By Gaurav Dixit*
Speaking at a seminar in Islamabad in 1999, Pakistan’s former foreign minister and a leading nuclear strategist Abdul Sattar insisted, “We shall not engage in any nuclear competition or arms race”. Six months later, he reiterated, “Our policy of minimum credible deterrence will obviate any strategic arms race.” A recent report published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center, however suggests that Pakistan could become the third largest nuclear stockpile in the world within the next five to ten years, behind only the United States and Russia. The report further states that the fast development of its nuclear head is out of its fear of existential threat from India. The report certainly suggests the reversal of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine as suggested by Abul Sattar, and is also sufficient to indicate how the new doctrine has been directed against the very basis of demand for nuclear weapons.
Pakistan is already ahead of India in numbers of nuclear warheads – some estimate it to be 120 compared to 100 possessed by India. It is expected that Pakistan could have 350 nuclear warheads sometime in the next decade. Pakistan has rejected the report as utterly baseless, and in fact termed it as diversionary tactics to deviate from the increase in India’s fissile material stockpiles due to number of nuclear deals with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries.
What does it mean for Pakistan?
A report by non-profit organisation Raftar, funded by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), suggests that Pakistan is facing an “existential crisis” growing from poor tax collections and lacks resources to finance itself, and primarily relies on donor loans and aid for its development projects. Meanwhile, illiteracy and joblessness is growing, and as prominent writer Ahmad Rashid claims all this along with rise of Islamist fundamentalism has made Pakistan slide into a failed state status.
The only thing seems to be getting more powerful is the military and its expenditure.
Pakistan has increasing defence expenditure in real terms. Pakistan’s current defence expenditure is $7.7 billion, 18% of the country’s total budget. It makes Pakistan’s military spending as a percentage of its total budget as one of the highest in the world. Further stockpiling of nuclear warheads will require tremendous amount of financial investment. It would certainly require Pakistan to cut on other social and economic plans meant for development. Military expenditure in the past had a tough impact on other welfare expenditure. A country on the verge of being a failed state can hardly afford to focus on military and nuclear expenditure – which has the potential to embroil the country into unforeseeable internal conflict.
It is now up to Pakistan to address its ‘existential crisis’ or divert its resources to manage the assumed “existential threat”.
Nuclear stockpiling and concept of nuclear deterrence
Apart from various theories that have repudiated nuclear deterrence as merely an art of bargaining power for coercion and intimidation, with no logical consistency, and empirically inaccurate; the likes of George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and Bill Perry, veterans of America’s Cold War security time, in a reversal of their earlier standpoint as believers in nuclear deterrence, claim that nuclear deterrence no more remains a persuasive strategic response to a world of potential regional nuclear arms races and nuclear terrorism than it was to the cold war.
A high degree of threat, they claim, arises from terrorist groups who have shown ambition to steal, buy or build a nuclear device. There is a potential security threat to both the nuclear arms and its material.
Pakistan nuclear facilities prone to terrorist attack
Pakistan nuclear facilities have faced a series of terrorist attacks since November 2007. The most significant attack was on May 22, 2011 on Mehran Naval Aviation Base in Karachi, in which 10 people were killed and two American surveillance planes destroyed. The other significant attack was on August 16, 2012 at the high-security Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra. The attack was the third on the airbase since 2007.
Pakistan’s nuclear security faces additional challenges, unique to Pakistan’s security environment – its military and intelligence is going through rapid religious indoctrination. A section of army is sympathetic to radical Islamist groups. There is a possibility that some insiders, particularly from military or intelligence establishment, may pass on the crucial material or document to the terrorist groups. The rapid development of nuclear heads will make it nearly impossible to keep it within the hands of selected few, raising the possibility of its leakage.
Pakistan’s obsession for higher number of nuclear warheads certainly defies, if any, the principles of credible minimum nuclear deterrence or proportionate deterrence and is driven more by surreal military supposition of threat than any rational deliberation.
Pakistan’s nuclear policy appears to be delusory and dangerous, a product of misplaced military policies, rather than a realistic appraisal of its domestic priorities. If it aims for some kind of geopolitical equilibrium by building large number of nuclear warheads to match India’s massive conventional power, it is only going to destabilise the security environment of South Asia. At the same time it will certainly raise some suspicion in India, undermine India’s confidence, raising the risk of a nuclear arms race.
*Gaurav Dixit is an independent researcher on conflict situations in South Asia. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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