mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Nothing To See Here
Pakistan: We Won’t Share Nukes with Saudis

Pakistan will not be sharing its nuclear weapons with Saudi Arabia. Well, at least that’s what Pakistan’s foreign secretary is saying. The New York Times reports:

Closing a wide-ranging trip to Washington, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry angrily rejected speculation that his country could sell or transfer nuclear arms or advanced technology as “unfounded and baseless.”

“Pakistan is not talking to Saudi Arabia on nuclear issues, period,” Chaudhry insisted. The arsenal, believed to be in excess of 100 weapons, is focused only on Pakistan’s threat perception from “the East,” Chaudhry said, a clear reference to long-standing rival and fellow nuclear power India.

Despite all the handwringing and analysis that Chaudhry’s statements have produced, this isn’t really big news, and we doubt officials in Riyadh are pulling out their hair over this.

Here’s why: The nature of authority in Pakistan is such that it enables the government to continuously deny and prevaricate about having anything to do with proliferation. After all, this is precisely what it did even as A.Q. Khan was operating the biggest black market in the history of nuclear weapons.

It is important to remember that despite Pakistan’s having written laws derived from British models, the Pakistani state is not organized on the model of a modern European state in which unified systems of bureaucratic and legal power culminate in a single responsible official, subject both to law and political checks in an organized way.

Instead, a well documented civil-military divide exists in Pakistan. This divide allows for the military, regardless of what is written on paper, to maintain control over certain policy issues, to influence others and to frustrate the efforts of civilian politicians to change the country in ways the military doesn’t like.

Further, both the civil and the military sides of power in Pakistan are organized more like a series of interlocking and autonomous fiefdoms than like a centralized, bureaucratic state. As a result, the Pakistani government resembles a hydra, one beast with many different heads. The foreign minister is not, as western observers might conclude, the person who, under the supervision of the prime minister, leads Pakistan’s foreign policy. He is one of many voices (and, on national security issues, far from the most powerful) in the mix.

Real power in Pakistan is found less in formal institutions and more in the hands of informal groups of individuals. If there is to be any support from Pakistan for a Saudi nuclear program, it would likely not be on an official government-to-government basis mediated through the cabinet and the foreign minister. Rather, the support would come person-to-person, network-to-network. The foreign minister might be one of the last to know what was going on behind closed doors. The worry, and it is a real one, is that some of those individuals and networks in the underworld of the Pakistani nuclear program might be in touch with much more dangerous and irresponsible actors than the King of Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan has dropped out of the headlines as the United States pulls back from Afghanistan, but it remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Fat_Man

    The Saudi reply is that they won’t be sharing money with Pakistan.

    • JR

      I doubt this made anyone in Saudi Arabia miss a beat. I mean, what would anyone expect Pakistani government representative to say differently? Yes, we are going to sell our nuclear weapons? There is such thing as trying to obfuscate your true intentions. Now, I don’t read minds, so I have no idea what those true intentions might be. But Pakistan denied even working on nuclear weapons until it just detonated a bomb one day. In general, everything that has to do with ME must be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.

  • Dan Greene

    Gotta love it! The excellent though hardly unexpected news that Pakistan is not even planning to consider providing Saudi Arabia with any part of a nuclear program is met with gloom and doom here at TAI. Woe is us–we’ll have to start relying on even more ludicrous propaganda to cobble together arguments against the US-Iran nuclear agreement. Too bad, so sad, boys!

    And just as was the case when Pakistan turned down the Saudi request to provide cheap infantry for the morass of Yemen, TAI has the same response: Well, the Pakistani “deep state” will overturn this pesky democratic stuff and get the job done.

    Wishful–actually delusional–thinking. I mean, since we have yet to see any evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, much less the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon, that means that if Saudi Arabia and Pakistan started to move forward with a plan to transfer nuclear weapons to the Saudis, it would by THEY who would immediately become the focus of non-proliferation fears rather than Iran. Neither of them want that, as it would cause all sorts of problems for both of them. The Saudi threat to acquire nuclear weapons up to this point has been 90% bluff.

    As for Pakistan, it may suffer some diminution of the relationship with Saudi Arabia, but even that is not certain, since the Saudis must always have known how the bluff would end anyway. In any case, China, which has just committed to a huge economic package for Pakistan doesn’t want proliferation any more than the US, so there is counter-leverage even if the Saudis did start to levy threats of retaliation. And Pakistan is chastened since the days of AQ Khan.

    If Iran really did present a concrete threat, the situation might change, but even then it would be a big “if.” It’s true that the Pak military does have a measure of practical autonomy from the power arrangements laid down by the Pakistani constitution, but the “Deep State” is aware how much scunion it would invite if it became the focus of nuclear proliferation fears again.

    It’s hilarious to see TAI so distressed over what is good news and how unwilling it is to accept that news. Just goes to show how removed TAI is from an understanding of what is in the strategic interest of the US.

    • Anthony

      I regret you had to take your Disqus profile private but I completely understand.

      • Dan Greene

        Not to worry. You and anyone else who is interested in what I have to say will be able to see it all here. I predict all sorts of fireworks in the future. You won’t miss anything. I certainly have no intention of either modifying my views (unless empirical evidence leads me to) or restraining my arguments.

        • Anthony

          Thanks and I anticipate the reasoned point of view.

  • wigwag

    Those poor Saudis; without Pakistani help they have zero chance of ever getting the bomb. After all, there’s no such thing as a black market in enriched uranium or even plutonium. Luckily all the nuclear scientists in the world who understand the 75 year old technology required to make a bomb are all wealthy, happy and contented; thankfully there’s no need to fear they would ever sell out to the highest bidder. And let’s not forget how thankful we should be that there are no bizarre, secretive and impoverished countries in the world led by madmen who regularly

  • FriendlyGoat

    It’s good to hear that one of the most dangerous countries in the world (really) is not talking dangerously on this particular subject at right this moment.

    • JR

      I enjoy our foreign policy chats so much more than our domestic policy chats.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Well, thanks. I consider myself a liberal, but not one of those liberals who somehow thinks Islam will be “okey-dokey” as just one of several competing “world views”—-and/or that it would be better if only we were warmer to it. I am one who holds the (somewhat pie-in-the-sky) opinion that the war is a messaging war and we need to work on getting people to simply stop believing that Mohammad is the “prophet” of anything—- because he isn’t. I am becoming more and more of a skeptical realist, though, on how many Muslims we can kill or how many Islamic places we can try to police or fix with western occupation. I am hoping the darn thing will start collapsing of its own weight at some point and wondering how we could help that happen

        My other main focus as a liberal is debunking what I believe to be a MYTH that “tax cuts create jobs”—–in America, or anywhere. Maybe we can work together on that. I know that just about “everyone” claims the opposite of my view, that it’s “axiomatic”—–it’s “obvious”—–it’s common sense”, etc. You know what we hear.

        I see the wealth gap widening everywhere, the value of labor diminishing everywhere, unprecedented amounts of money in speculation piles and—–something conservatives worry about—–family life falling into increasing dysfunction for household-economics reasons. We need the jobs picture fixed here, in Europe and in the whole Islamic world, too. I just don’t see tax cuts doing it. (So Ben Carson, for instance, ain’t my buddy. He should know better than the junk he is spinning.)

        • JR

          I too am not a Right-Wing Conservative out of central casting. I happen to believe fairly socially liberal. I also don’t think that lowering tax rates on owners of capital is really necessary, since true globalization of the past 40 years has shifted power decisively from labor to capital. I just think that “increasing the size and power of the federal government” is not the solution to every problem we have. For reasons of regulatory capture at which capital is way more proficient than labor, if nothing else.
          Because of automation, we are about to have drastically larger population of people in need of public assistance. We need to drastically increase the efficiency of providing government services, and pumping more and more resources into our current dysfunctional federal bureaucracy ain’t doing the trick. With baby boomers retiring, the idea of tax cuts is fanciful. But so is the idea that we can somehow scale up a bureaucratic state from 60 years ago, have it operate in exactly the same way only bigger in 21st century and everything will be hunky dory.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You have a point about regulatory capture. But the answer to that can’t be citizens just giving up.

  • Heart Breaker

    Pakistan needs to show the world that the bomb is not for sale but for
    defence. Propaganda is being circulated to isolate Pakistans nuclear
    industries nuterlized like Iran. This is just the start to falsely blame
    Pakistan to destroy it. There are several volunteer for this purpose

  • Arvind Baba

    When India, Israel and USA can work together in arms race then why not Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other countries?

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service