Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear weapons programme in the world and could have enough fissile material to produce more than 200 nuclear devices by 2020, an influential American think tank said in a report.
The special report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) titled “Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age”, also identified South Asia as the region “most at risk of a breakdown in strategic stability due to an explosive mixture of unresolved territorial disputes, cross-border terrorism, and growing nuclear arsenals.”
Pakistan, the report said, has deployed or is developing 11 delivery systems for its nuclear warheads, including aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.
“Pakistan has not formally declared the conditions under which it would use nuclear weapons but has indicated that it seeks primarily to deter India from threatening its territorial integrity or the ability of its military to defend its territory,” the report added.
Further, the report said, while Pakistan is focused predominantly on the threat posed by India, it is reportedly also concerned by the potential for the United States to launch a military operation to seize or disarm Pakistani nuclear weapons.
“This concern is based in part on reported contingency planning by the US military to prevent Pakistani nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists,” said the report. Pakistani officials, however, deny that these concerns affect Pakistan’s nuclear force posture or plans.
The report, authored by George Mason University’s Gregory Koblentz, notes that India and Pakistan face more severe security challenges than those of the other nuclear weapon states due to their history of high-intensity and low-intensity conflicts, higher levels of domestic instability, geographic proximity, the dispute over Kashmir that has existential implications for both countries, and the history of cross-border terrorism.
“The next crisis between India and Pakistan could be sparked by a
cross-border military incursion, a mass-casualty terrorist attack or a
high-profile assassination,” the report added.
Further, the report said, the size and composition of Pakistan’s nuclear forces appear increasingly dictated by India’s growing conventional military capabilities.
“Pakistan’s reliance on nuclear weapons to compensate for its conventional inferiority will likely be an enduring feature of the nuclear balance in South Asia,” said the report.
The report also highlights a ‘worrisome’ development that the Indian and Pakistani practice of storing their nuclear warheads separately from launchers, which has provided a strong barrier to nuclear escalation in the past, may be eroding.
Pakistan’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on short-range missiles and India’s development of a sea-based deterrent may lead both states to loosen their highly centralised command and control practices, the report notes.
“The short flight times of ballistic missiles between India and Pakistan exacerbate these tensions by sharply reducing decision-making timelines for government officials during a crisis,” said the report.
The CFR special report calls for a long-term negotiating effort by the United States with the other six recognised nuclear states (China, France, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United Kingdom) to address specific sources of instability, including missile defense, antisatellite weapons, and conventional counterforce systems.
Further, to improve the prospects for stability in South Asia, the report recommends encouraging official and Track II dialogues among China, India, and Pakistan on nuclear issues, and building scientific and diplomatic capacity in India and Pakistan to enable discussions on these subjects.
The report also urged the Obama administration to deepen bilateral and multilateral dialogues with the other nuclear weapon states on strategic stability and build capacity within India and Pakistan to participate in such dialogues.