Is Nuclear Disarmament Achievable?

Nuclear disarmament is achievable but highly unlikely given the current global scenario. As long as there are existing conflicts between nuclear-armed states, asymmetry in their conventional capabilities, and most importantly a lack of trust, nuclear weapons will continue to exist, to  proliferate vertically, and to spread horizontally.

The United States and Russia are a classic example of why nuclear disarmament is not currently possible. But for this article, I will examine the relationship between Pakistan and India to justify my argument.

Pakistan and India have gone to war four times since declaring their independence from Great Britain in 1947. Three of the four wars were fought over the Indian occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir; the conflict remains unresolved to this day, and is frequently responsible for heightened tensions between the two countries.

India provoked Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons by testing its first nuclear bomb in 1974, only three years after the 1971 India-Pakistan War that bifurcated East and West Pakistan and created the modern-day state of Bangladesh.

After the loss of East Pakistan and India’s detonation of a nuclear bomb, it was natural for the Pakistanis to fear that India would use its nuclear capability to threaten them and force them to give up their claim on Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan felt therefore forced to pursue its own nuclear weapons program.

When both nations acquired nuclear weapons it created a new security dilemma for Pakistan.

India undoubtedly had a superior conventional force compared to Pakistan. It had more men, more tanks, and more firepower. It became crucial for Pakistan to ensure a balance of military power.

Pakistan was faced with limited options of addressing this asymmetry. It had a weaker economy than India and could not afford to increase the size of its military. And there existed no conventional weapon that could deter India from engaging Pakistan in a limited war. Pakistan feared that it had no way of deterring India from quickly mobilizing its troops into their territory, this fear became a reality when India demonstrated that it was capable of rapid mobilization during the exercise Vijayee Bhava, in which the Indian military was able to mobilize 50,000 troops within 48 hours to Pakistan’s border.

The only option left for Pakistan to address this very real conventional threat, was to develop a battlefield nuclear weapon, sometimes referred to as a non-strategic nuclear weapon, which is exactly what they did. Pakistan introduced the HATF-IX, or NASR Battlefield Range Ballistic Missile (BRBM) to render the Indian conventional forces useless and restore the balance of power.

As India continues to expand its army, air force, and naval capabilities, the threat to Pakistan also continues to grow. There is a clear lack of trust between the two countries, which is fueling their desire for more nuclear capable weapon systems.

This lack of trust prohibits Pakistan from entering into any sort of bilateral agreement with India that would have a tangible impact on reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. In 1992, Pakistan and India signed a bilateral agreement stating that neither country would possess chemical weapons. In 1993 India turned that commitment into a multilateral agreement with 150 nations by signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and they reaffirmed their position in 1996 by ratifying it. But a month after ratifying the CWC, India declared it had a chemical weapons stockpile, which not only came as a shock to Pakistan, but also the rest of the world. This destroyed any faith that Pakistan had in India. Pakistan viewed India’s belated disclosure as not only a violation of an international treaty that it had just ratified, but also of the bilateral agreement signed in 1992.

Understandably, it has become tough for Pakistan to trust India. And without trust, disarmament is not possible.

Sure, nuclear disarmament is achievable, if nuclear-armed states are able to resolve their conflicts. Whether it is the United States and Russia, Pakistan and India, or China and India, resolving their conflicts is the first step to nuclear disarmament. Then there needs to be equal security for all states, asymmetry cannot exist; this is the second most important step towards complete disarmament. Lastly, and most importantly, nuclear-armed states need to be able to trust each other, which is only possible if there is multilateral diplomacy, and a genuine commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Unfortunately, the current global scenario makes achieving nuclear disarmament extremely difficult.

The writer is an assistant professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology (, Islamabad, Pakistan. He tweets @umarwrites.


Image: U.S. Department of State, Flickr

Posted in , Disarmament, History, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan

Muhammad Umar

Muhammad Umar

Muhammad Umar is an assistant professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology (, 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 ( in Islamabad. He tweets @umarwrites, and blogs on He can be reached via email at m.umar[at]s3h[dot]nust[dot]edu[dot]pk.

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8 thoughts on “Is Nuclear Disarmament Achievable?

  1. I disagree! Why do nations need ‘Nuclear Disarmament on first hand?
    And ‘Trust?’ Keeping in mind the history of subcontinent its not needed when the peacekeeping missions are diplomatically achieved by both ends.
    P.S On a lighter note, India would have to suffer more if ever uses its missile on Pak soil. :p (Statistical analysis) So Cheers!! :D

  2. Excellent article. I completely agree with the author on the point that nuclear nations should trust each other and move towards nuclear disarmament, but it doesn’t seem so easy and happening in the current scenario. Also if we talk about India and Pakistan, India has been showing great aggression towards Pakistan which is not helping in improving the ties between the two nations. India needs to realize that such attitude will only provoke pakistan to emhance it’s strike capabilities to counter the Indian threat and there will be no ending to this madness.

  3. Without US leadership, none of this can transpire, and the world will carry on its drift toward nuclear devastation. With US leadership, all of it can happen, and the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is attainable. US leaders need the political will to act boldly, but as of now not a single US Senator has shown leadership on ridding the world of nuclear weapons. In fact, the US Senate has still not even ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a treaty that would prohibit all countries from testing nuclear weapons.

  4. Excellent article, Muhhamad.

    I do want to push back on the point you made about India and the CWC.

    First, although India did ratify the CWC before disclosing the existence of it’s (very small) CW stockpile, they did so before the treaty entered into force. Likewise, it did so before a deadline set by the OPCW to declare CW programs. Other states, like South Korea, did something similar. Therefore, they didn’t violate the letter or spirit of the treaty.

    Second, India eliminated the last of its CW materials by 2009. It cooperated with the OPCW for over a decade to do so, thereby removing a strategic threat to Pakistan’s security. If anything, India’s experience with the CWC should demonstrate to Pakistan that cooperation (multilateral or bilateral) on nonproliferation and disarmament issues makes both countries much safer.

    Finally, if trust were a perquisite for diplomacy, then diplomacy wouldn’t occur. The focus should instead be on interests. Would Pakistan be better off if India had an arsenal of CW or zero CW like it has now? Would Pakistan be better off if India had some nuclear weapons or a lot of nuclear weapons? How about BMD and MIRVs?

    It seems to me that if you wait for trust to be established between India and Pakistan to begin discussing arms control and disarmament, you’ll wait forever. In the meantime, India will produce more fissile material, warheads, etc. and Pakistan will become less secure. How is that in Pakistan’s interest?

  5. Disarmament is the best protection against such dangers, but achieving this goal has been a tremendously difficult challenge. It is harsh reality that the so called global guardian the U.S. itself has violated the NPT and other nonproliferation treaties for achieving national interests. Even the Australia violated the Treaty of Raratonga to provide Uranium to India for nuclear weapons.

  6. Thank for your comment Shane. I wasn’t implying that trust has to be established before India and Pakistan can begin talking. But once they’ve started talking, it is important for them to develop trust before it will be possible for them to engage each other in arms reduction/control agreements.

    I understand your CW point from the perspective of the OPCW, but the fact is that it still doesn’t explain India’s violation of the bi-lateral treaty it signed with Pakistan in 1992. For many Pakistani decision makers it was a hard experience to get over.

    I also agree with your point that it is time that both states improve diplomatic relations for the sake of their people.

  7. Some very strong arguments as to why is nuclear disarmament not achievable now.

    I would differ however in only one notional aspect of the debate here, which is that there is a lack of willingness in Islamabad in negotiating any agreement with India on nuclear or conventional aspects. I have seen it to be quite the opposite. Being conventionally weaker as well as relying too much on its nuclear capability, binding India in an agreement would favour Pakistan much and hence has been the desire to bring India to the negotiating table. However, India, vying for a global status, wishes to tackle with these issues in a multilateral rather than bilateral framework. Moreover, arms control is possible in condition of strategic parity, if Cold War is any guide. Absent such condition and Indian dismissiveness make such prospects bleak. A willing Pakistan has very less leverage to bring India to the table. However, India has to realise that without resolving its bilateral issues with its nuclear armed newborn, with which it has festering disputes, there is no easy way to great power status and membership of great power clubs like the UNSC.

    Shane Mason, the point that Umar raises is important. How do you trust a state that cheated in a bilateral commitment once ? Trust has to be build on transparency and confidence can be built if there is political will. India lied to Pakistan about its chemical weapons programme and signed the agreement, later though it declared it had a sufficent level of stockpile of Chemical weapons while it signed the CWC. A breach of a commitment is a violation of law, be it bilateral or multilateral.

  8. Muhammad,

    It’s great to read you in SAV.

    I accept your basic argument: Nuclear weapon stockpiles reflect security concerns. Security concerns can be inflated, as can nuclear weapon stockpiles. The biggest arsenals can be reduced for this reason, but political tension between Washington and Moscow make this difficult.

    Getting to zero will not be a mechanistic process. How can it be? Let’s assume that global stocks were cut by 50%. Or the stocks in India and Pakistan were cut by 50%. Would security concerns be reduced by 50%, too? I have my doubts.

    Nonetheless, I am a strong proponent of nuclear arms reductions in part because movement toward zero helps strengthen non-proliferation norms. Progress will result from improved relations between states that have nuclear weapons — not from the reductions, per se. In my view, reductions are a reflection of improved political relations, not the driver of improved relations.

    Best wishes,

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