Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal – the fastest growing in the world – raises concerns on many grounds.

Overcoming Pakistans Nuclear Dangers

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal – the fastest growing in the world – raises concerns on many grounds. Although far from the scale of the Cold War, South Asia is experiencing a strategic arms race. And the more weapons there are, the more potential for theft, sabotage and nuclear terrorism. Worries that Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons technology might again be transferred to nuclear aspirants have not been expunged. Being outside the nuclear club makes it harder to ensure nuclear safety. Of gravest concern is the potential for a nuclear war, triggered by another large-scale terrorist attack in India with Pakistani state fingerprints, as in the 2008 Mumbai atrocity, this time followed by an Indian Army reprisal. Lowering the nuclear threshold, Pakistan has vowed to deter this with newly introduced battlefield nuclear weapons.

Mark Fitzpatrick evaluates each of the potential nuclear dangers, giving credit where credit is due. Understanding the risks of nuclear terrorism and nuclear accidents, Pakistani authorities have taken appropriate steps. Pakistan and India have devoted less attention, however, to engaging each
other on the issues that could spark a nuclear clash. The author argues that to reduce nuclear dangers, Pakistan should be offered a formula for nuclear legitimacy, tied to its adoption of policies associated with global nuclear norms.

‘Mark Fitzpatrick provides a very well-informed, comprehensive, balanced and fair picture of the Pakistani case. I learnt more from his insightful analysis than anything else I have read on the subject.’
Hans Blix, Director General Emeritus, International Atomic Energy Agency 

‘Fitzpatrick breaks from the common, one-sided Western assessments of Pakistan’s nuclear programme by carefully examining its drivers and the regional security dynamics that impelled its evolution. He boldly – and correctly – identifies the issues that need to be addressed to establish deterrence stability in South Asia.’
Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani envoy to the United States and the United Kingdom

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  • Introduction

    Nuclear specialists are often asked which country presents the greatest source of concern. One might say Russia, because it holds the largest inventory of nuclear weapons (followed closely by the United States) and because, together with other former Soviet republics, it is the source of the greatest amount of trafficked nuclear material. One could point to China, because it has the fastest-growing nuclear industry and because it is the least...
  • Chapter One: Pakistan’s nuclear programme

    In the past few years, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and strategy have undergone dramatic changes. The first generation of the arsenal consisted of a small number of free-fall weapons based on highly enriched uranium (HEU). Today, Pakistan has moved to plutonium-based weapons that are deliverable by nine different ballistic- and cruise-missile systems and provide options for battlefield use. The latter capability has lowered the nuclear threshold. Beginnings Pakistan’s nuclear endeavours began with peaceful...
  • Chapter Two: The potential for nuclear use

    If the global taboo on nuclear use that has prevailed since 1945 is ever broken, a common view among foreign-policy commentators is that it will happen in South Asia. It would be an exaggeration to call the subcontinent a nuclear tinderbox. Despite occasional border incidents, the chances of a nuclear exchange seem low. Yet India and Pakistan have gone to war three times in the last seven decades, and nearly...
  • Chapter Three: The potential for a nuclear arms race

    Although the potential for nuclear terrorism garners more media attention, the nuclear-arms competition in South Asia is of greater concern. As discussed in Chapter Four, Pakistan understands the terrorism problem and has taken steps to address nuclear-security vulnerabilities. As discussed in this chapter, equivalent steps have not been taken to stop a budding nuclear and missile arms race. Officials in India and Pakistan rarely even admit to the problem. However...
  • Chapter Four: The potential for nuclear terrorism

    There is no doubting the potential for nuclear terrorism in Pakistan. Given the large number of radicalised groups, their ruthlessness and brazenness in attacking military targets and the growing size of the nuclear-weapons establishment, the potential intersection of these trends is clear. A congressionally mandated US report in 2008 on preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction put it graphically: ‘Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction...
  • Chapter Five: The potential for onward proliferation and for nuclear accidents

    A comprehensive analysis of the potential dangers associated with Pakistan’s nuclear programme would not be complete without examining two other risk factors. This chapter addresses two important questions: can A.Q. Khan’s transfers of nuclear-weapons technology a decade ago truly be consigned to the pages of history? And are Pakistan’s nuclear facilities safe?  Onward proliferation Pakistani officials refer to the nation’s nuclear shame as the A.Q. Khan ‘incident’, as though it was a...
  • Conclusion

    What began as a civilian nuclear programme in Pakistan in the mid-1950s took on a military dimension even before suspicions were confirmed that India was on a nuclear-weapons path. As remains the case today, Pakistan assumed the worst about India’s intentions and spared no effort in preparing a nuclear counterpunch. By 1983, just 11 years after receiving orders to produce a nuclear weapon, Pakistani scientists carried out the first cold...

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme. This article draws from the author’s presentation and the ensuing discussion at a 2 July workshop on ‘The Consequences of the Ukraine Crisis on Nuclear Issues’, hosted by the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique in Paris.

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