Doomsday war games: Pentagon's 3 nightmare scenarios

Pentagon planners have plenty to deal with these days – Iran in search of nuclear-weapons technology, suicide bombings in Afghanistan, and the final pullout of US troops in Iraq potentially leaving behind a security vacuum in the Middle East. But in war games in Washington this week, US Army officials and their advisers debated three nightmare scenarios in particular. Here are the doomsday visions that Pentagon planners have been poring over:

1. Collapse of Pakistan

Anjum Naveed/AP
Members of the Azad Welfare Society burn a replica US flag Sunday during a rally to condemn NATO air strikes on Pakistani troops.

Following the assassination of the Pakistani president in a scenario that begins in 2013, Pakistan begins to descend into chaos. It is a time of great uncertainty, in which Pakistan’s “Islamist Army faction and its militant Muslim allies” decide to act.

Their plan, according to the war game: “to exploit that country’s growing civil disorder to seize power and create a radical Islamist state.” Compounding this chaos is the confusion over who will gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal, estimated to number 80 to 120. These weapons are believed to be located at a half-dozen or so sites around the country.

At least one site is occupied by Islamist units. “Both US and other national intelligence services have concluded that sympathetic elements of the ISI [Pakistan's spy agency] have provided Islamist officers leading the breakaway army units with the activation codes needed to arm the nuclear weapons under their control,” notes the scenario, which is drawn from "7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century" by Andrew Krepinevich, a former staffer in the Office of Net Assessments, the Pentagon’s futuristic and highly influential internal think tank.

If this were to happen, “there may be little to prevent these weapons from being used.”

The principal targets of such weapons would be United States, and US citizens draw little comfort, the scenario adds, from the efforts of US government officials to emphasize the difficulties involved in transporting nuclear weapons halfway around the world, which would be necessary, they add, in order to target an American city.

US forces have considered a preemptive strike on the area where the weapons are thought to be located, but Islamist forces have warned of the “horrific consequences” that would result if any foreign power attempted to do this. While the crisis in Pakistan “comes as a shock to most Americans,” the scenario notes, “to many observers, including senior government officials, it is hardly a surprise at all. To them, the greatest surprise is that Pakistan did not implode sooner.” 

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