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The negotiating endgame with Iran is upon us. The Obama administration had no choice but to hold fast to the March 31st deadline, allowing further time only to add detail if a framework agreement can be reached. Restiveness on Capitol Hill is growing and Republican support is hard to detect. Extending these talks once again would whip up stronger opposition in Congress without providing any additional leverage on Iran’s Supreme Leader to make concessions. A firm deadline is needed to finalize an agreement that effectively constrains Iran’s bomb-making capabilities in verifiable ways.

Supporters and opponents of trying to reach an agreement with Iran have tried to move the goalposts for an acceptable agreement as the negotiations have progressed. U.N. Security Council resolutions beginning in 2006 have demanded that Iran suspend its enrichment program. The Government of Israel, vocal domestic critics, and Members of Congress who oppose an agreement now insist that Iran have no enrichment capability whatsoever. For its part, the Obama administration and its negotiating partners have shifted from suspension to allowing enrichment under observable constraints.

Critics, including the editorial board of the Washington Post, oppose the amount of enrichment that the Obama administration seems willing to accept. According to press leaks, the United States and its negotiating partners have upped the allowable number of first-generation centrifuges operating under an agreement from 1,500, to 3,000/4,500 to perhaps 6,500. Iran has around 19,000 centrifuges at two sites, with the production capacity to make more, and more efficient, machines.

Heavyweight and bellwether Henry Kissinger has criticized the administration’s negotiating tactics with this artful formulation, provided in congressional testimony on January 29th:

“Nuclear talks with Iran began as an international effort, buttressed by six U.N. resolutions, to deny Iran the capability to develop a military nuclear option. They are now an essentially bilateral negotiation over the scope of that capability through an agreement that sets a hypothetical limit of one year on an assumed breakout. The impact of this approach will be to move from preventing proliferation to managing it.”

Moving away from unrealistic opening gambits in order to find mutually acceptable common ground is standard negotiating practice. Kissinger got hammered for doing just this by critics of the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation accords. The most prominent exception to this practice – the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty – came as a disconcerting surprise to those anti-arms controllers in the Reagan administration who supported the “zero” option in the confident expectation that it would not be negotiable.

What matters most in Kissinger’s formulation – but not to diehard critics of any agreement with Iran – are the particulars of the word “capability.” The Obama administration has defined this term as Iran’s ability to be in a position to have a usable nuclear weapon in a year’s time. The package of constraints now under negotiation is designed to address this “breakout” scenario, which Houston Wood of the University of Virginia and David Albright at the Institute for Science and International Security have done much to advance.

Some argue that designing an agreement against a breakout time of one year is too exacting; others that it is not nearly exacting enough. A third view holds that breakout from facilities under close scrutiny is unlikely, and that if Iran sprints for the Bomb, it will do so at secret sites. Provisions allowing access to undeclared facilities are needed to address this concern.

Current events in Ukraine lend support to designing an interlocking series of constraints around a one year timeline for breakout. The coalition of states required to work in tandem to implement an agreement with Iran will have different timelines and thresholds to make hard decisions, as is evident from the reluctance of Germany and France to draw a hard line against Vladimir Putin’s encroachments in the Donbas region. If Iran violates its commitments under an agreement, lining up the requisite will and support for remedial actions could take months.

Sanctions have been an effective tool to engage a deal-minded government in Iran, but sanctions, no matter how tough, will not shut down Iran’s enrichment activities. The ‘no enrichment’ camp, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been handed even more of a megaphone by House Speaker John Boehner, seeks to stymie ongoing negotiations or kill any agreement reached. If Tehran responds to either of these eventualities with the expulsion of foreign observers at its nuclear facilities, tougher sanctions and bombing runs are likely to follow. Netanyahu would prefer the United States to undertake these airstrikes, which would have to be repeated periodically, each time with diminished support. If the U.S. Congress blocks or rejects an agreement that effectively curtails Iranian enrichment, and if Israeli or U.S. air strikes follow, Washington would be placed in an untenable position globally.

Opponents of an agreement – assuming one can be reached that effectively establishes constraints commensurate to a one-year breakout capacity – are obligated to explain how blocking or rejecting it would advance U.S. national, regional, and international security interests. How, for example, would rejecting an agreement that curtails Iranian enrichment affect proliferation prospects in the greater Middle East? Instead of providing forthright answers to hard questions, opponents take refuge in legislation for tougher sanctions.

Constraining Iran’s enrichment capability in effective, verifiable ways is far better than leaving it unconstrained and unmonitored. Iran’s nuclear programs have already prompted hedging strategies in the greater Middle East, as is evident by plans to proceed with nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. The extent of these hedging strategies will depend on the extent to which Iran’s nuclear capacity can be effectively constrained.

There are serious risks ahead whether or not an agreement can be negotiated. The agreement the Obama administration seeks would have less pernicious proliferation consequences than by torpedoing it. Those who oppose an agreement with Iran unwittingly invite more nuclear proliferation in the region.

Note to readers: A shorter form of this essay appeared in the March 1st edition of the Los Angeles Times.


Nuclear postures matter. They frame requirements, add to or detract from stability, and can affect outcomes when deterrence fails, which happens more than expected. Vipin Narang covers this ground in his masterful new book, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (2014). Finally, we have a book on proliferation that is rooted in the discipline of Political Science with persuasive explanatory powers and great analytical value. Vipin’s book has one chapter that only Political Scientists can relate to, but the rest is highly accessible.

Most of the deterrence literature spawned by the Cold War has little applicability to newer entrants into the nuclear club. For example, we can’t tell from this literature what nuclear posture newcomers will chose, and why. Vipin offers three basic choices: (1) assured retaliation; (2) catalytic (a posture designed to prompt the intervention of a patron); and (3) asymmetrical escalation. At present, India and China have adopted assured retaliation. South Africa, Israel, and Pakistan initially chose catalytic postures. France, and now Pakistan, adheres to asymmetrical escalation. Vipin concludes that an assured retaliation posture doesn’t fare well when paired up against asymmetrical escalation.

Nuclear postures aren’t immutable. He argues, quite cogently, that Pakistan switched from a catalytic to an asymmetric escalation posture after testing nuclear devices in 1998. He argues, less persuasively, that Israel switched from a catalytic to an assured destruction posture after the 1991 Gulf War. More on this later.

Why do countries choose one posture or another? Vipin argues that states optimize force structure and posture “for their external security and their internal threats and constraints.” Does the state have a reliable patron? If so, a catalytic posture might fit. Does it have assertive civil-military relations and confidence in its conventional capabilities? Then assured destruction is a good fit. Is a state disadvantaged conventionally and does its military hold sway? Then look for tactical nuclear weapons and asymmetric escalation. Here’s what the decision tree of Vipin’s “Posture Optimization Theory” looks like:

Vipin has persuaded me that his theory has stronger explanatory power than analytics grounded in realism, technological determinism, and strategic culture. His theory also does well in explaining when nuclear postures shift. His argument that, “If a state’s available options to augment deterrence through external balancing disappear and it faces extremely binding security constraints, a regional power has no option but to adopt an asymmetric escalation posture” fits Pakistan to a “T.” His characterizations of Indian, Chinese, French and South African nuclear postures are also quite good.

Israel is the outlying case, where Vipin’s theory falls short, as he readily acknowledges. He makes a convincing argument that Israel’s nuclear posture shifted away from catalytic after the 1991 Gulf war undermined assurance that Washington would intervene even more emphatically after Saddam Hussein’s Scud attacks. But shifted to what? Vipin’s typology suggests a shift to assured destruction, but this seems uncharacteristic of a nation that does not accept a mutual deterrence relationship with other states in the region.

All nuclear postures project mixed messages of catalytic, assured retaliation, and asymmetric escalation capabilities. Vipin maintains that “the primary envisioned employment of these three postures is mutually exclusive.” I’m not capable enough to parse Vipin’s coding methodology, but his analysis rings true, with the exception noted above.

Vipin’s analysis suggests that if Iran’s nuclear program is unconstrained, it could adopt either asymmetrical escalation or assured retaliation, depending on the state of civil-military-Revolutionary Guard interactions. As for the DPRK, Vipin’s typology suggests a catalytic posture as long as China is viewed as a reliable patron. If not, expect an asymmetric escalation posture.


One paradox of nuclear deterrence has always been that whatever utility the Bomb provides is lost once the nuclear threshold is crossed, however large or small the boom. There is no bigger blunderbuss than a nuclear weapon atop a long-range missile. Smaller-yield message-senders have been created in the form of tactical nuclear weapons, but any advantageous battlefield use of nuclear weapons against a similarly armed foe requires heroic assumptions. Basic nuclear deterrence is measured by non-use. The derived benefits of “strengthening” deterrence by means of more discriminating or improved methods of delivery have been completely conjectural.

How much of a deterrent is a weapon that hasn’t been used on battlefields for almost 70 years? Deterrence strategists object to this formulation. They argue that, even without mushroom clouds, the Bomb has leveraged favorable outcomes in diplomacy, crises and wars.  These arguments do not withstand close scrutiny. The Bomb has indeed energized diplomacy to defuse crises – after exacerbating them. It has also reinforced the common sense of major powers not to fight full-blown conventional wars. Beyond reinforcing caution, the Bomb’s suasion is limited. It can’t override bad national decisions, local circumstances, and differentials in commitment to achieve preferred outcomes. The Bomb hasn’t proven its worth when nuclear-armed states square off against non-nuclear-weapon states, as is evident by a painfully long track record of conventional wars, limited wars, proxy wars and unconventional wars.

The quest to fine-tune deterrence to increase leverage above and below the nuclear threshold is nonetheless an endless project. As missile accuracies improved and warheads multiplied, thanks to MIRVs, targeting lists grew. Limited and not-so-limited options were added to massive targeting plans in the quest for leverage, advantage, or war-winning capabilities.

Deterrence benefits from limited nuclear options are based on two dubious presumptions — that escalation can be controlled and that an adversary will not skip rungs on the escalation ladder. Mental gymnastics have always been required to derive deterrence benefits out of plans for massive retaliation.

In the 1990s, the advent of precision-strike conventional capabilities promised greater diplomatic leverage and militarily effectiveness without crossing the nuclear threshold. But air power alone has always had limited effectiveness and suasion. “Prompt global strike” and hypersonic weapons are now advanced in the pursuit of more discriminate, effective deterrence. Their promise also rests on risky assumptions – that strikes will not mistakenly hit nuclear-armed or related targets, and that a foe will accept attrition without crossing the nuclear threshold.

Fred Iklé and Albert Wohlstetter led a study on ‘Discriminate Deterrence’ at the end of the Reagan administration. Their Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy report was released in January 1988. Contemporary readers will find no hints in this report that the Soviet Union, against which the Commission’s recommendations were primarily directed, was a house of cards. One example: “We will seek to contain Soviet expansionism in any region of the world.”

The Commission predicated its recommendations on this key finding:

To help defend our allies and to defend our interests abroad, we cannot rely on threats expected to provoke our own annihilation if carried out. In peacetime, a strategy based on such threats would undermine support for national defense. In a crisis, reliance on such threats could fail catastrophically for lack of public support. We must have militarily effective responses that can limit destruction if we are not to invite destruction of what we are defending.

How, then, to proceed? Here are some excerpts:

We must diversify and strengthen our ability to bring discriminating, non-nuclear force to bear where needed in time to defeat aggression. To this end, we and our allies need to exploit emerging technologies of precision, control, and intelligence that can provide our conventional forces with more selective and more effective capabilities for destroying nuclear targets…

We and our allies would rather deter than defeat an aggression, but a bluff is less effective and more dangerous in a crisis than the ability and will to use conventional and, if necessary, nuclear weapons with at least a rough discrimination that preserves the values we are defending…

The precision associated with the new technologies will enable us to use conventional weapons for many of the missions once assigned to nuclear weapons. The new technologies will work to strengthen the ability of our ground and air forces to defeat invasions. Particularly important in this connection is the prospective use of “low observable” (Stealth) technology in combination with extremely accurate weapons and improved means of locating targets. In the years beyond 2000, this combination will provide new ways to stop invading forces at great distances from the front lines.

Iklé and Wohlstetter were prescient in forecasting that the United States would pursue precision strike conventional capabilities, low observables, and replacing nuclear for conventional weapons against certain targets in strategic war plans. Even so, the U.S. track record of deterrence, dissuasion and compellence during the past quarter-century has not merited high marks. The awesome powers of nuclear weapons are greatly compromised in the real world. Diversified and more discriminating capabilities do not help when leaders and their followers are not amenable to deterrence. In these instances, what matters most is maintaining a firewall between nuclear and conventional capabilities.


U.S. National Security Strategy reports, like the one issued by President Barack Obama on February 6th, are quickly forgotten. They do, however, provide useful temperature-taking devices. Compare, for example, the National Security Strategy report released by the George W. Bush administration in 2002 with the Obama administration’s 2015 report.

There are many common themes in these two reports, built around values, alliances, and the like. U.S. national security strategy is, after all, built around core interests that don’t change from one administration to the next. New administrations do, however, change emphasis. They undertake course corrections, triggered by external events and the temper of the electorate.

The Bush administration’s first National Security Strategy report, issued soon after attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon by al-Qaeda operatives flying hijacked commercial airliners, presented an ambitious, muscular, and fateful course correction. Here are some excerpts:

We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants.

America will hold to account nations that are compromised by terror, including those who harbor terrorists— because the allies of terror are the enemies of civilization. The United States and countries cooperating with us must not allow the terrorists to develop new home bases. Together, we will seek to deny them sanctuary at every turn.

As a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed… History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action.

The United States will use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe.

Having moved from confrontation to cooperation as the hallmark of our relationship with Russia, the dividends are evident: an end to the balance of terror that divided us; an historic reduction in the nuclear arsenals on both sides; and cooperation in areas such as counterterrorism and missile defense that until recently were inconceivable.

We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.

We must deter and defend against the threat before it is unleashed.

We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries… The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

Compare these ringing declarations with the following passages from the Obama administration’s 2015 National Security Strategy:

We have to make hard choices among many competing priorities, and we must always resist the over-reach that comes when we make decisions based upon fear.

Our resources will never be limitless. Policy tradeoffs and hard choices will need to be made.

In an interconnected world, there are no global problems that can be solved without the United States, and few that can be solved by the United States alone.

We mobilized and are leading global efforts to impose costs to counter Russian aggression

We will prioritize collective action to meet the persistent threat posed by terrorism today, especially from al-Qa’ida, ISIL, and their affiliates.

We will be principled and selective in the use of force. The use of force should not be our first choice, but it will sometimes be the necessary choice. The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our enduring interests demand it: when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; and when the security of our allies is in danger. In these circumstances, we prefer to act with allies and partners. The threshold for military action is higher when our interests are not directly threatened. In such cases, we will seek to mobilize allies and partners to share the burden and achieve lasting outcomes. In all cases, the decision to use force must reflect a clear mandate and feasible objectives, and we must ensure our actions are effective, just, and consistent with the rule of law. It should be based on a serious appreciation for the risk to our mission, our global responsibilities, and the opportunity costs at home and abroad. Whenever and wherever we use force, we will do so in a way that reflects our values and strengthens our legitimacy.

[W]e shifted away from a model of fighting costly, large-scale ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which the United States—particularly our military—bore an enormous burden. Instead, we are now pursuing a more sustainable approach that prioritizes targeted counterterrorism operations, collective action with responsible partners, and increased efforts to prevent the growth of violent extremism and radicalization that drives increased threats.

When Presidents are re-elected, their second National Security Strategy report is usually more tempered than the first. This is true for both the Bush and Obama administrations. The national mood shifted greatly after 9/11 and then shifted again in reaction to the dispiriting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The pendulum is now swinging back again, and will gain momentum in the next administration.


Trend lines on the subcontinent have become more pronounced after President Obama’s visit as chief guest at the Republic Day parade and reports of Chinese President’s Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit for Republic Day celebrations in Pakistan. The juxtaposition of Obama’s visit in New Delhi with a near-total power blackout in Pakistan was brutally stark. While Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were signing up to a new ten-year defense framework agreement, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif was visiting Beijing.

China and Pakistan will remain “all-weather friends,” with Beijing picking up some of the slack of a contracting U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Chinese help with arms co-production and development – presumably a subject of discussion between Gen. Sharif and his hosts – will grow as Washington gravitates more toward New Delhi. None of the joint ventures in defense production announced during Obama’s visit were eye-popping, but this trend is unmistakable and will be given further impetus by incoming Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

The George W. Bush Administration hyped a transformation in U.S.-India relations, symbolized by a civil-nuclear agreement. A weak Congress-led Indian government couldn’t begin to meet the hype, and the nuclear deal became a glaring example of the gap between promise and performance. Obama is now working with an ambitious, results-oriented counterpart who enjoys wide popular and parliamentary support. The impasse over liability needed to be addressed to demonstrate Modi’s ability to deliver. Whether a “breakthrough” has been found to facilitate plans by Westinghouse and General Electric to build nuclear power plants in India is still not clear, but at least New Delhi can now claim to have gone the extra mile in finding one.

The hype of the Bush administration has now been replaced by a mutual agreement not to over-promise while working in a more concerted fashion where interests are in concert. Symbolism and substance are in greater alignment. One area of converging interests relates to China’s more assertive behavior in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean.

Beijing downplayed the significance of Obama’s trip to New Delhi, but has surely noted that the joint statements released after Modi’s visit to Washington (shortly after receiving Xi in India) as well as after Obama’s trip both referenced maritime muscle flexing by China’s Navy. Here are the relevant passages from the “U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” released during the Obama visit:

We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.

We call on all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Indian Navy is hard to find in the South China Sea, but it’s rare for New Delhi to poke at the Dragon. China poked first with port visits along the littoral of the Indian Ocean. Xi Jinping made an error in judgment when his visit to India in September, 2014 was accompanied by aggressive patrolling by the PLA along the disputed Sino-Indian border. Modi’s message to Xi (translated from the Hindi), was, “Even such small incidents can impact the biggest of relationships just as a little toothache can paralyze the entire body.”

Xi’s more muscular approach to asserting China’s interests around its periphery has generated push back from a more assertive Indian leader. New Delhi isn’t in the business of containing China; it is in the business of seeking more trade and investment with China – while improving conventional and nuclear capabilities oriented toward China. Modi’s success in improving relations with the United States could help him leverage improved relations with China. How these two confident, dynamic leaders choose to deal with their border dispute will be telling.

Where does this leave Pakistan? Closer to China and farther behind India. Pakistan’s sense of insecurity wasn’t helped by the Obama visit, and subsequent steps demonstrating greater U.S.-Indian cooperation will be vexing. Washington’s choices mirror the divergent national fortunes of India and Pakistan. The United States has never been able to move beyond a transactional relationship with Pakistan. Washington will continue to help Islamabad refinance its debt and help Rawalpindi’s undertake counter-terrorism operations, while waiting for Pakistan’s leaders to come to grips with the underlying sources of its economic and internal insecurities. U.S. ties with India have the potential to move beyond a transactional relationship because they have far greater upsides.

A presidential visit with perfect pitch to India produced discordant notes in Pakistan. National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz issued a statement of concerns, qualms, and disappointments, touching on familiar bases, especially U.S. nuclear deal-making with India and assisting India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other oversight bodies. Pakistan has not yet taken initiatives to recast its position in the nuclear order and to facilitate its entry alongside India into the NSG.

The rapport between Obama and Modi can come in handy in the event of another nuclear-tinged crisis on the subcontinent. India-Pakistan relations cannot improve in the absence of dialogue, but Modi is focused on more important diplomatic initiatives. In the past, dialogue has been interrupted by grievous acts of terror on Indian soil perpetrated by groups like the Lashkar e-Toiyba. The Pakistani government has yet to clarify whether its new counter-terrorism plans apply to the LeT. The absence of dialogue diminishes India. Another attack against India by the LeT or another group finding sanctuary within Pakistan will further diminish Pakistan.


The most important post-Cold War initiative to reduce nuclear dangers undertaken by the United States has come to a quiet, unceremonious end. Cooperative threat reduction programs to secure loose nukes and reduce surplus force structure in the remnants of the former Soviet Union were the crowning achievements of the distinguished legislative careers of Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. These programs became necessary and possible only when Moscow was a supplicant and when Washington was generous to a battered rival. Think of a Marshall Plan narrowly tailored to weapons of mass destruction and disruption, and think of recovery in terms of preventing proliferation and nuclear terrorism – and you have the essence of the Nunn-Lugar initiatives.

A quarter-century after the Cold War ended, bilateral relations have again reverted to hard times. These programs are now deemed unnecessary and inappropriate by Russian President Vladimir Putin and by majorities in both houses of the U.S. Congress. Russia is no longer a supplicant, and the U.S. Congress is no longer feeling generous.

The good works of Nunn-Lugar are usually summarized by numbers – missiles, bombers and submarine hulls cut up, warheads dismantled, fissile material safeguarded, and security upgrades at sensitive sites. The extraordinary nature of these accomplishments seemed oddly diminished by the photo-ops that prompted the occasional news story of work in progress. These pictures and stories of distinguished U.S. visitors observing the dismantlement of the detritus of the Cold War didn’t begin to convey the breadth and unprecedented nature of this work.

A second major story line of the Nunn-Lugar initiatives is that of cooperation among nuclear weapons labs. Individuals who once competed in squeezing maximal explosive yields out of confined warhead spaces turned to innovative, pragmatic ways to prevent the international trafficking of huge stockpiles of poorly secured warheads and fissile material. A control system based on Big Brother, guns and guards had to be reconstituted when the powers of the Soviet state melted way. New systems of material accountancy needed to be created. All of this was accomplished on the fly by lab-to-lab cooperation and by government collaboration. Very few of the individuals involved in this extraordinary work have received public recognition.

The Soviet Union dissolved with an excess of 27,000 nuclear weapons, enough plutonium and highly enriched uranium to triple this number, and 40,000 metric tons of deadly chemical weapons. That none of these numbers turned into proliferation nightmares is an accomplishment of world-historic proportions — at least equal, in my view, to the those of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in ending the Cold War nuclear arms competition, of George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin in consolidating steep nuclear arms reductions, and of Bill Clinton in protecting the Non-proliferation Treaty by securing the accession of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus as non-nuclear-weapon states.

The Nunn-Lugar initiatives were also notable for their parentage on Capitol Hill. During the Cold War, the U.S. Congress served as a prod to the Executive Branch to take many useful diplomatic initiatives; none were more important than Nunn-Lugar. Nowadays, Congress serves as a brake on nuclear diplomacy.

The heroic efforts of the Nunn-Lugar initiatives maintained and strengthened the nuclear order under conditions of unparalleled stress, when international and major power relations were in severe flux. This paramount accomplishment joins others at the top tier of the Nuclear Age: the absence of mushroom clouds on battlefields since 1945; unnatural accords between superpower adversaries limiting and reducing their nuclear arsenals; the end of nuclear testing by major powers, and accords buttressed by international monitoring arrangements limiting the scope of proliferation. Few could imagine any of these rarefied achievements when these hard climbs were first undertaken.

National leaders do not now harbor plans to operationalize ambitions of this magnitude. President Obama’s repeated endorsement of a world without nuclear weapons doesn’t qualify, because it isn’t a priority and lacks workable plans and conditions for its realization. In contrast, the Nunn-Lugar initiatives were absurdly ambitious, patently necessary, and achievable with the right mix of political leadership and technical ingenuity. In a world where superpower competition abruptly shifted to cooperation, the unacceptable became possible, and the truly difficult took a bit longer.

The times we live in are neither so dismal nor so rich with opportunity as to invite heroic efforts on this scale. And the requirement of bipartisanship in the United States – a necessary condition for success at this level of magnitude – is now sorely lacking. The order of the day is to maintain as much security cooperation as possible with Russia while contesting its actions in Ukraine, developing patterns of security cooperation with China, and reaching a constraining nuclear accord with Iran.


Above: Monument to the Chagai (or Chaghi) Hills nuclear test site, Faizabad Interchange, Islamabad, Pakistan.

What benefits are conferred by nuclear weapons? Do they provide status? Not like in the past. North Korea and Pakistan haven’t gained status by having the Bomb. Instead, they have become more worrisome countries. Do they alleviate security concerns? Possessing nuclear weapons against a similarly-armed foe or against an adversary with stronger conventional capabilities provides a sense of deterrence, dissuasion, and national assurance. To give the Bomb its due, during the Cold War, nuclear weapons helped keep border skirmishes limited between major powers, fostered cautionary behavior in severe crises, and reinforced a natural disinclination to engage in large-scale conventional wars. These were – and remain — significant accomplishments.

But the Bomb always promises more than it delivers. Possessing the Bomb, even in significant numbers, has not deterred limited border clashes between nuclear-armed states, conventional wars with non-nuclear-weapon states, punishing proxy wars and severe crises. The Bomb isn’t stabilizing; it exacerbates security dilemmas and can engender risk taking as well as caution. The Bomb promises advances in security that are quickly undercut by countermeasures taken by wary adversaries.

States that acquire nuclear weapons don’t feel safe without them. They also do not feel safe with them – if they have something to fight about with another nuclear-armed state. Having assured retaliatory capabilities helps, but assurance erodes in an interactive nuclear arms competition. A key threshold for erosion occurs when the contestants move from counter value to counterforce targeting. Increments in counterforce capabilities lead to and decrements in deterrence stability – even under conditions of absurd nuclear overkill.

Strategic and deterrence stability are about political relations, not technical advances. The United States and the Soviet Union never achieved deterrence stability until the Soviet Union was heading toward collapse. Brief periods of détente were interrupted by clashes of interest in far away as well as sensitive places. Constraints on nuclear testing and arms limitation treaties negotiated with great effort were accompanied by modernization programs that lessened mutual security. Deterrence stability between the superpowers was accomplished only when two unorthodox leaders – one whose economy was cratering – threw nuclear orthodoxy out the window and sought to normalize ties.

India and Pakistan will find deterrence stability as elusive as the nuclear superpowers, even though their nuclear competition pales in comparison and they have not yet embraced counterforce targeting for longer-range delivery vehicles. Deterrence stability on the subcontinent, as elsewhere, rests on the prospect of resolving or mutually agreeing to defer issues in dispute and, in Pakistan’s case, regaining a monopoly on the use of violence within and across its borders. In the near term, these prospects are iffy, at best. Deterrence instability is inherent when an interactive nuclear arms competition gets mixed up with religion, inheritance, and regional security issues, not to mention a history of conventional and sub-conventional warfare.

There’s more hope for India and China to work out arrangements of deterrence stability — if their border dispute remains shelved or resolved, and if they manage to avoid venturing into counterforce capabilities. The combination of a quiet, albeit contested border, plus growing trade and investment ties alongside mutual strategic restraint would make for a stabilizing mix. But this won’t be easy.

For more on the contested valuation of nuclear weapons, aspiring wonks can check out a volume of essays, Nuclear Diplomacy and Crisis Management, co-edited by Sean Lynn-Jones, Steve Miller, and Steve Van Evera (MIT Press, 1990). Robert Jervis’s essay argues that nuclear weapons have only limited utility is preventing war:

“It is rational to start a war one does not expect to win… if it is believed that the likely consequences of fighting are even worse. War could also come through inadvertence, loss of control, or irrationality… At best, then, nuclear weapons will keep the nuclear peace; they will not prevent – and indeed, may facilitate – the use of lower levels of violence.”

John Mueller’s essay in this volume – and his provocative book, Atomic Obsession (2010) – argues otherwise, “that nuclear weapons neither crucially define a fundamental stability nor threaten severely to disturb it.” Here’s more from Mueller:

“Escalation is key: what deters is the belief that escalation to something intolerable will occur, not so much what the details of the ultimate unbearable punishment are believed to be.”

“It almost seems … that the two major powers have forgotten how to get into a war… There hasn’t been a true, bone-crunching confrontational crisis for over a quarter-century.”

“Since preparations for major war are essentially irrelevant, they are profoundly foolish.”

This week’s pop quiz: Do Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Vladimir Putin’s actions into eastern Ukraine support Jervis, Mueller, or both?


Secretary of State John Kerry is headed for the subcontinent, where his most important messages will be delivered in private and his public remarks will be as bland as possible. That’s how the game is played. Don’t expect U.S. officials to say much in public about nuclear issues or the pathways to confrontation and conflict between India and Pakistan. Press releases and public statements are designed to avoid unnecessary controversies. Since even minor instances of public candor raise hackles, U.S. public diplomacy consists of whispers and indirect messages.

Among the issues deemed too neuralgic and counterproductive to talk about publicly are most things related to Kashmir. During the 1990s when Indian human rights abuses and Pakistani support for jihadi groups crossing the Line of Control were painfully evident, Washington was mostly quiet. Early in the Clinton administration, Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel declared that the status of Kashmir wasn’t a settled issue – a true enough statement, since neither India nor Pakistan recognizes each other’s holdings – and New Delhi went ballistic. Ever since, Kashmir has been almost a non-issue.

Foggy Bottom has steered clear of even hinting at a possible settlement, even though its outlines would be status quo-oriented, and thus friendly to India. A U.S. diplomatic push would nonetheless stir up an indignant response in India and furious opposition in Pakistan, accompanied by spikes of terrorism within both countries. Kashmir is therefore off the table, with the exception of anodyne statements about the need for a bilateral settlement and concerns over ceasefire violations.

Also off limits are public statements related to nuclear dangers in southern Asia. Arms competitions are heating up between India and China and between Pakistan and India. If China has carried out its first flight test of a multiple warhead-carrying ballistic missile in December, this would be an important milepost. On October 7th, former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon told an audience at Brookings that India would “ultimately” go down this path, as well. Both countries are learning how to operate SSBNs, extending the range of their ballistic missiles, and pursuing advanced cruise missiles. U.S. public statements tread very lightly on these developments. New Delhi and Beijing also keep mum, as if acknowledging each other’s strategic modernization programs would make them more consequential.

The nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has been more intense, with no less than seventeen types of nuclear-weapon-capable delivery vehicles having been flight tested since their bombs came out of the basement in 1998. U.S. officials do not volunteer very much about these developments. The joint statement following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September visit to Washington was silent on worsening regional nuclear dynamics.

Another neuralgic issue is nuclear security in Pakistan. Whenever bad actors in Pakistan assault a military facility, the question invariably arises whether Pakistan’s nuclear assets are secure. Official U.S. statements are carefully crafted, giving due credit to Pakistan’s efforts to improve security while correctly noting that every country has room for improvement. After the January 2014 U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue, Secretary of State Kerry expressed “confidence in Pakistan’s commitment and dedication to nuclear security.” An artful formulation, with much left unsaid.

Another subject that U.S. diplomats don’t talk about in public is India’s growing economic ties to Russia after the annexation of Crimea and incursions into eastern Ukraine, undermining international sanctions. To add insult to injury, the “prime minister” of Ukraine accompanied Vladimir Putin on his December visit to meet with Indian businessmen.

Also not fit for public diplomacy, except in oblique terms, is the Government of Pakistan’s hands-off policies toward the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the outfit behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The most likely pathway to another nuclear-tinged crisis between India and Pakistan begins with the LeT. Another verboten topic is Pakistan’s ties with the Afghan Taliban, including the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and the Haqqani group leadership. When a rare mention of Pakistan’s links to those who have carried out cross-border attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan appeared in a November 2014 Pentagon report to the Congress, Islamabad was in high dudgeon.

How deeply are these issues discussed in private? I assume most of them are, with the level of depth dependent on how high up these issues are on a list of talking points. But since there are so many neuralgic issues to discuss in private, I also presume that some get very short shrift. Public diplomacy can provide a nudge or a gentle chide, but it can also prompt a strong negative reaction, making diplomatic objectives harder to accomplish. Private U.S. messages could use occasional public reinforcement, but Washington has been well trained by India and Pakistan to respect their sensitivities.


As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to count blessings and announce the winners of ACW’s year-end contest to name movie titles and creatures related to the Bomb.

The arms-control business is a notoriously glass-half-full/half-empty enterprise. In the spirit of the season, let’s acknowledge some positives. The stock values of nuclear weapons for major powers continued to fall after another year without mushroom clouds and nuclear testing. Vladimir Putin spent large sums modernizing his nuclear arsenal and flexing muscle while Russia’s economy tanked. Another year has passed without the explosion of a dirty bomb. Also a year of curtailed Iranian centrifuge enrichment programs – not nearly enough for some, but more than skeptics had reason to expect. A year in which India and Pakistan did not have a crisis. A year in which the framework for strategic arms reductions remained in place, despite Ukraine and Crimea. A year when Bashar al-Assad gave up much of his chemical arsenal — safely removed from a war zone. A year in which norms for arms trade have been codified. They will be broken, but it’s a start. Not such a bad year, after all.

As for the year-end contest, we have four winners. Cameron has come up with this impressive list:

Lt. Col Glenn Manning, “Amazing Colossal Man” “War of the Colossal Beast”
Giant Grasshoppers, “Beginning of the End” — not a blast, but radioactive materials
The Cyclops, “The Cyclops” — not a blast, but radioactive materials
Mutated ants, “Them!”
The Beast, “Beast from 20 Thousand Fathoms” — released not created
Six-armed Octopus, “It Came from Beneath The Sea” — released not created
Gojira/Godzilla, “Godzilla”
Son of Godzilla, “Son of Godzilla”
Mothra, “Godzilla v Mothra”
Rodan, “Rodan – US Version”
Godzilla’s offshoots made with G’s irradiated cells:
Space Godzilla, “Godzilla v Space Godzilla”
Biollante, “Godzilla v Biollante”
Destoroyah, “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah”
Anguirus, “Godzilla Raids Again”
Mutant cavemen, “World Without End”
Incredible Hulk, “The Incredible Hulk” — Gamma Bomb
Zombies, “Night of the Living Dead” — radiation from crashed probe
Creatures, “Fiend Without A Face”
Creatures, “The Horror of Party Beach”
CHUD, “C.H.U.D” — nuke waste
Big Brain et al., “The Hills Have Eyes”
Irradiated Mutants, “Chernobyl Diaries” — Not a nuke test per se
Crabs, “Attack of the Crab Monsters”
Mad Doctor who turns into ragebeast, various flora and fauna, “Danger on Tiki Island/Brides of Blood”
Giant Leeches, “Attack of the Giant Leeches” — radiation from Cape Canaveral
The Behemoth, “Behemoth, the Sea Monster”
Kamacuras mantises, “Son of Godzilla” — created separately from Godzilla’s origin
Yongary, “Yongary, Monster from the Deep”
Gamera, “Gamera”
H-men, “The H-Man”
Crocodile, “Crocodile”
Frankenstein’s heart, “Frankenstein Conquers the World”
Lizard creature, “The Hideous Sun Demon”
Skynet, T-100, T-1000, “Terminator” + “T2: Judgement Day”
Giant behemoth (it’s different from the regular kind), “The Giant Behemoth”
Radioactive cloud/eyes, “The Crawling Eye” — the cloud is radioactive, the reason for its existence is aliens.
Spiderman, “Spiderman”
Apes, “Planet of the Apes”
Mutant children, “The Gamma People”
Voltage-devouring alien, “The Black Hole”
The monster, “Monster a-Go Go”
Mud creatures, “X: The Unknown”
Atomic eels, “Deep Shock”
Strange monster, “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues”
Mutant telepathic cannibals, “In the Year 2889″
Radioactive trees, “The Crawlers”
Mushroom creatures, “Matango”
Radioactive reporter, “Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter”
Zombies, “Caustic Zombies” — 3-Mile Island this time
Radioactive wasps, “Monster from Green Hell”
Atomic Dog, “Atomic Dog”
Mutant, “Day the World Ended”
Gamma Ray fish blood swilling ape, “Monster on the Campus”
Irradiated Wendigo, “The Half-Life Horror from Hell”
A mutated Ron Candell, “Most Dangerous Man Alive”
Danny, “Plutonium Baby” — evidently one of the worst movies of all time
Hideous extra-dimensional being, “Alien Beasts” — radiation weaponry
Zombies, “Zombie Self-Defense Force” — from aliens, not nukes

The second winner is Jon Davis for this outstanding entry:

20 Million Miles to Earth
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
Attack of the Crab Monsters
Beginning of the End
Bride of the Monster
Brides of Blood
Captain America
Cat-Women of the Moon
Class of Nuke ‘Em High
Cosmic Monsters
Creature From the Black Lagoon
Day of the Animals
Devil Girl From Mars
Die Monster Die
Empire of the Ants
Fiend Without a Face
Forbidden Planet
Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster
Hideous Sun Demon
Horrors of Spider Island
I Was a Teenage Werewolf
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Invasion of the Saucer Man
It Came From Outer Space
It Conquered the World
Jellyfish Eyes
King Ghidorah
King Kong
Monster From Green Hell
Monster From The Ocean Floor
Monster X
Night of the Living Dead
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Planet of the Apes
Redneck Zombies
Robot Monster
Showa MechaGodzilla
Spider Man
Spontaneous Combustion
Super Fuzz
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Amazing Colossal Man
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
The Beast of Yucca Flats
The Beginning of the End
The Being
The Blob
The Chain Reaction
The Chernobyl Diaries
The Children
The Crawling Eye
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Giant Gila Monster
The Giant Behemoth
The Hills Have Eyes
The Horror of Party Beach
The Hulk
The Incredibly Shrinking Man
The Invisible Atomic Monsters from Mars
The Mole People
The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues
The Quartermass Experiment
The Thing from Another World
The Thing From Outer Space
The War of the Worlds
X The Unknown
War of the Colossal Beast
World Without End

The third winner is Izzi for coming up with this amazing list:

Akira (Akira)
Big Mama (The Hills Have Eyes)
Big Brain (The Hills Have Eyes)
Blair (The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning)
Brain Monsters (Fiend Without a Face)
Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk)
Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (CHUD)
Chameleon (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Chrissy (Class of Nuke ‘Em High)
Cyst (The Hills Have Eyes)
Eddie Kasalivich (Chain Reaction)
Giant Ants (Them!)
Giant cockroaches (Damnation Alley)
Giant Crabs (Island Claws)
Giant Fish (The Chernobyl Diaries)
Giant Spiders (World Without End)
Godzilla (Godzilla)
Goggle (The Hills Have Eyes)
Grabber (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Hansel (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Karen Sawney Bean (The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning)
Karen Silkwood (Silkwood)
Killer Bugs (Damnation Alley)
Kiyoko (Akira)
Kronos (Kronos)
Letch (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Lizard (The Hills Have Eyes)
Lt. Col. Glenn Manning (The Amazing Colossal Man)
Masaru (Akira)
Mercury (The Hills Have Eyes)
Mothra (from a Godzilla film and several others)
Nancy Fowler Archer (The Fifty Foot Woman)
Over-sized Locusts (Beginning of the End)
Papa Hades (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Papa Jupiter (The Hills Have Eyes)
Pluto (The Hills Have Eyes)
Radioactive monsters (The Horror of Party Beach)
Radioactive rock band (Human Highway)
Radioactive salamander (Class of Nuke ‘Em High)
Rhedasaurus (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms)
Ruby (The Hills Have Eyes)
School Children (The Children)
Shotaro Kaneda (Akira)
Spiderman (Spiderman)
Stabber (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Suzie (The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning)
Takashi (Akira)
Tarantula (Tarantula)
Tetsuo Shima (Akira)
The Being (The Being)
Turtle (Gamera, also a Godzilla Film)
Teenage Werewolf (I Was a Teenage Werewolf)
Unknown Watcher (The Hills Have Eyes 2)
Venus (The Hills Have Eyes)
Zombies (Night of the Living Dead)

The fourth winner is Sid, for also venturing into TV, video games, and professional wrestling:


1. Giant Ants from Them!, 1954, invade picnic baskets everywhere.

2. Godzilla ruins the hopes and dreams of numerous architects and civil engineers in numerous Godzilla adaptations<

3. Plant-Human Radioactive Hybrid Monster from The Horror of Party Beach, 1964. Often listed as one of the worst movies of all time.

4. Locusts eat radioactive vegetables, terrorize schoolbuses, and subsequently invade Chicago in Beginning of the End, 1957

5. Haphazard nuclear testing grows Lt. Glenn Manning into The Amazing Colossal Man, 1957

6. Radium deposits, and not nuclear testing, turns Test Pilot Bruce Barton into a 50-foot tall one-eyed monster who is afraid of Nobody in The Cyclops, 1957

7. In a touching portrayal, the Beast Who Brings Death With It’s Touch stalks human beings who struggle to survive in a barren wasteland in Teenage Cave Man, 1958. Considered the worst film of all time by its lead actor. The director, Roger Corman, once stated, “I never directed a film called Teenage Caveman.”

8. Survivors of Armageddon now simultaneously fight radioactive rain, a giant radioactive monster, and human folly in Day the World Ended, 1955. Director Roger Corman’s movie similarly makes its way onto worst-movies lists.

9. Avoiding their fates on the dinner plates, the crab monsters from Bikini Atoll terrorize an expedition to the islands in Attack of the Crab Monsters, 1957. Writer Charles Griffith described the pitch for the movie by nuclear-obsessed director Roger Corman as such, “Roger came to me and said, "I want to make a picture called Attack of the Giant Crabs, and I asked, "Does it have to be atomic radiation?" He responded, "Yes."

10. Roger Corman attacks movie-goers again with atomic leeches in Attack of the Giant Leeches, 1959.

11. The incredible melting man melts audience brains in The Incredible Melting Man, 1977

12. A falsely accused island prince is buried inside a hollow tree by a witch doctor. American ingenuity and science resurrects him as Tabanga, the horrible tree man who wants revenge on his executioners in From Hell It Came, 1957

13. The Class of Nuke ‘Em High, 1986, combines drug use, teenage pregnancy, and mutant radioactive squirrel-human hybrids at Tromaville High School, located next to a nuclear plant in New Jersey, as the town’s marijuana supply turns radioactive in this traumatic high school comedy-drama. Popular fan theories posit the contamination came from New Jersey’s ambient radiation and not from the nuclear plant.

14. A movie so gruesome, it was exiled from the country of its origin, Japan, Prophecies of Nostradamus, also known as Catastrophe: 1999 or The Last Days of Planet Earth, 1974, involves a whole host mutant creatures ranging from mutant cannibal human beings, leeches, trees, and flying carnivorous foxes.

15. In an apparent trend for these kinds of movies, The Beast of Yucca Flats, 1961, has been called one of the worst films of all time. A defecting Soviet scientist, turned mad by the radiation he pledged his life to study, features in this film the Department of Energy will likely ask to be renamed “The Best of the Nevada National Security Site.”

16. Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (C.H.U.D.) wage war against the Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal (C.H.U.D.) squad in sewers of New York City over who owns the naming rights to the acronym C.H.U.D. in Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (C.H.U.D.), 1984.

17. The apparent reverse-vampire in The Hideous Sun Demon, 1959, turns into a horrifying monster when exposed to the radiation of the Sun.

18. Astronauts returning to Earth hundreds of years after a nuclear war contend with their debilitating arachnophobia when fighting giant radioactive spiders in World Without End, 1956.

19. Michael Langdon breaks into stardom in I Was a Teenage Vampire, 1957. I suppose the past tense implies he got better.

20. An Air Force Major faces off against a fiend in The Fiend Without a Face, 1958.

21. Children, already a handful, are turned into radioactive children in a movie inspired by the Three-Mile Island disaster in The Children, 1980.

22. In 1977 and 2006 adaptations, The Hills Have Eyes reiterates the theory that radiation turns human beings into cannibals that stalk the desert.


23. The original Night of the Living Dead, 1968, offers radiation as a potential reason for the rise of the brain-eating living dead.


24. Creatures in the children’s show Adventure Time, set in a magical world filled with fantastical creatures many years after “the Mushroom Wars.” A discerning adult finds a horrifying future most children who watch the show will miss.

25. Duke Nukem, the yellow villain with mottled skin, represents the horror of nuclear radiation in the cartoon show Captain Planet. One of my favorite shows growing up.


26. Numerous monsters and creatures from the post-apocalyptic videogame series Fallout including Ghouls, Rad-Scorpions, and Super Mutants.

27. Numerous monsters and creatures from the post-apocalyptic videogame series set in the ruined post-nuclear Moscow metro system, Metro 2033.


28. A true monster in professional wrestling, Bryan Clark was Adam Bomb, a fallout-affected wrestler billed as being from Three Mile Island. Wrestling moves of his include the Atom Smasher and the Neutron Bomb.

These entries are very, very impressive. I had no idea there were so many creature features related to the Bomb. Winners: please send me your mailing addresses and the inscriptions you would like in your books.

To all ACW readers: Take heart, and may the new year be kind to you and your families.


Update: The “read more” link should work – The Wonktern

Even for a nation accustomed to severe trials, what happened in Peshawar on December 16th was unbearable. Pakistani children, mostly belonging to military families, along with their teachers, were gunned down with automatic weapons held by nihilists posing as religious zealots. Another ring of Dante’s Inferno reached — beyond murdering health care workers trying to inoculate children from polio.

Conspiracies occlude reality in Pakistan. Zealots still given air time tell viewers not to believe the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s press release admitting responsibility for slaughter. Also disregard the group photos of stalwart child-killers. Apologists continue to say it was because of the Americans. Or the drone strikes. Or the Indians, Israelis, Uzbeks, or Arabs. At least Imran Khan, the most popular politician in Pakistan at present, and a former apologist for the TTP, has now pinned responsibility where it belongs. As has Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Party.

The Peshawar tragedy has given impetus to a long-delayed action plan against terrorism. Military courts will hear terror cases and capital punishment has been resumed. The first executions were of those attempting to kill President/General Pervez Musharraf and those involved in storming General Headquarters. Other key elements of the National Action Plan, as laid out in a government release on December 24th, include:

  • A commitment to ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country
  • Strengthening and activation of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority
  • Countering hate speech and extremist material
  • Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organizations
  • Ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organizations
  • Establishing and deploying a dedicated counter-terrorism force
  • Taking effective steps against religious persecution
  • Registration and regulation of madrassas
  • Ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media
  • Administrative and development reforms in Federally Administered Tribal Areas with immediate focus on return of internally displaced persons
  • Dismantling communication networks of terrorist organizations
  • Tangible measures against abuse of internet and social media for terrorism
  • Zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab
  • Taking the ongoing operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion
  • Empowering Balochistan government for political reconciliation with complete ownership by all stakeholders
  • Dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists
  • Formulation of a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees, beginning with registration of all unregistered illegal refugees
  • Revamping and reforming the criminal justice system, to strengthen counter-terrorism departments including granting of powers to the provincial Criminal Investigation Departments to intercept terrorist communications


Pakistan’s future depends on implementing this long-overdue agenda. So, too, do the reduction of nuclear dangers and normalization of relations with India and Afghanistan, held hostage by Jihadi groups finding safe havens in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, who sleep-walked through the first year of his third try as Prime Minister, now has a chance to redeem himself and his office.

The challenges are immense, commensurate to the errors in judgment that preceded them. Rawalpindi doubled down on militant Islamic groups after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and is now living with the consequences. Momentously bad national security decisions always exact terrible downstream consequences – a dynamic to which U.S. observers can relate.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are working more collaboratively than ever to deal with the TTP on both sides of the Durand Line. Will they also work together against the Afghan Taliban? Pakistan government and military leaders now repeatedly assert that there will be no distinction between “good” jihadis and “bad” jihadis. National security adviser Sartaj Aziz, during an unguarded moment in an interview with BBC Urdu on November 18th, spoke otherwise: “Why should Pakistan target those who do not pose any threat to its security? The enemies of America have become enemies of Pakistan for no reason.”

Everyone will be able to tell the truth about Pakistan’s ties to the Afghan Taliban in the months ahead – by what Pakistan’s security forces do and what they don’t do. Skepticism is warranted until proven otherwise.

And then there’s the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Three weeks before the mass execution of school children, Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Lashkar — rebranded as the Jamaat ud-Duwa — convened a massive public rally in an honored public square commemorating the path to an independent Pakistan. He rode to the event on a groaning white steed. No government official or security agency dared impede this rally. Hafiz’s relative, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, collared as the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai massacre, was granted bail from gentle custody only one day after the Peshawar slaughter, along with another declaration by Nawaz of Pakistan’s enduring enmity against extremist violence. The state immediately acted to extend custody after this embarrassing juxtaposition, but Pakistan’s judiciary is just not able to deal with those who carry out mass-casualty attacks against India. No fewer than seven judges have sat on the hot seat during unhurried judicial proceedings against Lakhvi.

How, then, will Pakistan implement its new zero-tolerance policy for extremism in the Punjab, where the Lashkar maintains its base? Concerns raised during a recent trip to Pakistan about the LeT were met with silence, or with the oblique rejoinder that its parent group, the Jamaat ud-Duwa, engages in many social welfare programs.

Taking on the TTP is now job one; if there is a game plan to deal seriatim with the ISI’s deadly offspring, the LeT will be last in line. For now, Pakistan is the recipient of the world’s condolences. If the LeT carries out another mass slaughter in India, triggering a nuclear-tinged crisis, condolences will be replaced by condemnation.