Which Nuclear-Capable Country Should Be Obama's Biggest Concern?

This is a rush transcript from "America's News HQ," December 12, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, HOST: President-elect Barack Obama inheriting two wars and the worst economy since the Depression. And it doesn't stop there. He will also inherit a batch of nuclear threats that aren't going away any time soon. A final push by the Bush administration to try to negotiate with North Korea on its nuclear program collapsed this week. And then, of course, there is Iran and Pakistan.

So, the question is: Which country is the greatest threat to us right now?

Joining me is K.T. McFarland. She's a former assistant deputy secretary of defense under President Reagan. She's an expert on nuclear weapons and she's now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.

Hi, K.T.


Video: Watch Heather Nauert's interview

NAUERT: So, which country would you consider to be the biggest threat?

MCFARLAND: I think North Korea is a country that's contained because China has done the rest of making it happened. So, eventually, North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons. It may take a while but that's sort of in the box.

NAUERT: OK. So, we'll put that one on the backburner.

MCFARLAND: Put it around the backburner. The two that are a real problem are Pakistan and Iran, and they are a problem for the same reason which is nuclear weapons.

NAUERT: And you're more worried, a lot of people.


NAUERT: I think, would be worried about Iran working to get a nuclear weapon.


NAUERT: ... which they say they're not but, you know, whatever on that.


NAUERT: But rather, Pakistan.

NAUERT: Here's the thing. Iran is probably two years away from a nuclear weapon. Now, that's really frightening. But that's two years.

Pakistan is a country that has 90 nuclear weapons. It's a country that's — its economy almost collapsed two weeks ago. It's going to have a crisis with India on its Pakistani-Indian border. They've got an insurgency of jihadists. It's throughout the country and suicide bombers, and a very weak president.

So, Pakistan — my worry is that Pakistan doesn't have control of its nuclear weapons.

NAUERT: OK. Now, if I understand this correctly, there is a Pakistani general who's in charge of keeping tabs on the nuclear weapons.


NAUERT: General Kayani.


NAUERT: Supposedly, he is trusted by the U.S. government, is that correct?

MCFARLAND: Yes. I mean, the United States government when Musharraf, before Zardari became prime minister, before he became president, the United States sent people over to make sure that their safeguards were in place, that Pakistan had a figure that knew were their nukes were and they knew how they were under control.

Now, Musharraf has left. We have a new president who's been very cooperative with the United States on the war on terror and there's a new chief of the army. He's considered to be pretty good. That's not the problem. The problem isn't at the top. The problem is down at the bottom, in the junior officers and the relations they may have to terrorists.

NAUERT: OK. So, Kayani, the guy in charge of weapons may be a decent guy, maybe a standup guy but you're more worried about the underlings and.

MCFARLAND: The majors, the lieutenant colonels.

NAUERT: It's often said that there are bad guys — whose sympathetic to al Qaeda.


NAUERT: ... and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the attacks in Mumbai.

MCFARLAND: They trained them, they created that group.

NAUERT: That those guys could, I don't know, infiltrate the system.



MCFARLAND: They compromise the...

NAUERT: And grab these weapons.

MCFARLAND: Yes, exactly — that they would compromise the Pakistani intelligence service and the Pakistani army. And so, then, if there is a problem, the Pakistan government collapses or it loses control over parts of Pakistan, where are those nuclear weapons?

NAUERT: How realistic.

MCFARLAND: And we know where those go.

NAUERT: How realistic is it — that I call them underlings, obviously, a major's not an underling but compared to...

MCFARLAND: Junior officers, yes.

NAUERT: Yes, junior officers. OK. How realistic is it that they could somehow gain control of the situation?

MCFARLAND: Look, it's not the odds. It's the stakes I don't like. The odds may not be great, but the stakes are horrific — if they lose operational control of 90 nuclear weapons. So, Pakistan is a problem. There's an immediate problem. They are both problems within the next 24 months and neither of them have a very easy solution.

NAUERT: OK. So, you rank this. Pakistan number one; Iran number two.

MCFARLAND: If Pakistan collapses and it disintegrates as a government structure, and it becomes one of those states that isn't in control of itself, yes.

NAUERT: But we got — Barack Obama is going to have a whole lot on his plate.

MCFARLAND: Obviously. He's got a huge inbox. He's got a big inbox.

NAUERT: Yes, absolutely.

MCFARLAND: And the combination of nuclear weapons and terrorists is the one — it's the nightmare scenario.

NAUERT: Right. OK. K.T. McFarland, and by the way, K.T. keeps a video blog called a "vlog" and it's called Defcon-3 with K.T.


NAUERT: And it's on FOXNews.com and it's fantastic. So, K.T. McFarland, thanks a lot and have a great weekend.

MCFARLAND: Thank you.

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