A Pakistani’s response to “A Normal Nuclear Pakistan”

According to “A Normal Nuclear Pakistan,” a recent report co-authored by Michael Krepon and Toby Dalton, Pakistan could have close to 350 nuclear weapons by 2025. The key word here is “could.”

It is no secret that Pakistan faces many internal challenges. For nearly the past decade, our economy has been a mess, our armed forces have been engaged in combating terrorism, and our society has been plagued by a host of problems like unemployment, illiteracy, access to clean water, lack of affordable healthcare, and so on and so forth. But to presume, as I perceive the authors have in their report, that our armed forces are taking money from social programs and diverting it for military purposes is inaccurate.

The fact is that according to government documents our defense budget has hovered around 2.6 percent of the GDP for the last few years; it is also the lowest percentage of our GDP since independence. Even with the current, declared budget at $7.6 billion  (compared to India’s $40 billion or America’s $585 billion), our military has a hard time making ends meet. We have invested all of our resources in the war against terror as a frontline state. Strictly financially speaking, it would be impossible for us to develop two-hundred-some nuclear warheads in the next ten years.

The authors have urged Pakistan to consider adopting five initiatives related to the nuclear weapons program:

  1. Shift declaratory policy from “full spectrum” to “strategic” deterrence.
  2. Commit to a recessed deterrence posture and limit production of short-range delivery vehicles and tactical nuclear weapons.
  3. Lift Pakistan’s veto on Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiations and reduce or stop fissile material production.
  4. Separate civilian and military nuclear facilities.
  5. Sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without waiting for India.

On the first initiative, I would argue that there is no difference between “full spectrum” and “strategic” deterrence. Pakistan has always maintained a minimum-credible deterrence posture, but as India continues to modernize their weapon systems and expand their nuclear capabilities, Pakistan is forced to respond, so as not to leave a gap.

Western scholars need to understand that the weapons they consider to be tactical play a strategic role in the context of India and Pakistan, because of our geographic proximity. I agree with the authors that we do not need more nuclear weapons than is required to maintain a minimum credible deterrent, which is Pakistan’s stated policy.

Pakistan’s stance on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) is easy to understand. The argument Pakistan makes is that the FMCT, as it is being discussed, does not address the existing stockpiles of fissile material that other countries possess. A treaty that doesn’t address existing stockpiles would put Pakistan at a huge disadvantage vis-a-vis India, which is believed to have a far larger stockpile of fissile material. Therefore, lifting our veto on FMCT would not serve our national security interests. Furthermore, it would be advantageous if the international community focused more on complete disarmament rather than the FMCT.

It is also essential to recognize that though Pakistan is the only country to have officially vetoed the treaty, other countries like India are glad about it, because the treaty is not acceptable to them either.

There is no question that Pakistan should separate civilian and military nuclear facilities. This is something that our military and political leadership has also worked towards. For this reason, all of our civil nuclear reactors are under item-specific IAEA safeguards, and I hope that we also sign onto the additional protocols that India has if we are offered a civil nuclear deal similar to the one they enjoy.

On the last initiative that this report recommends, which is signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) without waiting for India, I agree. We must appreciate that Pakistan has plans to operate two monitoring stations to detect nuclear tests as per the requirements of the CTBT, which is something that India has not done. Realistically, I can foresee Pakistan signing onto the CTBT, if the United States were to lead the way by ratifying it.

This report was very insightful and offered some wonderful recommendations that will help Pakistan in the near future, but has also created media frenzy.

I would urge the media to refrain from exaggerating the findings of this publication. I have already come across multiple headlines calling Pakistan the third largest nuclear weapons state, which the Carnegie-Stimson report does not argue. The numbers of nuclear weapons that Pakistan could develop in the future, as suggested in the report, are made on the assumption that we will use our entire unsafeguarded fissile material stockpile for weapons development. This is speculative. Pakistan, like India, has an energy crisis, and our current government has made clear that nuclear energy will play a large role in the future of our country. Keeping that in mind, it is my opinion that it is likely a significant amount of our existing stockpiles of fissile material will be used for producing electricity, not weapons.

In conclusion, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have proven their efficacy by deterring Indian aggression. As long as India possesses nuclear weapons and continues expanding its capabilities, Pakistan will be forced to invest in maintaining a minimum credible deterrent, which needs to be full spectrum.


Image: Rizwan Tabassum-AFP, Getty

Posted in , Deterrence, FMCT, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan

Muhammad Umar

Muhammad Umar is an assistant professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST.edu.pk), Islamabad. He also presents a weekly roundup of defense related news on HRTV, and writes frequently on the same topic for national and international newspapers, and magazines. Prior to joining NUST, Umar worked, and lived in Pakistan’s tribal areas from 2009-2010, documenting the Taliban’s atrocities, and human rights violations against the local population. He has also worked as an anchorperson, and manager in-charge of product and content development at Pakistan Television Networks. Umar has a Bachelors degree in Political Science from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York. He is currently an MPhil candidate in the Strategic and Nuclear Studies program at the National Defense University (NDU.edu.pk) in Islamabad. He tweets @umarwrites, and blogs on muhammadumar.com. He can be reached via email at m.umar[at]s3h[dot]nust[dot]edu[dot]pk.

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7 thoughts on “A Pakistani’s response to “A Normal Nuclear Pakistan”

  1. Its a good rebuttal Umar and very well written. I also found more emphasis on exercising restraint to become a normal nuclear weapons state to be contentious ( Despite what this entails for Pakistan), given that report has simultaneously not examined doctrines such as CSD; which in my view should also be viewed with skepticism, instead of just zeroing down on TNWs and Pakistan’s deterrence posture.

  2. Your articulation and point by point response to the report is welcome, considering the fact that most people here in Islamabad seem to be taking their sweet time coming up with an appropriate and detailed rebuttal or clarification. However, I felt the need to comment on your faith in India’s Additional Protocol.
    The Indian Additional Protocol is riddled with issues that essentially leave important aspects of inspections and controls vague to the point that it has been deemed perhaps the worst AP currently in existence. It neither restricts the percentage of enrichment to an internationally acceptable level for “peaceful” uses nor does it concede to reporting of information on exports of source-materials to NNWS which fall under 10 tons p/a (uranium) and 20 tons p/a (Thorium). What I’m trying to say then, is that India has managed to “agree to disagree” with the Model AP on most aspects. Also, a chronological view of the matter would reveal that “the deal” having come years before India agreeing to negotiate an AP, was not a reward for responsible behavior on India’s part but rather the AP was something of a necessity for the deal to gain some semblance of legitimacy. It is therefore, in my humble opinion, counter-productive to aspire to agree on an AP akin to that of India’s. Not to mention, a bit too optimistic (and a tad opportunistic) to expect a nuclear trade agreement to emerge from it. Pakistan is then perhaps being more responsible by avoiding to agree to an AP that would discredit the IAEA in the way that the Indian AP has, while voluntarily agreeing to certain safe-guards to show resolve and commitment to ensuring nuclear safety and security according to international standards.

  3. Thank you Hamzah.
    Hajira I mentioned the Indian Additional Protocol agreement on purpose, because well there is nothing in them as you’ve highlighted. It was just a poke at all those who think that the Indian AP agreement is as comprehensive as the one applied to let’s say the United States. But I do see how it can easily be interpreted in the way you have. I agree with you that the Indian AP has done damage to the IAEA and the nonproliferation regime overall.

  4. Some fair points Prof. Umar

    But I would argue that deterrence worked without deployed tactical nuclear weapons during crises in 1999, 2001-02 and 2008 because clear red lines were credibly conveyed. I think Robert Jervis’s masterful work “The Meaning of the Nuclear revolution” still helps us understand why this is the case. Even a limited strategic deterrent—with a secure second strike capability—threatens to deliver unacceptable damage on ones adversary.

    I also think its worth noting that the China appears to have embraced this notion early and consistently, and with much success. China managed to avoid worrying about “gaps” and trying to compete with the US and Soviet Union despite hostilities with both of them. Because they employed a posture of assured retaliation to deter aggression rather than a posture that embraced nuclear warfighting (as two scholars argue here: http://www.ou.edu/uschina/texts/Fravel.Medeiros.2010.IS.Nucs.pdf), they focused less on numbers or size and more on survivability for a secure second strike. And despite numerous territorial disputes (23 distinct ones I believe and three with nuclear powers), it managed to maintain a successful deterrent. Certainly every country’s deterrent requirements are unique but that seems like a useful model that is both effective and cost efficient, allowing China to deter stronger adversaries with a limited arsenal while investing in economic reforms that made it the great power it is today.

  5. Are you guys serious?
    @ M Umar: Do you even realize that Pakistan is not as dependent on indigenous Uranium as India? Pakistan fuels only KANUPP with indigenous Uranium and KANUPP is to be shutdown in 2019.
    @Hajira Asaf: Additional Protocol is not meant at putting an upper limit on Uranium enrichment level. If a facility (uranium enrichment in this case) is under the IAEA safeguards then the Uranium (regardless of its level of enrichment) is going to be safeguarded. So, Pakistan (or the non-proliferationists) does not have to worry about what levels India enrich its uranium to in the safeguarded facilities.

  6. Muhammad:
    A strong rebuttal.
    The focus of media reports, as you say, was how high the Pakistani arsenal might climb if production rates are high and if they continue unabated. Toby and I wrote 20,000 words; the press reports were maybe 600-800 words. Authors can’t choose those words. We are grateful that our hard work has been noticed, which perhaps will prompt readers to study the entirety of our report.
    Best wishes,

  7. Michael: It is honestly a great report. You and Toby have started a new conversation talking about a normal nuclear Pakistan–this is a great first step. Those who read it carefully in Pakistan will appreciate the change in tone in regards to our status as a nuclear power. You’ve successfully highlighted the challenges, perhaps some middle ground can be achieved on these issues.

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