a fire, throw it, put a conventional bomb on it and explode it, none will work, it still will not be a nuclear explosion. You need to start a nuclear fusion or fission reaction and that is not possible without knowing how the builders meant to trigger that. The only other option is stealing BOTH the bomb and some kind of Idiot's Guide to detonate it.

by: Dog Bar from: Earth
August 19, 2012 23:20
Theres are three ways this will end.
1) The regime keeps hold of its arsenal.
2) The system collapses and it stars to export its arsenal to other countries around the world.
3) The terrorist get there hands on it and what will
be will be.
Question: United Nations. W.T.F.
Yet again why did the English be allowed to export there nuclear technology? When they have no idea of the regon
and the ramification of such a technology falling in to the
wrong hands. The English have alot to answer for.

by: William from: Aragon
August 19, 2012 23:39
"...but despite news reports to the contrary, most observers doubt that warheads are stored at Minhas." So RFERL really has no story here, was there no other news from Pakistan today?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
August 20, 2012 06:47
You are saying: "RFERL really has no story here". Of course, they don't, but having no story has never prevented these guys from publishing "articles". After all, they have to earn their living somehow :-)).
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
August 20, 2012 23:07
Hey Eugenio, Pakistan is a nation of 80 million people but this is the best "news" that RFERL can find coming out of that land. Even more unfortunate is the News Corp-like tone behind the correspondent's artificially-threatening article.

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