In 2014, the Council of Foreign Relations reported that Pakistan now has the fastest growing nuclear program in the world, and estimates that by 2020, Islamabad could have as many as 200 nuclear weapons. Gregory Koblentz, an expert on arms control, has termed this development as “aggressive.” In 2011, reports suggested that Pakistan could overtake Britain as the fifth largest nuclear weapon state in the world. While a report published in August 2015 by Michael Krepon and Toby Dalton, predicts that Pakistan could exceed the nuclear weapons capabilities of France and China, making it the third largest nuclear weapon state.
Krepon and Dalton further suggest that Pakistan should shift its focus from full spectrum deterrence to strategic deterrence. However, as recent as in September 2015, the National Command Authority on the other hand, made clear that Pakistan is working towards maintaining ‘full spectrum deterrence.’ Pakistan aspires to achieve ‘full spectrum deterrence’ and would potentially increase its nuclear stockpile as a road towards achieving this capability. In addition to this, is the issue of a possible nuclear deal between the U.S. and Pakistan, which further raises concerns. While it is being assumed that the deal, if fructifies, may check Pakistan’s growing fissile material, Pakistan could divert its nuclear program towards nuclear weapons.
Pakistan cites its nuclear weapons development “solely aimed at India”. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the other hand, claimed in September 2015 that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not aimed at any state. There are, however, several other factors that probably have motivated Pakistan to continue increasing its fissile material stockpile. This article therefore, analyses the trends in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability and the possible factors that has played in Pakistan’s desire to continue increasing its fissile material stockpile.
Several trends in nuclear weapons capability built up increasing global concerns:
1. Islamabad refuses to join the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Pakistan is the only state opposing the FMCT, which bans the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, the two main components of making nuclear weapons.
2. In 2013, according to SIPRI reports, Pakistan was estimated to have three tons of HEU. Currently, Pakistan is believed to be using enrichment facilities in Kahuta, and in Gadwal in Punjab to develop nuclear warheads. Islamabad, however, is giving equal importance to developing plutonium warheads.
3. The cooling capacities in the reactors at the Khushab nuclear site have also been increased, thereby enabling Islamabad to produce even more plutonium than previously estimated, according to the 2014 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Report.
4. Islamabad is constructing heavy water reactors (HWRs) at Khushab, the Khushab IV reactors that were also operational in January 2015.
In addition, Pakistan has sought to develop Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) for its Shaheen category ballistic missiles; its tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), called the Nasr, and its nuclear-capable cruise Ra’ad missiles and submarine-launched missiles, which require nuclear warhead miniaturisation. Plutonium warheads, more powerful yet lighter, are capable of being easily miniaturised. The aircraft and land-based missile systems strengthen Pakistan’s ‘first-use’ posture. Islamabad is also aspires to develop sea-based nuclear deterrent capability to strengthen its second-strike capability. As Pakistan develops TNWs, there would be a requirement to deploy many of them in the forward posts during conflict times which would require increased number of TNWs in the nuclear arsenal.
It is unclear whether this rapid increase in a nuclear stockpile is to cater only to Pakistan’s own security challenges, or to Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions as well. Reports in 2013 were already claiming that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program was being funded by Riyadh. This was so that Saudi Arabia could possibly avail itself of Islamabad’s technology if the need for such weapons arose.
It would be also hard to believe that Pakistan is not weary of Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities. Pakistan’s newest Shaheen version, the Shaheen 3 with a range of 2750 kms can strike targets in West Asia. In 1980s and 1990s, Israel planned a raid on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities which was stalled. Therefore, the existential threat from Israel remains intact.
While the United States and the P4+1 states have been busy trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, limited effort is being made to curb the nuclear weapons stockpile of Pakistan. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of asymmetric organizations. Although Islamabad claims to have worked on safety and security of its nuclear weapons, the introduction of TNWs could defy security measures; these weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations when deployed in times of crisis.
According to Shyam Saran, post 2011, U.S. raids in Abbotabad to kill Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan has been apprehensive of U.S. intentions in Global War on Terror. Pakistan is concerned of America’s drone attacks on Pakistani territory and their capacity to wipe out Pakistan’s nuclear capability. According to Saran, “the Pakistani military and civilian elite is convinced that the United States has also become a dangerous adversary, which seeks to disable, disarm or take forcible possession of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”
In addition, the US Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) waiver on India has been criticised by Pakistan and they believe that Pakistan deserves similar treatment as well. However, India has earned its NSG waiver due to its persistence as a responsible nuclear weapon state. India’s adoption of a ‘no-first use’ doctrine, its firm opposition to TNWs, its efforts on building nuclear proliferation resistant technologies for peaceful nuclear energy and its ratifying of the Additional Protocol, has earned it the NSG waiver.
Although the Obama Administration seems to be obsessed solely with courting Iran, the increase in Islamabad’s fissile material is a threat to global security. Therefore, such threats need to be addressed.
America could persuade Pakistan to consider signing onto the FMCT. As of now, Pakistan is the only country opposing the Treaty. Therefore, Pakistan’s acceptance of the Treaty would hasten the negotiating process of the FMCT. If Islamabad’s nuclear weapons program is aimed only at India or like it would be conducive for it to sign the FMCT: the Treaty would curb India’s future fissile material as well as Pakistan’s. Pakistan, whose fissile material stockpile exceeds that of India’s, with the Treaty being imposed would be at an advantage. While it could be believed that such an arrangement could create destabilization, it would prevent Islamabad from continuing to build its stockpile of nuclear weapons, and would greatly help regional stability. As far as India is concerned, India’s nuclear posturing is premised on ‘credible minimum deterrence’, which focuses on survivability of the nuclear arsenal than merely increasing stockpile.
It is a known fact that Pakistan has also been demanding of similar nuclear deal as the Indo-US 123 deal. It only remains to be seen if the U.S. provides Pakistan of a similar deal with a condition to limit Pakistan’s fissile material stockpile.
Debalina Ghoshal is Research Associate at the Delhi Policy Group, New Delhi, India.