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December 30, 2016



Nuclear Pakistan

Pakistan continues to strengthen and expand its nuclear capabilities – diversifying weapons, fielding new delivery vehicles and accumulating fissile material.


With four fully operational plutonium production reactors in Khushab, we are capable of producing at least 40kgs of weapon-grade plutonium a year. Pakistan’s nuclear security managers are also successfully pursuing expanded uranium enrichment capabilities.

According to the most recent estimates, Pakistan has a stockpile of 130-140 nuclear warheads and plans to continue to produce more weapons over the next decade. Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione believes that Pakistan has enough fissile material for about a hundred more. However, there is agreement among nuclear experts that if proliferation continues at its present pace, Pakistan will be the world’s fifth largest nuclear power with an arsenal of 220-250 weapons by 2025.

Many have argued that further expansion of our nuclear capabilities depends on the future growth of India’s nuclear weapons programme. In the view of such analysts, Pakistan is seeking to create a full spectrum deterrence to reduce the possibility of a premeditated conventional military attack from India.

In February 2016, the National Command Authority (NCA), Pakistan’s highest decision-making body on nuclear and missiles policy issues, pledged to do everything to effectively respond to the threats to national security. Unless our civilian authorities and military generals still believe that national security is all about military security, we are headed in the wrong direction.

Given India’s aggressive military posture towards Pakistan, I am not against keeping a strong nuclear deterrent. However, Pakistan’s evident willingness to be locked into a nuclear arms race is ill-considered at best and dangerous at worst. Pakistan has enough weapons to destroy India several times over and we do not need to further expand our nuclear capabilities. Lowering the threshold for nuclear use is an extremely dangerous nuclear posture. Why making such a choice?

Pakistan should officially declare a moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. We need to get rid of unnecessary weapons systems and save billions of rupees which can be used on education and health.

Kenneth Waltz, a pre-eminent American political scientist, argued that the “credibility of small deterrent forces” is more than enough to deter not just nuclear use but conventional attacks as well. The mere possibility of nuclear retaliation can successfully deter countries from initiating conventional attacks.

Another American political scientist and national security expert, Thomas Schelling, analysed deterrence in terms of bargaining theory and argued that “the basic existence of a nuclear weapons capability” should provide sufficient deterrence to conventional conflicts. Deterrent power remains unaffected by the unlimited expansion of nuclear arsenal.

The real question then is: why do we need so many nuclear weapons? The provocative cold start doctrine is dead. India’s current leadership is well aware that it cannot carry out a targeted strike inside Pakistani territory without the risk of massive retaliation. Pakistan has a strong nuclear force structure. Developing tactical nuclear weapons capability to counter military threats is not a wise approach.

The people of Pakistan have no idea how dangerous this course of action is. Not many Pakistanis wake up thinking about the dangers of nuclear weapons. And why should they? Pakistan has great national pride in its nuclear weapons programme and playing even a small role in the promotion of world peace is not our priority. People are totally unaware of the risk of planetary catastrophe posed by the very existence of these weapons.

The whole world is on the edge due to an insane rush towards arms buildup in South Asia but we seem to be unaware of it. During a recent policy debate at University of California, San Diego, a writer was alarmed at witnessing a consensus among many scholars from Ivy League universities regarding the possibility of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India. What are we doing to reduce these concerns? Nothing.

Scholars and researchers who generally present Pakistan’s case in international conferences and other seminars are totally unqualified for this job. Their only qualification is their ability to unquestionably accept the narrative of the nuclear establishment. We are facing an overall foreign policy crisis because of our tendency to choose unqualified people for important positions.

In a nutshell, Pakistan should take three steps – stop producing more fissile material and officially declare that it will not produce any more nuclear weapons, sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treat (CTBT) and let the Conference on Disarmament (CD) start negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and be more open to constructive criticism and hire only well-qualified scholars who can articulate Pakistan’s stance in a convincing and cogent way.

These steps will not only help ensure that Pakistan is emerging as a responsible nuclear state but also make India look bad. Pakistan’s current leadership must take these steps if it wants to promote the integration of the country into the global system.


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