Monday, August 16, 2010

Don't Forget Iran, but the Real Nuclear Threat Will Be Pakistan

In 1995, Crimson Tide presented a scenario to the world that seemed alarmingly possible.

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia had done a poor job of securing its nuclear arsenal. With Boris Yeltsin, occupying the Russian Presidency, no strong leadership existed to contain the threat of rogue elements within the Russian military seizing control of nuclear arms and using it for their own ends.

As a conflict with separatist Chechens stoked nationalist fires in Russia, the threat seemed to continually grow until Vladimir Putin ascended to the Presidency.

Putin has critically undermined the fragile Russian democracy. But he brought stability and cohesion to the Russian military.

In the film, Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) is chosen by Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) to be the executive officer of the USS Alabama, a nuclear submarine being deployed to act as a preemtive strike force in the event that a rogue Russian general attempts to launch nuclear weapons he has seized control of.

The secnario deteriorates while the Alabama is at sea, and they receive orders they would otherwise consider unthinkable: they are to launch their missiles to preemptively destroy missiles which reports have indicated are being fuelled for launch.

However, in the midst of an encounter with a Russian attack sub, an Emergency Action Message to the Alabama. They are left with a message fragment that could indicate an order to fire at different targets, or to abort launch.

Hunter insists that the Alabama must reestablish radio contact to confirm its orders. Ramsey is adamant that, in absence of new orders, the orders to launch stand.

Each man is weighing different sides of a nuclear holocaust. If Ramsey is right, Russian rebels are preparing to fire nuclear weapons at the United States, and must be stopped. If Hunter is right, the Alabama risks setting off a nuclear war that otherwise won't happen.

The chances of such a scenario playing out in Russia today are coparatively remote.

While increasing tension surrounding Iran's nuclear program have stoked fires of nuclear conflict, the more likely scenario is that Pakistani nuclear weapons fall into the hands of the increasingly-active Pakistani Taliban, or perhaps even by rogue elements of the Pakistani military itself.

In the Crimson Tide secnario, it's inferred that the rebel general is leaked nuclear launch codes from within the Kremlin itself.

In a Pakistani scenario, it's most likely that, if leaked to the Taliban, any codes necessary to launch nuclear weapons would be handed over directly by the ISI.

As the security climate in Pakistan continues to deteriorate, it's more and more likely that the Crimson Tide scenario will be played out in Pakistan rather than Iran or Russia.

While Iran's nuclear program very much does pose a theat to global peace, it's the weapons that Pakistan already possesses that may pose the greatest threat to global peace and security.

No one in their right mind likes it. But so long as any prospect, whatsoever, remains of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of malevolent forces, the capacity to launch preemptive nuclear strikes will remain necessary.

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