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Nuclear Security Foot Dragging in Pakistan

by John Reed on December 1, 2010

For years, just about everyone I know has been worrying about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear material; the major concern being keeping it out of militant hands. Nevertheless, we’ve been publicly assured time and again by the U.S. government that Pakistan will be able to keep its nuclear material safe.

Now we see that, in 2009, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan was very concerned that Islamabad could lose control over some of the dangerous material.

From The New York Times’ latest article on WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables:

The ambassador’s concern was a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, sitting for years near an aging research nuclear reactor in Pakistan. There was enough to build several “dirty bombs” or, in skilled hands, possibly enough for an actual nuclear bomb.

In the cable, dated May 27, 2009, the ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, reported that the Pakistani government was yet again dragging its feet on an agreement reached two years earlier to have the United States remove the material.

She wrote to senior American officials that the Pakistani government had concluded that “the ‘sensational’ international and local media coverage of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons made it impossible to proceed at this time.” A senior Pakistani official, she said, warned that if word leaked out that Americans were helping remove the fuel, the local press would certainly “portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”

Worst of all:

The fuel is still there.

It may be the most unnerving evidence of the complex relationship — sometimes cooperative, often confrontational, always wary — between America and Pakistan nearly 10 years into the American-led war in Afghanistan.

It goes on to say that the Obama administration is seriously concerned about a Pakistani government insider slowly siphoning off enough fuel to one day make a weapon.

In fact, Ms. Patterson, in a Feb. 4, 2009, cable, wrote that “our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GOP [government of Pakistan] facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.”

Mr. Obama’s review concluded by determining that there were two “vital” American interests in the region. One was defeating Al Qaeda. The second, not previously reported, was making sure terrorists could never gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear program. That goal was classified, to keep from angering Islamabad.

And wait a second, we gave this stuff to Pakistan???

The highly enriched uranium that Ms. Patterson wanted removed from the research reactor came from the United States in the mid-1960s. In those days, under the Atoms for Peace program, little thought was given to proliferation, and Pakistan seemed too poor and backward to join the nuclear race.

I’m not sure any more needs to be said about how scary this is. It confirms many peoples’ doubts about Pakistan’s desire or ability to do the utmost to prevent the most powerful weapons in the world from falling into the wrong hands.

– John Reed

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert December 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm

The world is what it is and we may have to learn to live with it. Its not like we can, or even have the will, to do anything about Pakistan, or No. Korea, or Iran. The U.S. may, or may not, have the might to do something. It certainly doe not have the political will or the political ability, to do anything meaningful. Nor, do we have any trustworthy allies to go along with us and support us in such actions.

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blight December 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Well, Pakistan seemed so friendly…and stable back then. We should've seen it coming after the Afghan war of the '80s, but what did we care, the Soviets were dead!

I wonder if there's a way to "taint" the stuff on site. Maybe mix it back with some un-enriched yellowcake; which would require a nation-state to rebuild gaseous diffusion or centrifuge systems.

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STemplar December 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I would agree that Washington has no belly to do anything. We are being very poorly served quite frankly by both political parties in this nation. It has been 7 plus years of the the diplomatic approach we are assured by our leaders is still the best way for dealing with the Norks and Iranians, and both situations have only gotten worse. We have the example of Hussein and 13 years of crushing sanctions that didn't accomplish making him do what we wanted, and in fact corruption turned it into a money maker for him and the honor less pigs at the UN.

I don't think anyone likes the idea of war or conflict here in the US, but I bet people in Pyongyang, Tehran, or Islamabad like the idea of the US making war on them even less. It's clear we need to do something else, but this current administration lacks the will. They scored too many political points with the anti-war get America out campaign slogan, so they simply have no political capital left to adequately safeguard America. There are ways to turn up the heat outside the UN and short of all out war, but thus far we haven't demonstrated we will be taking those steps.

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Oblat December 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm

This is why the empire is crumbling fast. The American people what to be a great nation that makes lesser nations like Pakistan bend to their will – but they are not willing to pay for it.

Obama should just level with the American people – the cost of doing business as usual will be nuclear detonations in our cities. Everyone knows that it will happen one day one way or another. Its a price we are willing to pay.

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Musson December 2, 2010 at 12:18 pm

And, American Special Forces are standing by to go in and secure the material if Pakistan destabilizes. And, that will be a raid that will take heavy casualties.

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Thunder350 December 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Your living in a dream if you think that will happen. Sadly we'll just sit back watch it on TV while we try to "talk" them out of it. I even have evidence to back this up. North Korea, and Iran. :)

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STemplar December 3, 2010 at 4:40 am

No, Pakistan is different. They have weapons. The Norks and Iranians have programs but nothing remotely close to weapons. I think we would take action of some kind.

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Thunder350 December 4, 2010 at 12:04 am

The Koreans have working bombs, not very many of them. But ofcourse their missiles are still like 40 years behind.

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buch June 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm

the north koreans have alot of bombs don;t let the bs fool you look back and you will see and there missile are right up there don't let that fool you i wion't say how i know but just research more and you will see

Thunder350 December 2, 2010 at 5:02 pm

"we’ve been publicly assured time and again by the U.S. government that Pakistan will be able to keep its nuclear material safe."

Ok, US Government says we can trust their views that Pakistan's nukes are safe. Ok I can sleep soundly tonight. Everything else they feed us and the media must be true too!

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