02/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

New Consensus: Pakistan Is the Hot Spot

What a difference a few weeks--and a few new reports--make in assigning priorities to protect the world from WMDs. Until a few weeks ago, a report by four leading statesmen--Henry Kissinger, Charles Schultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry--was all the rage. They argued that the place to start making the world safe from nukes was Russia and the United States. If these two superpowers would move toward zero stockpiles, the other nuclear states would follow. When we argued ("Wrong Priority") that the nuclear hot spots are failing states (especially Pakistan) and rogue states (especially Iran), we got little traction.

But this was a few weeks ago. Now we are pleased to report the conclusions of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. It states:

"Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan." And "Pakistan is an ally, but there is a grave danger it could also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States -- possibly with weapons of mass destruction."

Most importantly, we find in the Nuclear Threat Initiative's report, Securing the Bomb 2008, that:

Pakistani security systems face immense threats, from nuclear insiders, some of whom have a demonstrated willingness to sell practically anything to practically anybody, to armed attack, potentially by scores or hundreds of jihadis. In at least two cases, serving Pakistani military officers working with al-Qaeda came within a hair's breadth of assassinating former president Musharraf. If the military officers guarding the President cannot be trusted, how much confidence can the world have in the military officers guarding the nuclear weapons?

[N]uclear stockpiles in Pakistan face immense threats, both from nuclear insiders (some of whom have strong jihadi sympathies and a demonstrated willingness to sell nuclear weapons technology) and from outsider attack. Pakistan is now al-Qaeda's world headquarters, and that in itself makes it a frightening location for nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials.

One Pakistani nuclear expert estimated that some 10 percent of Pakistan's nuclear scientists were sympathetic to violent Islamic extremists. Serving Pakistani military officers have cooperated with al-Qaeda in at least two assassination attempts on former president Musharraf--raising the possibility that military officers guarding nuclear weapons might do the same.

Finally, we read in Foreign Policy magazine's 2008 Terrorism Index, a poll of top US foreign policy experts, that

"For a majority of the experts...instability is making Pakistan a country fraught with risk. A large majority, 69 percent, of the experts considers Pakistan the country most likely to transfer nuclear technology to terrorists."

If these reports do not convince the new foreign policy crew that Pakistan deserves first priority in the drive to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on WMDs, nothing will.

Amitai Etzioni is Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University and author of Security First (Yale, 2007) email:

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