Home Global Village Ex-senator’s claims against Pakistan highlight US hypocrisy

Ex-senator’s claims against Pakistan highlight US hypocrisy

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Jamal Hussain |

Larry Pressler, the former three time US senator from South Dakota was in the news recently, painting nuclear Pakistan as a threat to the current world order. Pakistanis remember the Amendment bearing his name (Pressler Amendment) that provided a window for the Americans to funnel economic and military aid to Pakistan bypassing the Symington and Glen Amendments (1976, 1977) that banned the US from any economic or military assistance to a country suspected of manufacturing nuclear bombs.

The Pressler Amendment incorporated in 1985 stated that “no military or technology equipment [is] to be provided to Pakistan unless the US President certified that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device and that the assistance provided by America would reduce significantly the risk that Pakistan will possess a nuclear explosive device.”  (Rabia Akhtar Dawn May 29, 2017).

Historians well versed in the dynamics of South Asia concede the nuclear factor was primarily responsible for preventing another armed conflict between India and Pakistan since the 1971 war.

Pressler’s latest book “Neighbours in Arms” published by Random House India Private Limited has been released in March 2017. In the book he has portrayed his efforts in trying to prevent Pakistan from becoming a nuclear power; the reality, however, is the reverse—his amendment allowed the US Presidents to resume aid to Pakistan even when it was an open secret the country was rapidly progressing towards nuclearisation.

It allowed the US administration to put Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme on the backburner to pursue its immediate short-term objectives in Afghanistan. The fact a three time US senator who also served two terms in the House of Representative had to find an Indian publisher for his book speaks for itself.

Read more: Why nuclear arsenal advancement is essential for Pakistan

In a recent interview with Indian journalists he lambasted Pakistan and viewed India as a paragon of democracy. He even urged India and the US to launch strikes on Pakistan’s nuclear sites (Varibhav Purandarel, Sept 26, 2017). Is Pressler really blind to the numerous major contradictions in the Indian democracy, especially under Narendra Modi—repression of minorities, rise of Hindu nationalism, massacre of innocent Kashmiris and over two dozen large and small scale insurgencies, for example. Or are some other factors are in play?

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are strictly meant for its defence only and would only come into play if its core interests were threatened by outside aggression.

The Pressler Amendment: A Reality Check

The Pressler Amendment was considered necessary as a payment to Pakistan for enlisting their support to evict the Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Since Pakistan was suspected of working towards a nuclear bomb, the Symington and Glen Amendments made it nearly impossible for USA to furnish any aid to the country. Pakistan’s refusal in private to back down from its nuclearisation programme was a dilemma that Larry Pressler and his partner resolved by having their Amendment passed. Since Pakistan in 1985 had not yet assembled a working nuclear bomb, the US President could honestly certify that it did not possess a nuclear device; hence financial and military aid demanded by Pakistan could be disbursed.

The US President Ronald Reagan and his successor George H. Bush continued to provide the certificate from 1986 to 1989. By the end of 1985 Pakistan had actually crossed the nuclear threshold and was known to have manufactured the bomb. The American CIA was aware of this development but perhaps as a matter of state policy, the Presidents with mutual consent were deliberately not provided this Intel officially so that they could if required testify under oath they had given the clearance certificates in good faith, to the best of their knowledge. This shenanigan is referred to as “plausible deniability” strategy.

Fortunately, unlike the good ex-senator, the US administration understands that any unprovoked military action against Pakistan based on paranoia, misplaced fears and faulty assumptions could have cataclysmic consequences.

Both Ronald Reagan and Bush (Snr) continued to certify Pakistan’s non-possession of nuclear bombs until 1989. By 1990, the American objectives in Afghanistan had been achieved once the Soviet forces were forced to withdraw. Pakistan’s support was no longer required and following the Machiavellian philosophy, President Bush (Snr) refused to provide the certification and promptly the Pressler Amendment was invoked. Pakistan as an ally was dumped, all assistanceceased with immediate effect and fresh sanctions imposed.

Read more: Trump tweets accusing Pakistan: Is there a method to his madness?

History of Nuclear Weapons Accidents (Broken Arrows)

Larry Pressler considers Pakistan not mature enough and incapable of safely handling a nuclear arsenal. A case study of the history of safety and proliferation records of nuclear weapons of Pakistan and USA should be an eye opener for the retired senator.

Broken Arrow is the code used for accidents involving nuclear weapons. According to the declassified data, thirty-two Broken Arrows have been officially recorded since 1950 and over a dozen air crashes of aircraft flying armed with nuclear weapons have been recorded in USA alone. Six nuclear weapons including the thermonuclear (Hydrogen Bomb) class have been lost and never recovered by USA. Two cases are as under:

At the ripe young age of 75, Pressler is now crying wolf over the danger nuclear Pakistan poses to world peace. Perhaps this catharsis is a result of his realisation that it was his sponsored amendment that allowed Pakistan to become a nuclear power.

On 5th December 1965, 31 days after Aircraft Carrier Ticonderoga‘s departure from U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines, the attack jet fell over the side during a training exercise while being rolled from the number 2 hangar bay to the number 2 elevator. The pilot, the aircraft, Douglas A-4E and the B43 thermonuclear gravity bomb were never recovered.

In March 1956 carrying two nuclear capsules on a nonstop flight from MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida to an overseas base, a B-47 was reported missing. It failed to make contact with a tanker over the Mediterranean for a second refueling. No trace was ever found of the plane.

Two other Broken Arrows that had the potential of a nuclear holocaust are worth mentioning.

Read more: Pakistan prepared for any US action: DG ISPR

In 1961 a B-52 with two MK 39 thermonuclear bombs crashed over North Carolina. The two 3–4-megaton MK. 39 nuclear bombs separated from the gyrating aircraft as it broke up in the air. The parachute allowed one of the bombs to hit the ground with little damage and it was retrieved. Although the Pentagon claimed the bomb was unarmed and could not explode, former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg has claimed to have seen highly classified documents indicating that its safe/arm switch was the only one of the six arming devices on the bomb that prevented detonation. In 2013, information released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request confirmed that a single switch out of four (not six) prevented detonation.

There was still some cooperation and sharing of data between the British and Americans after that, but it was troubled by mutual suspicion and rivalry. Inadvertently or otherwise nuclear proliferation from both USA and UK were in play.

The parachute of the second bomb failed to deploy and it plunged into a muddy field at around 700 miles per hour and disintegrated without detonation of its conventional explosives. The tail was discovered about 20 feet below ground. Excavation of the second bomb was abandoned as a result of uncontrollable groundwater flooding. Most of the thermonuclear stage, containing uranium and plutonium, was left in place, but the “pit”, or core, of the bomb had been dislodged and was removed. Although the bomb was partially armed when it left the aircraft only an unclosed high-voltage switch had prevented it from being fully armed. In 2011, Lt. Jack Revelle, the bomb disposal expert responsible for disarming the device, claimed, “we came damn close” to a nuclear detonation that would have completely changed much of eastern North Carolina. He also said the size of each bomb was more than 250 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb, large enough to create a 100% kill zone within a radius of 8.5 miles.

In January 1966, a B-52 carrying four thermonuclear nuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs) collided with a KC-135 during refueling operations and crashed near Palomares, Spain. One weapon was safely recovered on the ground and another from the sea, after extensive search and recovery efforts. The other two weapons hit land, resulting in detonation of their high explosives and the subsequent release of radioactive materials. Over 1,400 tons of soil was sent to an approved storage site. Guy Walters writing for Mail Online gives the headline to his article “The day America dropped 4 nuclear bombs in Spain but the disaster 50 years ago has been forgotten by all but its surviving victims.”

Read more: American military playing good cop & bad cop with Pakistan

Compared to the rather bleak and dismal nuclear accident track record of USA, Pakistan since it became a covert nuclear power in 1985 has not had a single Broken Arrow incident. Unlike USA where a number of their nukes are mated, armed and ready for launch within minutes of the firing command order, Pakistan has kept the three components (nuclear fuel, the bomb and carriage platform) separate to avoid the kind of accidents USA has experienced. 

A cursory glance of nuclear proliferation records of Pakistan and USA should make it clear which of the two countries is prone to a nuclear attack/accident that would dwarf the ones witnessed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

How close continental USA had come to experiencing an accidental nuclear Armageddon by none other than the US military itself is something Larry Pressler needs to ponder before he goes about lecturing others on nuclear security.

Nuclear Proliferation

The ex-senator paints a doomsday scenario where “a small group of terrorists buys a nuclear weapon from Pakistani generals with dark money and transports it to the port of Karachi in a pickup truck. From there, the weapon is hidden in a crate, cushioned amongst textiles and agricultural products, and loaded onto a container ship bound for the United States, where it could very easily destroy one of our cities. This operation could be carried out by a fairly small number of terrorists.” (The Hill – http://thehill.com/opinion/international/350330-worry-more-about-nukes-from-pakistan-than-north-korea)

A cursory glance of nuclear proliferation records of Pakistan and USA should make it clear which of the two countries is prone to a nuclear attack/accident that would dwarf the ones witnessed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Read more: Can Americans seize Pakistan’s nuclear bomb?

A case of nuclear weapon technology proliferation was brought against Dr. A. Q. Khan of Pakistan. Considered by many of his countrymen as the “father” of the bomb, he is a nuclear physicist and a metallurgist under whose guidance uranium was enriched to weapons grade levels using the sophisticated centrifuge technology. In January 2004, he was summoned for a debriefing on his active role in nuclear proliferation charges based on the evidence provided to Pakistan by USA. A.Q. Khan formally admitted his responsibility for these activities and was promptly removed from his post, put under house arrest and his proliferation setup dismantled. The Pakistani government dismissed allegations that Pakistani authorities had sanctioned Khan’s activities. Greater security and monitoring measures to ensure there is no repeat of such incidents were incorporated and since then no proliferation case has been recorded.

Numerous incidents of nuclear proliferation have emanated from USA since the advent of the nuclear age in 1945. The Soviet scientific community had discussed the possibility of an atomic bomb in the 1930s.  The full scale program was initiated only in response to the intelligence reports collected by Soviet intelligence through their spy ring in the United States on the secretive Manhattan Project. Initial efforts were slowed due to the German invasion of the Soviet Union and remained largely composed of the intelligence knowledge gained from the rings working in the U.S. Manhattan Project in 1943 (Sublette, Carey, the Soviet Nuclear Weapons program). This presumably would be the first serious incident of nuclear proliferation because of the laxity of US nuclear security departments.

A cursory glance of nuclear proliferation records of Pakistan and USA should make it clear which of the two countries is prone to a nuclear attack/accident that would dwarf the ones witnessed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The United Kingdom (UK) was next to join the nuclear club in 1952. In 1941 Britain decided to share information on its nuclear weapons research with the United States. The Americans were so impressed with the possibilities that they set up the Manhattan Project, and the massive resources made available to it soon allowed the US project to outstrip the British research effort. There was still some cooperation and sharing of data between the British and Americans after that, but it was troubled by mutual suspicion and rivalry. Inadvertently or otherwise nuclear proliferation from both USA and UK were in play.

Read more: America’s poor president & Pakistan’s rich rent seekers!

France was the fourth nation to become a part of the elite nuclear club in 1960. Unlike Britain, France did not have an official treaty to share nuclear data with the USA. However, it’s now known that from the 1970s onwards the US shared certain information, especially regarding missile design, with France on a secret and deniable basis (Stephen Tempest, August 28, 2013).

Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are the four unofficial entrants in the nuclear club and of the quartet, Israel remains the only undisclosed party. The Israeli nuclear program got a kick-start when France helped them establish a nuclear power plant that became the source for Pu 239, the nuclear fuel. Top-secret British documents obtained by BBC Newsnight show that Britain made hundreds of secret shipments of restricted materials to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. (UK Cabinet Submission from Joint Intelligence Bureau). Given the close coordination between UK and USA and USA and Israel the American nod to the nuclear proliferation by UK appears almost certain.

Pakistan’s road to nuclear weapons acquisition was helped partially by the Pressler Amendment in the 1980s. Even after strict sanctions were put in place in 1990, Pakistan still managed to procure key elements necessary for the making of the bomb and its trigger mechanism right under the noses of the US and Western watchdogs whose primary function was to prevent Pakistan from accessing the critical parts necessary to continue to build and enhance its nuclear arsenal. Larry Pressler should be concerned more on the lax security operations of his country that made it possible for other nations to steal its nuclear secrets and make it a major proliferator of nuclear technology.

Conclusion

At the ripe young age of 75, Pressler is now crying wolf over the danger nuclear Pakistan poses to world peace. Perhaps this catharsis is a result of his realisation that it was his sponsored amendment that allowed Pakistan to become a nuclear power. If the ex-senator is feeling guilty about his inadvertent role in promoting Pakistan towards becoming a nuclear power, he need not worry—Pakistan would have achieved its nuclear goals and USA could have done little to prevent it. Perhaps at the far end of his political career he has succumbed to the Indian lobby spearheaded by the Indian Diaspora in USA and the Indian government.

Read more: Drones & Jets for India and threats for Pakistan: The ‘new…

Mistakes are made by politicians and legislators, sometimes unintentionally and some due to incompetence and hubris. Larry Pressler should admit the follies of his policies as a senator and move on instead of looking for scapegoats to justify his blunders. His political legacy is at best a mediocre one and he should not tarnish it further by becoming an Indian lackey.

PostScript: A US senator in a one to one meeting with General Zia ul Haq, the Pakistani President during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan had offered Pakistan unlimited number of nuclear power plants were he to give up the country’s quest for acquisition of nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s energy needs at a very affordable price would be met for decades, he had chimed in. General Zia smiled and answered that no price can be put on national security and sovereignty and under the threat environment confronting the nation, a nuclear arsenal is the only guarantee for deterring and warding off a military aggression by a more powerful state.

Read more: America’s Waterloo: ‘Scapegoating’ Pakistan for Failures in Afghanistan

Nearly four decades on, Zia’s prophetic pronouncement still rings true. Non-nuclear Iraq, Libya and Syria have been attacked, plundered and decimated by the superpowers on whims and fictional threats whereas the nuclear arsenals of Pakistan and North Korea despite intimidations and bullying by USA have dissuaded any such misadventure. Historians well versed in the dynamics of South Asia concede the nuclear factor was primarily responsible for preventing another armed conflict between India and Pakistan since the 1971 war. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are strictly meant for its defence only and would only come into play if its core interests were threatened by outside aggression. Fortunately, unlike the good ex-senator, the US administration understands that any unprovoked military action against Pakistan based on paranoia, misplaced fears and faulty assumptions could have cataclysmic consequences.

Air Commodore (retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense-related issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh) and Dawn, The News, and The Nation English Dailies from Pakistan. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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