Pakistan has a large and growing nuclear arsenal. The United States has provided substantial assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s arsenal, such that today it is largely safe and secure during peacetime. The greater danger, however, is Pakistan might place its nuclear forces on alert during a crisis with India. Such a move would disrupt many carefully designed security procedures and expose Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to much greater risks of theft or unauthorized use.
Perversely, US security assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear program could exacerbate the very fears that would push Islamabad, in a crisis, to alert its forces.
As a result, the United States should take care to ensure that security assistance does not reinforce Pakistani fears that such assistance is a “Trojan horse” intended to compromise the security of Pakistan’s arsenal. Moreover, Washington should avoid creating the impression that it cares more about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal than does Islamabad.
Moving forward, a sensible agenda for US-Pakistan nuclear security cooperation would focus on defining an end-game for US security assistance to the Pakistani nuclear program, respect for Pakistani “red lines’ regarding intrusiveness, and a renewed emphasis on building strategic stability in South Asia.
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