The Security of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan
Shaun Gregory: Pakistan Security Research Unit (PSRU)University of Bradford; 18th November 2007
Pakistan is once again in crisis following the declaration of a state of emergency on the night of 3rd November 2007, as political unrest spreads, tensions within the armed forces and security services grow, and terrorist/extremist groups increase their violent opposition to the state. In this turbulent context the situation of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, numbered as many as 120 by some sources, is of the utmost concern given the incalculable consequences if nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons components came into the hands of extremists/terrorists or, just possibly, of renegade Pakistani military personnel motivated by antipathy to the West. This briefing paper assesses the measures Pakistan has in place to ensure the security of its nuclear weapons and the threat posed to that security by the deteriorating situation in Pakistan.
To ensure the physical security of its nuclear weapons Pakistan has relied heavily on copying United States’ technologies, practices and procedures. In doing so it has put together a system for security assurance based around four types of measures: (a) technical safeguards; (b) personnel reliability; (c) physical and procedural arrangements; and (d) deception and secrecy. These arrangements give the Pakistan Army’s Strategic Plans Division [SPD], the body which oversees Pakistan’s nuclear weapons operations, a high degree of confidence in the security of their nuclear weapons2.
Pakistan is unique in having nuclear weapons decision-making wholly in the hands of the military despite constitutional provision for the inclusion of civilians in nuclear command authority decision-making and despite periods of ostensible civilian rule. Pakistan’s last two civilian leaders – Benazir Bhutto [Prime Minister 1988-90 and 1993-96] and Nawaz Sharif [Prime Minister 1990-93 and 1996-99] – are both on record as stating that they were excluded from the decision-making loop in relation to nuclear weapons, even during crises when operational nuclear issues arose3.
Pakistan imposes military executive authority over its nuclear forces through the use of an authenticating code system, passed down a dedicated chain of military command, which is intended to assure that only duly authorised nuclear operations take place and that no unauthorised military personnel can order nuclear operations or use. Under this arrangement nuclear operational orders are accompanied by numerical codes that must be validated to confirm the authenticity of the order. These arrangements are supplemented by a tightly controlled ID system to assure the identity of those involved in the chain of command.
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