A recent U.S. paper suggests that Pakistan’s expanding nuclear capacity may soon outstrip that of most countries, including India’s. If Pakistan maintains its current nuclear development rate and continues on the same trajectory, it will soon become the third-ranked nuclear capable state in the world.
Assessing Pakistan’s Nuclear Power
The Federation of American Scientists, a body that studies the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons systems, published a report in October 2015 regarding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. According to the report, Pakistan is now in possession of 130 nuclear warheads. In the span of a mere four years, Pakistan has increased its stockpile of nuclear weapons from 90 warheads to 130 of them. While the development may not be startling as of itself, it does indicate a deeper pattern: Pakistan’s nuclear capacity is increasing rapidly and consistently. If the current nuclear development rate is maintained, Pakistan is poised to own between 220 and 250 nuclear warheads by the year 2025. If such a statistic is realized, Pakistan will attain the #5 spot in a list of the world’s most formidable nuclear powers. In this scenario, Pakistan will trail behind the United States, Russia, China and France but will rank higher than the United Kingdom, given that the latter is working to reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile.
In a similar vein, The New York Times reports that over the next decade, Pakistan may become the third largest nuclear-capable state in the world. In this scenario, Pakistan will feature behind the United States and Russia but will outrank China, France and the United Kingdom.
These predictions are rooted in the realization that Pakistan’s nuclear development program is expanding faster than that of any other country in the world. Not only is Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile growing in terms of sheer numbers but also in terms of deployment-effectiveness; by increasing its stocks of small tactical nuclear weapons, Pakistan has rounded off its overall weapons capacity by using the newer weapons to balance out the the traditional longer-range nuclear missiles.
Obama Wants To Curb Pakistan’s Nuclear Program
President Obama’s administration has long wanted to curtail Pakistan’s ever-increasing nuclear development program. The U.S.-led West has often labeled the need to check Pakistan’s growing nuclear ambitions as an “international priority”. Many within the defence and security networks have suggested that the White House is keen to introduce a Pakistan nuclear deal along the lines of the Iran nuclear arrangement.
Much of the impetus behind pursuing nuclear restrictions for Pakistan is informed by the simmering rivalry with India and tensions over the issue of Kashmir. The conflict between India and Pakistan is often interpreted as something of a potential flashpoint that could well upset the security balance in South Asia, and as such, the United States has repeatedly expressed a desire to introduce certain checks and balances. Tensions between the two countries have escalated even further since the U.S. decided to pursue a more expansive bilateral nuclear treaty with India; Pakistan has been desirous of a similar treaty and has urged the U.S. to maintain a balanced approach to its dealings with South Asian states.
U.S. government officials have stated that the best way forward would be for Pakistan to accept limits on its nuclear development program. The U.S. paper states that, “Pakistan should also sign the treaty banning nuclear weapons tests,” if regional peace and international security are to be achieved. Building upon the same rationale, the paper states, “The major world powers spent two years negotiating an agreement to restrain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, which doesn’t have a single nuclear weapon. Yet there has been no comparable investment of effort in Pakistan, which along with India, has so far refused to consider any limits at all.”
Security experts have opined that Pakistan cannot feasibly maintain its nuclear development exercises without doing some harm to the state itself; Islamabad directs 25 percent of Pakistan’s national budget towards defence-related expenses. While the West maintains that Pakistan should consider slowing down its nuclear development projects and halt the manufacture of its long-range missiles, the Pakistani Army claims that nuclear expansion is the only way to counter threats from India.
Only last month, prior to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the U.S., American officials within the country discussed the possibility of creating a nuclear framework with Pakistan that would reset the country’s status as the world’s fastest-growing nuclear state. The American debate is informed by the concern that in comparison to the more traditional weapons systems, the new tactical nuclear weapons are harder to oversee and contain; proliferation experts warn that the smaller weapons are much easier to steal and so, the risk of these newer armaments making their way into extremist hands is much higher. Washington is keen to carve out a nuclear arrangement that specifically addresses the said risk. The New York Times has quoted an anonymous U.S. government official as saying, “All it takes is one commander with secret radical sympathies, and you have a big problem.”
Analyzing The Prospects Of A Nuclear Deal Between Pakistan And The U.S.
Pakistani officials have maintained that Islamabad will not accept any nuclear deal that curtails Pakistan’s nuclear development program. Prior to Mr. Sharif’s visit, the Foreign Office of Pakistan emphasized that the Pakistani Prime Minister is not likely to agree to any arrangement that restricts Pakistan’s development agendas. Speaking to the same, the Foreign Office reiterated, “The premier firmly believes in policies directed at preserving, protecting and promoting Pakistan’s national interests.”
However, if such a deal is realized, it would greatly influence the regional security balance in South Asia and address international concerns about security challenges coming out of Pakistan. From the international community’s perspective, a nuclear deal with Pakistan would neutralize many of the threats that a nuclear-capable Pakistan supposedly poses.
For Pakistan, such a deal would result in fewer, less stringent sanctions against the state. These sanctions have been imposed for the better part of the last few decades because of Pakistan’s refusal to sign the Non Proliferation Treaty. If Pakistan proves its commitment to non-proliferation, not only will the international community relax much of its punitive rulings against Pakistan, it will also give the state the legitimacy and recognition it craves as a significant contributor of nuclear defence systems. Bettered ties with the global community will also allow Pakistan greater- albeit more controlled- access to weapons technology and raw material.
George Perkovich, the Vice President for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explains, “If Pakistan would take the actions requested by the United States, it would essentially amount to recognition of rehabilitation and would essentially amount to parole”. Like most experts on the issue of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Mr. Perkovich has doubts as to whether Islamabad would agree to such an arrangement, but says that the two countries should continue working together on achieving a mutually acceptable solution to the nuclear dilemma.
Pakistan’s PM Visits The U.S., Pursues Greater Ties
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the United States last month may not have resulted in Islamabad agreeing to a weapons compromise, but there has been some headway. The Obama administration has conveyed the message that it continues to value its alliance with Pakistan.
Pakistan is reportedly in talks with the U.S. to purchase eight F-16 fighter planes. U.S. government insiders reveal that Washington has agreed to sell the fighter jets in an attempt to prove its commitment to its relationship with Pakistan. While the U.S. continues to remain wary of Pakistan’s domestic security troubles and the state’s alleged harboring of Taliban forces, Washington does not want to sever ties with Islamabad. U.S. officials claim that the White Hopes to be able to influence the government in Islamabad and perhaps steer the country away from its course of rapid nuclear development.