Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is coming to the United States this week on an official visit, and the New York Times reports that ahead of the visit the Obama administration is holding talks with Pakistani officials about Pakistan’s plan to deploy a small tactical nuclear weapon which would be more difficult to monitor and secure than Pakistan’s arsenal of larger weapons.
The Washington Post earlier this month reported that such discussions were taking place.
The White House has not yet commented on the issue.
Experts doubt Pakistan would agree to any limits on it nuclear arsenal. “If Pakistan would take the actions requested by the United States, it would essentially amount to recognition of rehabilitation and would essentially amount to parole,” George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Times.
“I think it’s worth a try,” Perkovich added. “But I have my doubts that the Pakistanis are capable of doing this.”
Other officials and outside experts said the main component of the proposed deal would be the loosening of strict controls imposed on Pakistan by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an affiliation of nations that try to control the creation of weapons.
The Times reports that the Bush administration spent as much as $100 million on a secret program to help secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, helping with physical security and the training of Pakistani security personnel. Those efforts continued in the Obama years.
Administration officials have told Congress that most of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is under good safeguards, with warheads separated from delivery vehicles and a series of measures in place to guard against unauthorized use. These officials fear, however, the smaller weapons are easier to steal, or would be easier to use should they fall into the hands of a rogue commander.
“All it takes is one commander with secret radical sympathies, and you have a big problem,” said one former official.