The Taliban's Atomic Threat
By JOHN R. BOLTON
President Barack Obama endorsed Pakistan's official position that it has secure control over its nuclear-weapons arsenal. Mr. Obama said he was "gravely concerned" about the situation there, but "confident that the nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands."
His words are not reassuring.
Our security, and that of friends and allies, depends critically on preventing more adversaries from acquiring nuclear weapons. Unless there is swift action, Pakistan faces two very worrisome scenarios.
One scenario is that instability continues to grow, and that the radicals disrupt Pakistan's weak democratic institutions and the military. In these circumstances -- especially if, as Secretary of State Clinton testified recently, the nuclear arsenal has been dispersed -- there is a tangible risk that some weapons could slip out of military control. Such weapons could find their way to al-Qaeda, with obvious global implications.
The second scenario is even more dangerous. Instability could cause the constitutional government to collapse and the military to fragment. This could allow a well-organized, tightly disciplined group to seize control of the Pakistani government. If that happened, a radical Islamicist regime in Pakistan would control a substantial nuclear weapons capacity.
Not only could this second scenario give terrorists access to Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, the risk of nuclear confrontation with India would also increase. Moreover, Iran would certainly further accelerate its own weapons program, followed by others in the region (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey).
With respect to the fighting in Pakistan, it is not a case of "have nots" against "haves," but of True Believers on a divine mission. Accordingly, neither greater economic assistance, nor more civilian advisers upcountry, nor stronger democratic institutions will eliminate the strategic threat nearly soon enough.
We are reaping the consequences of failed nonproliferation policies. Add to that, the Bush administration, by pushing former President Pervez Musharraf into unwise elections and effectively removing him from power, simply exacerbated Pakistani instability. Mr. Musharraf's performance against the terrorists left much to be desired, and he was no democrat. But removing him was unpleasantly reminiscent of the 1963 coup against South Vietnam's Diem regime, which ushered in a succession of ever-weaker, revolving-door governments. Benazir Bhutto's assassination was a direct consequence.
To prevent catastrophe will require considerable American effort and unquestionably provoke resistance from many Pakistanis. We must strengthen pro-American elements in Pakistan's military; roll back Taliban advances; and with increased efforts, decisively defeat the militants. This may mean stifling our democratic squeamishness. This may mean a Pakistani military takeover.
If the civilian government melts before radical pressures, so be it.
We must strive to keep Indo-Pakistani relations stable. At the same time, we should contemplate how to extract as many nuclear weapons as possible from Pakistan.
Failure to act decisively could well lead to strategic defeat in South Asia.