President Obama met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani over the weeked as the global nuclear summit kicked off in Washington, DC. The US has consistently said that it is not worried about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal per se, but sees a greater threat in efforts to destabilize the democratic government.

Pakistan has approximately 70 to 90 nuclear weapons according to a report by Havard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, titled Securing the Bomb. According to the authors of the report, while “Pakistan has taken major steps to improve security and command and control for its nuclear stockpiles,” the greatest opportunity for terrorists to seize nuclear weapons comes from the fragile stability of Pakistan’s democratic government.

Ultimately, no nuclear security system can protect against an unlimited threat. Hence, reducing the risk of nuclear theft in Pakistan must include both steps to further improve nuclear security measures and steps to reduce extremists’ ability to challenge the Pakistani state, to recruit nuclear insiders, and to mount large outsider attacks. Fortunately, the Pakistani government, with support from the United States and other countries, is moving on both fronts, seeking to wage both a military/intelligence battle and a “hearts and minds” campaign against violent extremists in Pakistan…

This concern was echoed by Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit foundation that supports nuclear disarmament, in an interview yesterday with National Public Radio. Mr. Cirincione stated that a key concern about Pakistan’s nuclear security was the stability of Pakistan’s democratic government.

Joseph Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund: It’s not that the material isn’t secure right now – it is – it’s that the government isn’t secure.

Robert Siegel, NPR: So, in effect, it’s the stability of the Pakistani government, and indeed the policy or the orientation of the Pakistani government that’s the measure of how dangerous that arsenal is.

Joseph Cirincione: Right.

Pakistan’s democratic government has made great strides in both domestic political reform and security. But supporting the democratic government against destabilizing elements is not only in the interest of promoting democracy. Pakistan is a key ally in the fight against militant groups like al Qaeda, and the stability of Pakistan’s democratic government is the key to keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.