This site examines the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War international security environment, which faces emerging and constantly evolving threats from state and non-state actors alike. Specific topics discussed include arms control; deterrence; civilian nuclear power; South Asian nuclear strategy and power balance; nuclear terrorism; and the role of the United States in nonproliferation.

4.23.2012

Iran -- Nuclear Weapons, Not Energy

Cross-posted with the Huffington Post.
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Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the majority of the rest of the world questions this assertion. And for good reason: A thorough assessment of the evidence shows that Iran's end goal is a nuclear weapons capability, not nuclear energy.

Before we get into evidence, though, it is first important to distinguish a nuclear weapon from a nuclear weapons capability. This distinction may not sound substantial, but it has tremendous technical and policy implications. On the one hand, a nuclear weapon means the end goal of the Iranian program is to actually build a physical bomb, complete with explosives package, fissile material, and casing -- perhaps even mated to a delivery vehicle. This is a tangible result, something we can see and touch. On the other hand, a nuclear weapons capability means the end goal of the Iranian nuclear program is to stop one step short of building the physical bomb. The necessary components are in place, but no actual weapon has been produced.

Iran seeks the latter -- a weapons capability -- and as a result is pursuing a nuclear hedging strategy. That is, Iran is shortening the ramp-up time it would need to produce a working bomb, just in case it ever believes it needs one. And there is evidence that it has conducted significant research and development in this space: The November 2011 IAEA Board of Governors report includes a hefty annex that details the weapons-specific research and development Iran has conducted in recent years. While the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate has concluded that Iran has suspended its progress in this space, there is ample evidence to demonstrate that Iran's leaders are interested in developing the kinds of components, technologies and knowledge necessary to construct a nuclear weapon, not develop nuclear energy.

Yet Iran consistently claims that nuclear weapons are a "grave sin" in Islam, and that it is impossible for the Islamic Republic of Iran to produce such weapons of death and destruction. Further, Iran's argument goes, in order to have a peaceful nuclear power program it needs to domestically produce enriched uranium. But this is a flimsy argument. A 2007 Nonproliferation Review article demonstrates that until a country has between five and twenty nuclear energy reactors (each one at or above 1,000 megawatts), it doesn't have the economic justification to invest in domestic uranium enrichment, since this technological capability requires very substantial investments that span years and often decades to bring to fruition.

The economies of scale simply don't exist in the Iranian case: Iran only has one power-generating nuclear reactor, at Bushehr. This one facility took 35 years to build, and only with significant international assistance. It was connected to the Iranian power grid just recently, in September 2011, and will finally become fully operational this summer. Therefore, the claim by Iran that it intends to have seven operational reactors by 2025 seems dubious.

In addition, if Iran's end objective was to develop nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons, it would not be making some very suspicious moves in recent times. First, Iran has tripled its total uranium output, which suggests it is stockpiling this material for future use, and ostensibly not in a power program due to the considerations mentioned above. Second, Iran has increased its enrichment levels to 19.75 percent, which is well above the level needed for nuclear power purposes but just below the internationally defined threshold of what constitutes high enriched uranium (HEU), which is 20 percent. Remember, nuclear energy-generating reactors, including the one at Bushehr, typically need 3-5 percent enriched uranium, known as low-enriched uranium (LEU), and nothing more than that.

The explanation given by Iran for producing this 19.75 percent enriched uranium is that it intends to use it for the Tehran Research Reactor, which currently can accept uranium enriched to higher levels for research purposes and/or to create isotopes used in medical applications. But if this were indeed the case, Iran could and should have accepted any one of the three multilateral fuel supply arrangements proposed in the past five years. Yet it has rejected them all, insisting ad nauseam that it has the right to produce its own uranium -- and while this is legally true, Iran is not acting in good faith with respect to those rights.

When looking at the Iranian nuclear program, rhetoric does not match action on all counts. Iran's end goal is not nuclear energy, but a weapons capability. To be sure, this piece is not intended to advocate any kind of military action against Iran, but rather to provide an objective assessment of Iran's intentions. Only by taking a clear-eyed view of Iran can the international community move forward with Iran in dealing with its nuclear weapons ambitions.

11.09.2011

Closing the Gap Between the United States and Pakistan

The Obama administration’s announcement two weeks ago to negotiate with "reconcilable" members of the Haqqani network continues its prudent and sensible policy of engaging Pakistan to combat terrorism and rebuild Afghanistan. But the Pakistanis do not see things quite the same way, and this evolution in U.S. strategy may actually drive a wedge further between Washington and Islamabad. Before implementing any new policies, U.S. and Pakistan government officials should take great care to align their strategic interests, and should clarify what exactly they want to achieve in Afghanistan.

At the end of October, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and Pakistani Army General Ashfaq Kayani announced that after a meeting between American and Pakistani officials, they were "90 to 95 percent" in agreement on how to achieve common objectives regarding Afghanistan and the Haqqani network. What those common objectives actually are, however, remain unclear.

First, while both countries do want to see a generally stable and independent Afghanistan, differences arise over who Afghanistan’s primary partner would be. As Howard and Teresita Schaffer write in Foreign Policy, Pakistan does not have quite the same vision for post-war Afghanistan as the United States – what is more important to Islamabad is to have in place an Afghan government that is immune to Indian influence (it certainly doesn’t help that Kabul and New Delhi recently signed a security agreement). Therefore, one of the ways to prevent this outcome is to use organizations like the Haqqani network to ensure that after NATO forces pull out, the people in charge of governing Afghanistan are pro-Pakistan.

This creates a second difference in perspective between Pakistan and the United States. While Pakistan would be quite content to give the Haqqani network space to wear down NATO troops and the Afghan National Army through relentless attacks, Washington clearly intends to crack down on and dismantle the organization – Secretary Clinton recently sent a clear message "to the insurgents on both sides of the border that we are going to fight you, and we are going to seek you in your safe havens, whether you're on the Afghan side or the Pakistani side."

And in turn, this brings up difficult questions on whether Pakistan is a trusted partner of the United States in combating terrorism. Earlier in September, outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen was unequivocal in his choice of language, calling the Haqqani network a "veritable arm" of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. To his credit, General Kayani indicated in October that his troops could take some action to constrain the "space" in North Waziristan where the Haqqani group operates and moves with virtual impunity. But this is a proposed baby step at a time when leaps and bounds are needed.

These differences get to the fundamental problem of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Over the past decade, Islamabad has successfully convinced the United States that it is a willing and cooperative partner in the U.S. campaign against terrorism in the region, but at the same time, it has fostered, either directly or indirectly, the growth of terrorist and insurgent networks on its soil. As a result, the likelihood that Pakistani officials would now crack down militarily on the Haqqani network is slim – indeed, two weeks ago they expressed enthusiasm for engaging Haqqani members in negotiations, but have not guaranteed the U.S. they will participate in further military operations in the tribal areas.

This means that if Secretary Clinton and General Kayani’s statement that they are "90 to 95 percent" in agreement is true, the remaining five to ten percent needs to be addressed right away. Before the Obama administration decides to go ahead with its idea of sitting down at the table with “reconcilable” members of the Haqqani network, it should clarify with Pakistan how to address the challenges described above.

As a part of the Obama administration’s larger "fight, talk, build" strategy to reconstruct a stable, secure Afghanistan, the decision to involve Haqqani members in negotiations is a forward-looking and sound idea. But the difference in ends and means between the United States and Pakistan is sufficiently large that any attempt at Afghan reconciliation that doesn’t first get Islamabad and Washington on the same page will surely fail.

8.02.2011

Improving Nuclear Confidence Between India and Pakistan

The largely positive meeting between Pakistan and India’s foreign ministers last week marks an uptick in bilateral relations, but the two countries still have a long way to go.

On Wednesday, July 27, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met with his newly inducted Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar. The meeting was colored by the most recent Mumbai bombings, leading many to doubt that it would be successful. Happily, however, the meeting was positive. One outcome was that Ms. Khar and Mr. Krishna agreed to convene again in September to discuss nuclear and conventional security matters.

This is a positive step. Another meeting could give the two countries a chance to explore further avenues of cooperation that could lead to increased mutual confidence, and one issue for both countries to discuss is the control of fissile material. Although realistically this topic will acquire little traction in the coming years, merely bringing it up for consideration in ongoing bilateral talks encourages India and Pakistan to make frank assessments of mutual stability, and may help create consensus on enhancing regional security.

An international “fissile material cutoff treaty,” or FMCT, has been discussed for decades in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD). This agreement would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts by controlling stockpiles of weapons-usable plutonium and highly enriched uranium worldwide. Disagreements abound, however, on what exactly such a treaty should entail.

One interpretation, which India supports, is that the accord would cap global stocks of weapons-usable fissile material where they stand now and put a freeze on further production, but would not necessarily require countries to reduce existing stocks. The opposing perspective, favored by Pakistan, is that the agreement should actually prohibit the existence of weapons-usable fissile materials, which means countries would have to make active reductions to their stocks.

Pakistan has its justifications for holding out. India has more plutonium than Pakistan, on account of India’s more robust nuclear energy sector and helped along by the 2005 U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement. Combined with India’s conventional military superiority, this fissile material gap makes Islamabad nervous about being in a strategically inferior position, and has prompted Pakistan to increase its plutonium stocks to build a bigger nuclear arsenal. Any agreement on a fissile material ban, therefore, would not be in Pakistan’s interests, at least until its leaders feel more secure with India.

But it is in Pakistan and India’s interests to work towards a moratorium on fissile material production -- doing so could build peace and stability on the subcontinent. Getting to this point, however, will take much time and effort. In the meantime, there are some intermediary steps India and Pakistan can take.

First, Islamabad and New Delhi could arrange for a series of meetings between the nuclear regulatory authorities of the two countries, in order to share best practices on nuclear materials protection, control and accounting (MPC&A). Additionally, the scientific communities of both countries could be brought together to devise verification measures to be implemented in the event a fissile material agreement, bilateral or otherwise, comes to fruition. These steps would begin to build nuclear confidence between India and Pakistan.

Furthermore, both countries could make voluntary declarations of their existing stocks of un-reprocessed spent nuclear fuel, which would help build confidence by increasing transparency. Sharing information on spent fuel from civilian programs is not as threatening to national security as giving away details on weapons-grade plutonium, and therefore would make the move more politically digestible.

Fissile material is a particularly delicate issue between India and Pakistan that has never found consensus in the past. But this does not preclude future progress. The best long-term, sustainable way forward is to achieve a universal fissile material agreement through the multilateral forum of the UN Conference on Disarmament. None of the ideas presented above is intended to replace that process, and India and Pakistan should not be excluded from it.

In the interim, however, it is hoped that as both countries move closer to their September meeting, they consider some of the above suggestions. Hopefully, that meeting can at least begin to move Islamabad and New Delhi in a positive direction away from the status quo, to work towards reducing nuclear dangers on the subcontinent.

7.13.2011

Time For a New Conversation with Pakistan

Pakistan often makes rhetorical statements that are contradictory to its actions -- which is not the way to make long-term, sustainable progress on the security issues of most concern to Pakistan, its neighbors and its partners. The problem is that the rest of us are not doing enough to put an end to that duplicity. It’s time to change course.

Over the years, Islamabad has successfully convinced the United States that it is a willing and cooperative partner in the U.S. campaign against terrorism in the region -- while simultaneously fostering, either directly or indirectly, the growth of terrorist and insurgent networks on its soil. It has convinced India that it is ready to return to the negotiating table to develop confidence-building measures between the two nuclear-armed countries -- but in the meantime is increasing the rate at which it is expanding its nuclear arsenal.

And perhaps most alarmingly, Pakistan seems to have convinced itself that its nuclear weapons are safe. Yet increasingly frequent and credible reports are corroborating long-standing suspicions that the integrity of the Pakistani military and intelligence services has been compromised by extremist elements, which have the potential to facilitate a successful attack on a Pakistani nuclear installation.

To make matters worse, the rest of us have fallen for Pakistan’s maneuvers. The United States provides billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, much of it for security and internal stability -- but it is questionable how effective those dollars have been. India has exercised tremendous restraint in its reaction to terrorist attacks that emanated, one way or another, from Pakistan over the past decade. Of course, this restraint is quite commendable, but New Delhi may not be so reserved if and when another attack occurs on its soil -- and that would cause long-term and compounded problems for all involved.

So how can we break this cycle?

There is some good news: Just this weekend, the Obama administration announced that it would withhold $800 million, or nearly one-third, of the $2.7 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Pakistan. This move indicates a serious reassessment of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and creates space for a few options going forward.

The first option is to give up and completely disengage from Pakistan. Realistically, however, this is unacceptable, particularly at a time when the United States is trying to withdraw from Afghanistan without creating a governance and security vacuum in the region. To disconnect now altogether would be catastrophic.

The second option is to maintain the status quo. Even though we are fully aware of how disastrous the outcome could be in the end, it seems we are generally more afraid of pursuing an alternate path. But our "business-as-usual" approach is not prudent either, since it has produced little tangible progress.

The third and smartest option is to stop going any further down this path. Along with other regional partners, the United States can accept and publicly acknowledge the difficult truth -- that in the current scenario we have made little progress. Although this admission would take time and effort, just working towards that point would create space for fresh engagement amongst all parties under a different set of understandings and assumptions.

The Obama administration’s decision this weekend is a step in this direction, and hopefully will prompt a frank reevaluation on both sides of how to strengthen Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

Ultimately, while Pakistan indeed faces very serious challenges, it can work with the United States on strengthening internal and external security, if it can learn to trust Washington again. Similarly, Pakistan can normalize its relations with India. Indeed, it must -- any other path will lead to destabilization and conflict.

Most importantly, Pakistan can work towards increasing security on the subcontinent without having to rely so heavily on its nuclear weapons -- for example, through collaboration and confidence-building measures with India on both nuclear and non-nuclear issues, and through similar dialogue and initiatives with the United States.

The bottom line is that the starting point for all of these challenges is a new conversation, not a continuation of the status quo. It’s time for all of us to start anew.
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Originally published on the Ploughshares Fund website.

Praying For Restraint Again

This will be a constantly updated document.

Explosions in Mumbai again today. Three blasts: One in Zaveri Bazaar, one in Dadar, and one in Opera House.

There absolutely will be calls for PM Singh to respond, perhaps even to retaliate -- but against whom? No one has taken credit yet for the attacks. Part of India's challenge in 2008 was responding to that attack in a timely manner, because attribution took so long.

In the meantime, Pakistan wasted no time in issuing a statement (updated 7/14/2011 1:35PM EDT) condemning the attacks and expressing sympathy and support for India:
President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Government and the people of Pakistan, have condemned the blasts in Mumbai and expressed distress on the loss of lives and injuries. The President and the Prime Minister have expressed their deepest sympathies to the Indian leadership on the loss of lives, injuries and damage to property in Mumbai.
I don't hope for a long attribution period -- someone clearly is responsible for these coordinated attacks, and they must be held accountable. But if -- just if -- the attackers are linked somehow to Pakistan, this may be the last straw.

I'm praying that this is not the case.

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UPDATE 7/13/2011, 5:30PM EDT: Adding some details from the following Time blog post, which makes a good point -- this attack seems more like the 2006 and 1993 bombings, not the 2008 attack, in a couple of respects. First, its lifespan was just a few minutes, not a three-day siege. This indicates a lower level of coordination and logistical sophistication.

Second, the locations where the explosions occurred indicate the targets were local Mumbaikers, not foreigners or the wealthy.

Not 100% sure what this means, but if I've learned anything through my terrorism studies, it is that a terrorist organization tends to stick to a certain vision and MO. The first point, regarding coordination and sophistication, is less salient here, but the second -- that the targets were completely different from 2008 -- just might indicate that LeT isn't behind this one.

No guarantees though. More updates as they come in.

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UPDATE 7/13/2011, 5:45PM EDT: Daniel Markey at the Council on Foreign Relations had written last year about the next terrorist attack in India post-11/26. His conclusion was that even in the wake of another attack, India and Pakistan's tensions would not be exacerbated to the point of nuclear exchange. Certainly an interesting read, but as much as I'd like to believe it in my heart, I'm not completely convinced. Fingers still crossed.

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UPDATE 7/14/2011, 1:28PM EDT: It slipped my mind, in yesterday's frenzy of activity, that in the article I had written about India-Pakistan just two days ago, I included the following line:
New Delhi may not be so reserved if and when another attack occurs on its soil.
My intent is not to sound sensationalist or to engage in fear-mongering -- if anything, the one thing from which we all would benefit right now is a level-headed approach to what is going on. But there is a serious concern that each time any attack occurs on Indian soil, India and Pakistan will come closer to armed conflict -- whether Pakistan is complicit in the attack or not.

On a separate note, the latest reports put the number of casualties at 21, with well over 100 injured / hospitalized. Apparently some security analysts are starting to make some guesses as to who is behind the attacks, but nothing concrete has been determined yet, so I'm not going to spin the rumor mill.

More to come ...

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UPDATE 7/15/2011, 2:30PM EDT: This Reuters article indicates that the explosives used were not simple crude devices, but somewhat sophisticated. This Times of India piece says the devices used a mix of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. These two details, if and when confirmed, may suggest prior training. PM Singh and local Mumbai authorities are still sorting out the damage to determine who is behind the attack.

Nothing conclusive yet.

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UPDATE 7/17/2011, 10:30PM EDT: In this article from Pakistan source The News, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao says it is too early to blame any country for last week's attacks.

So it seems the authorities are still sifting through the rubble and piecing together all the clues in this puzzle. Apparently, India-Pakistan relations haven't been derailed for now.

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UPDATE 7/18/2011, 12:12PM EDT: This Hindustan Times article confirms that the detonation devices used ammonium nitrate fuel oil as the primary explosive, and adds that ball bearings were a part of the package as well. The detonators were timed, but investigations continue into what specific type of timers was used.

Also, the consensus in the media seems to be that the death toll rests at 19, and that the number of people injured is 129.

7.12.2011

Time For a New Conversation With Pakistan

Pakistan often makes rhetorical statements that are contradictory to its actions – which is not the way to make long-term, sustainable progress on the security issues of most concern to Pakistan, its neighbors and its partners. The problem is that the rest of us are not doing enough to put an end to that duplicity. It’s time to change course.

Over the years, Islamabad has successfully convinced the United States that it is a willing and cooperative partner in the U.S. campaign against terrorism in the region – while simultaneously fostering, either directly or indirectly, the growth of terrorist and insurgent networks on its soil. It has convinced India that it is ready to return to the negotiating table to develop confidence-building measures between the two nuclear-armed countries – but in the meantime is increasing the rate at which it is expanding its nuclear arsenal.

And perhaps most alarmingly, Pakistan seems to have convinced itself that its nuclear weapons are safe. Yet increasingly frequent and credible reports are corroborating long-standing suspicions that the integrity of the Pakistani military and intelligence services has been compromised by extremist elements, which have the potential to facilitate a successful attack on a Pakistani nuclear installation.

To make matters worse, the rest of us have fallen for Pakistan’s maneuvers. The United States provides billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, much of it for security and internal stability – but it is questionable how effective those dollars have been. India has exercised tremendous restraint in its reaction to terrorist attacks that emanated, one way or another, from Pakistan over the past decade. Of course, this restraint is quite commendable, but New Delhi may not be so reserved if and when another attack occurs on its soil – and that would cause long-term and compounded problems for all involved.

So how can we break this cycle?

There is some good news: Just this weekend, the Obama administration announced that it would withhold $800 million, or nearly one-third, of the $2.7 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Pakistan. This move indicates a serious reassessment of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and creates space for a few options going forward.

The first option is to give up and completely disengage from Pakistan. Realistically, however, this is unacceptable, particularly at a time when the United States is trying to withdraw from Afghanistan without creating a governance and security vacuum in the region. To disconnect now altogether would be catastrophic.

The second option is to maintain the status quo. Even though we are fully aware of how disastrous the outcome could be in the end, it seems we are generally more afraid of pursuing an alternate path. But our "business-as-usual" approach is not prudent either, since it has produced little tangible progress.

The third and smartest option is to stop going any further down this path. Along with other regional partners, the United States can accept and publicly acknowledge the difficult truth – that in the current scenario we have made little progress. Although this admission would take time and effort, just working towards that point would create space for fresh engagement amongst all parties under a different set of understandings and assumptions.

The Obama administration’s decision this weekend is a step in this direction, and hopefully will prompt a frank reevaluation on both sides of how to strengthen Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

Ultimately, while Pakistan indeed faces very serious challenges, it can work with the United States on strengthening internal and external security, if it can learn to trust Washington again. Similarly, Pakistan can normalize its relations with India. Indeed, it must – any other path will lead to destabilization and conflict.

Most importantly, Pakistan can work towards increasing security on the subcontinent without having to rely so heavily on its nuclear weapons – for example, through collaboration and confidence-building measures with India on both nuclear and non-nuclear issues, and through similar dialogue and initiatives with the United States.

The bottom line is that the starting point for all of these challenges is a new conversation, not a continuation of the status quo. It’s time for all of us to start anew.
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Originally published on the Ploughshares Fund website.

6.27.2011

An Insecure and Reluctant Partner

The Obama administration is preparing to implement the first phase of its military drawdown in Afghanistan at a time when nuclear security inside Pakistan is at its most tenuous. That already delicate situation has only become more fragile in the weeks following the killing of Osama bin Laden in May of this year.

Since then, Pakistani officials and international security experts alike have become more concerned about the ability of the Pakistani military to safeguard and secure its nuclear weapons and related facilities from attack. The fundamental question, however, is who would mount such an assault?

U.S. officials and those outside Pakistan are concerned primarily with terrorists: a situation in which a small group of militants execute a coordinated attack on a nuclear facility in Pakistan, gaining access to loosely guarded assembled warheads or weapons-grade fissile material. Those terrorists certainly would not hesitate to use their newly acquired assets to detonate a nuclear weapon over a major city, killing thousands of innocent civilians and forever altering the international security landscape. The world as we know it would never again be the same.

This fear is not unjustified -- the ability of the Pakistani military to defend its fortified bases and installations against militant attack has been brought into question in recent years. Breaches of Pakistani bases by militant groups have occurred most notably in October 2009 in Rawalpindi and in May of this year in Karachi. For many outside Pakistan, a repeat of this type of event -- but with nuclear facilities, weapons and material -- is the ultimate nightmare scenario.

Inside Pakistan, however, the fundamental fear is that the country's nuclear installations would be attacked not by terrorists, but by the United States or India. Military and civilian officials there are afraid American or Indian commandos would sneak into the country -- much like U.S. Navy SEALs did last month -- and launch a coordinated attack on Pakistani nuclear facilities, stripping Pakistan of its most prized possession and what it considers its primary deterrent force.

Certainly, the fear is rooted in a newfound and very palpable sense of humiliation within the ranks of the Pakistani armed forces. In a country where the military is seen as one of the only functional national institutions -- with sole guardianship over the country's most potent weapon and bargaining chip -- the swiftness and success of the bin Laden raid have shaken faith in the military's ability to detect and deflect any threat to its assets. Indeed, both retiring and serving officers are calling for Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani to resign, along with ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha and even President Asif Ali Zardari.

The need for Pakistan to reevaluate its security capabilities has never been more urgent. American troop withdrawals from Afghanistan will force Pakistan to step up its capacity for ensuring internal stability, and this will place additional stress on a military and a national police force that are already stretched thin. At the same time, an erosion of integrity and trust within the ranks of the Pakistani military will make it even more difficult for Kayani to keep his troops in line.

In the meantime, Pakistan's ability to provide a significant degree of confidence in its nuclear security is being increasingly questioned by U.S. policymakers.

All of this is symptomatic of the widening gap of mistrust between Washington and Islamabad. Regrettably, this could not be happening at a more inopportune time. As Toby Dalton and George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment wrote last month, "It is impossible to build a strategic relationship when one partner can't be trusted to prevent nuclear terrorism and the other can't be trusted not to exploit its intelligence and military presence to steal or destroy the other's nuclear deterrent."

As the Obama administration prepares to shift responsibility for Afghanistan's security and governance to the Afghan people, it must keep in mind the security concerns of its reluctant ally in Islamabad. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship as it stands now is fraught with mutual mistrust, and is not sustainable. What is needed now more than ever is a realistic and firm reassessment by both countries of their bilateral strategic relationship. Only by asking difficult questions and identifying innovative ways to strengthen that relationship -- even separate from the nuclear security issue -- can Pakistan and the United States make significant and measurable progress towards improving security in the region.
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Originally published on the Ploughshares Fund website.

5.01.2011

Osama bin Laden Is Dead, But Nothing Really Changes

Cross-posted with the Huffington Post.
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Tonight, at 11:35pm EST on a Sunday evening, President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden is now dead, thanks to U.S. action taken within Pakistan. This is a tremendous breakthrough in America's self-proclaimed "war on terror," and certainly newsworthy. More importantly, it is a rare but special moment of justice for all of the families who lost loved ones a decade ago. From a practical foreign policy standpoint, however, this development unfortunately raises more questions than it puts to rest.

First is the question of whether drone strikes in Pakistan will stop. According to the President, bin Laden was killed by a coordinated attack in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The President did not directly address the matter, but he did say the kill was successful thanks to coordination between the Pakistani and American governments. It would seem that as of right now, killing Osama bin Laden will not preclude further drone strikes or any other covert operations within Pakistan's borders, since additional al-Qaeda cells are operating in the country -- as long as the Pakistani government continues to provide such assistance as is necessary. If anything, the demonstrated success of using drones to at least locate, even if not kill, bin Laden will suggest to many in the CIA, Department of Defense and White House that their use is a cost-effective measure that clearly can deliver results.

Second is the question of how U.S. military engagement in the Middle East will change. Will forces be pulling out tomorrow? Absolutely not. Will the latest version of the timetable established by the White House be accelerated, bringing troops home sooner? Most likely not. Our troops will remain right where they are, at least for the foreseeable future -- and if they are brought home sooner than expected, it will not be thanks to Osama bin Laden.

This leads into the third question -- how this will impact al-Qaeda. The President said the organization, headed by Osama bin Laden, has been disrupted by our intelligence operatives and military personnel. The reality, however, is that the organization has nevertheless been running strong for the past ten years since 9/11, and of course longer before that. It is as much a matter of discussion in academic and policymaking circles today as it was then -- indeed, my class on terrorism this semester at the Fletcher School dedicated entire class periods to the study of al-Qaeda's ideology, activities and structure. In particular, the death of bin Laden will have little effect on the organizational hierarchy of al-Qaeda, which is sufficiently hydra-headed to ensure continuity of leadership. As it stands, bin Laden was hiding out in Pakistan for the past half-decade or so, and al-Qaeda has continued on. His death will not change anything.

There are additional questions that come to mind, and certainly another post altogether will be devoted to whether Osama bin Laden's death has an impact on the threat of nuclear terrorism as the U.S. security and defense establishment understands it. But this is a start. Any and all thoughts welcome.

4.02.2011

The Future of Nuclear Energy in the U.S.

Cross-posted with the Huffington Post.
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In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, and as workers continue battling the second- and third-degree effects of the disaster, important questions are being raised about the future of nuclear energy in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Energy has been investing for a long time in alternatives to coal- and oil-based energy, including nuclear and renewables, in order to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Currently, there are 104 nuclear power plants in 31 states, which combined satisfy about 20% of our energy demand. There are additional plants that were slated for construction, but the Japan earthquake has changed that, and now many in the U.S. are calling for at least a temporary suspension on the development of new nuclear power plants.

One such person is Fletcher alum and former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson (F71). On Thursday March 31, when I attended a talk with Secretary Richardson at the Harvard Kennedy School, he suggested that we should be asking important questions about the designs of these new plants intended for construction, including how strong the containment vessel would be and whether the spent fuel pool would be placed at a sufficient distance from the reactor core to prevent a Fukushima-type disaster from being replicated here in the United States.

In the Q&A, I pushed back on Secretary Richardson and suggested these are perhaps the wrong questions to ask, since the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing at least six new nuclear plant designs that would not have any of the design flaws and environmental security concerns that manifested themselves in Japan.

These new designs under NRC review are small modular reactors (SMRs), which -- in contrast to the large, above-ground megaplants like Fukushima-Daiichi that can produce upwards of 1,000 MWe -- put out less than 350 MWe and are more suitable for smaller towns and rural areas. They are manufactured in a completely encased unit, including the nuclear fuel, so there is more security in the nuclear fuel cycle and less proliferation risk. And according to preliminary studies, because these SMRs are designed to be buried at least partially underground, they would be less susceptible to damage from seismic shifts.

Secretary Richardson's response was a positive one -- that new designs should constantly be evaluated and old designs reevaluated, and that SMRs should be a part of the nuclear mix in the future.

But as George Marshall was known to ask, how could we be wrong? What are the downsides to these small modular reactor designs? What in these new designs would be cause for concern?

In other words, what are we missing?

2.09.2011

If the Egyptians Were in America, They Would Be Protesting Obama

Cross-posted with the Huffington Post.
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Breaking news: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak just stepped down and transferred power to Vice President Omar Suleiman and the armed forces.

As an interested observer who has watched the protests continue for the past few weeks, I have been struck most by what I understand to be the underlying impetus of this historic reform movement: two decades of economic stagnation, crippling unemployment, and the deterioration of social services for those most needy. Not free speech, not freedom of religion, not human rights, but a relatively modest and universal demand for economic opportunity for all Egyptians. And I recognize I'm oversimplifying here, but the Mubarak administration largely failed to provide such opportunity to its citizens despite tremendous developmental undertakings in recent history, such as the al-Azhar Park in the Old City.

What truly stupefies me, however, is that unless we do something about it immediately, the same type of failure is about to happen right here at home, directly under our noses, at the hands of President Obama.

Next week, the White House will release its fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, in which it will make good on Obama’s promise in his State of the Union Address to enact “painful cuts.” One particularly poignant example is a 50% cut in Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) funding for Community Action Programs (CAPs) -- organizations that serve the most impoverished and marginalized of our society -- with the intent to redistribute the remaining funding through a competitive bid basis that is modeled largely on the failed Race to the Top educational initiative.

If this cut in funding is actually approved by Congress, CAPs that provide essential services to people living at or below the poverty line -- including fuel assistance, workforce training, education, earned income tax credit, food pantries and Head Start -- will need to significantly cut back or stop many of these programs.

Worse still, many CAPs will be forced to completely close their doors, and the very impoverished they exist to serve will have nowhere else to turn.

In Egypt, a lack of economic opportunity under President Mubarak for the past 20-plus years fomented a mass revolution. And for good cause: people expect, if nothing else, that their government will create an environment in which economic opportunity can thrive. Currently, most Egyptians live on about $2 per day in an economy that unfortunately has experienced little to no trickle-down effect. The country is facing massive poverty, high levels of unemployment, and ever-rising food prices. And as we can now see, this dissatisfaction with the Egyptian government's failure to deliver is slowly spreading across the Middle East.

Here at home, we are still coping with our own deteriorating economic situation. People who lost their jobs during the worst times of the recession in 2008-2009 are still having trouble getting back on their feet, and increasingly are turning to Community Action Programs for assistance. Yet President Obama is proposing cuts to community services for those most in need.

But there are people fighting back. Already, U.S. Congressional representatives including Ed Markey, John Kerry, Barney Frank and Michael Capuano have submitted a letter to the President asking him to reconsider his stated intent. A few days ago, The Boston Globe ran this article highlighting the immense damage that would be caused by this funding cut. And an online petition aimed at “saving” community action programs has begun to go viral, having already collected thousands of signatures in the past twenty-four hours.

I do not mean to suggest American workers will revolt any time soon, but there is a lesson to be learned from Egypt. The failures of the Mubarak administration, as well as the outcome of the protests in Mubarak's resignation today, cannot be replicated in any way here in the United States. But if the White House budget is proposed as anticipated, and worse, approved by Congress, we will be doomed to repeat those shortcomings as a nation -- and appallingly, the poorest citizens of our society will be forced to bear the overwhelming burden of President Obama's choice.

This article was co-authored by Mimi Vu. Mimi studies public policy at Harvard University and law at the University of California at Berkeley, where she focuses on consumer protection and labor laws affecting low-income communities. Prior to returning to school, she worked for six years at Action for Boston Community Development, Inc. (ABCD), one of the nation’s largest nonprofit, community action programs.