Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Nuclear Nightmares (Columbia University Press, 2013). The author gratefully acknowledges the substantial research work by Alyssa Demus and Leah Fae Cochran for this article and the earlier research of Rizwan Ladha, all of whom worked as research assistants at Ploughshares Fund.
“Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. Within this decade, experts estimate that Pakistani nuclear capability could include 150 to 200 warheads…” “Dealing primarily, or even exclusively, with the Pakistani military leadership has had its tactical benefits, but at great strategic cost…”
In any given week, there is significant competition for the title of “most dangerous country in the world.” Some may believe it is Syria or Mali, Iran or North Korea, China or Russia, or dozens of others. As tragic as conditions may be in these countries, as potentially harmful as their policies may seem, no state truly comes close to the multiple dangers inherent in Pakistan today. Trends in this nation may converge to form one or more nuclear nightmares that could spread well beyond the region to threaten international security and the lives of millions.
Experts estimate that Pakistan has between 90-110 nuclear weapons and enough fissile material to produce 100 more. It has an unstable government, a fragile economy, strong extremist influences in its military and intelligence structures, and Al Qaeda, as well as half a dozen similar terrorist groups operating inside the country. The confluence of these factors not only increases the potential for a nuclear escalation between Pakistan and its regional rival, India, but perhaps the even more terrifying scenario that a terrorist group will acquire fissile material, or an intact weapon, from Pakistan’s burgeoning stockpiles. Both of these risks are unacceptable. The United States can and must take concrete steps to reduce the risks posed by Pakistan’s unique combination of instability, extremism, and nuclear weapons… (purchase article…)