So, about those Pakistani nukes…

FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images The New York Times recently revealed a secret U.S. program that has spent nearly $100 million over the past six years to help secure Pakistani nuclear weapons and facilities. Concerns about legal issues and Pakistani sovereignty, however, have sharply limited what U.S. funds can achieve. For instance, the U.S. government chose not ...

597902_071130_pakistan_05.jpg
597902_071130_pakistan_05.jpg

FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images

The New York Times recently revealed a secret U.S. program that has spent nearly $100 million over the past six years to help secure Pakistani nuclear weapons and facilities. Concerns about legal issues and Pakistani sovereignty, however, have sharply limited what U.S. funds can achieve.

For instance, the U.S. government chose not to share information about its permissive action links (PALs), which are the "crown jewel" of its nuclear security technologies. PALs basically ensure that nuclear warheads cannot detonate without proper authorization. To many scientists, sharing details about PAL technology is a no-brainer. But because PAL systems are designed to be as secure as possible, each is integrated deeply into a warhead’s electronics; disclosing details about PALs could therefore reveal compromising characteristics of U.S. nuclear-weapon designs. Disclosing classified information of this nature also happens to be illegal under U.S. law, and NPT signatories are banned from helping Pakistan (technically a non-nuclear weapon state as far as the NPT is concerned) with its arsenal.

FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images

The New York Times recently revealed a secret U.S. program that has spent nearly $100 million over the past six years to help secure Pakistani nuclear weapons and facilities. Concerns about legal issues and Pakistani sovereignty, however, have sharply limited what U.S. funds can achieve.

For instance, the U.S. government chose not to share information about its permissive action links (PALs), which are the “crown jewel” of its nuclear security technologies. PALs basically ensure that nuclear warheads cannot detonate without proper authorization. To many scientists, sharing details about PAL technology is a no-brainer. But because PAL systems are designed to be as secure as possible, each is integrated deeply into a warhead’s electronics; disclosing details about PALs could therefore reveal compromising characteristics of U.S. nuclear-weapon designs. Disclosing classified information of this nature also happens to be illegal under U.S. law, and NPT signatories are banned from helping Pakistan (technically a non-nuclear weapon state as far as the NPT is concerned) with its arsenal.

Perhaps most problematic, though, is that Pakistan has been reluctant to reveal details about the locations of its existing warheads or about fuel production for new weapons. This seems to have limited the United States to training personnel and providing equipment, but in many cases Pakistan won’t even show American officials how or where the equipment is being used. Pakistan is also seeking to downplay the significance of the U.S. aid, describing the Times article as an “exaggerated picture of our efforts to learn from the best practices of other countries with regard to their nuclear safety and export controls.”

The level of funding is substantial, however, given the small size of Pakistan’s arsenal; it’s really a lack of cooperation that is limiting what this program can achieve. Without learning more, we can only hope that the U.S. military doesn’t have to send in special forces to find and secure the weapons itself.

(More here over at Wired’s Danger Room.)

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.