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Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan

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The development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan could be a threat to superpowers.

  • Nuclear arms = nuclear weapons

  • Warhead = the explosive head of a missile or similar weapon.

  • Military stockpile = active and inactive warheads owned by the military for use.

  • Reserve or non-deployed warheads = warheads not deployed, in storage.

  • Tactile missiles are short-range, and strategic missiles are termed long-range.

How many nuclear weapons does Pakistan have?

Pakistan has a stockpile of approximately 160 warheads in 2021 (1), making it the sixth largest nuclear arsenal. Pakistan is actively developing nuclear weapons, but it is difficult to estimate current and future numbers, as the Pakistani government has not disclosed any information about current production capacities. Pakistan may also have tactile weapons, but these are not subject to any treaty limits.

Furthermore, Pakistan has the components for producing further warheads:

  • Stockpiles of highly enriched uranium to produce more warheads. The Khan Research laboratories at the Khushab facility can increase uranium production.

  • Stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium. The Chashma reprocessing plant is capable of expanding Pakistan’s plutonium production.

Despite owning a nuclear arsenal, Pakistan is not part of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CNTBT). It is also the only country to block the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. These treaties are designed to reduce the global accumulation of nuclear weapons.

What is the range of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons?

Pakistan could be developing a ‘full spectrum deterrence posture’ which includes strategic missiles to be used with aircraft and tactile missiles to counter defend the areas not covered by strategic missiles.

Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan Missiles on display StudySmarterPakistani missiles on display. Image: SyedNaqvi90 CC BY-SA 3.0

Why does Pakistan have nuclear weapons?

India and Pakistan are neighbouring countries that have the potential for tensions due to differing political and religious stances. Shortly after India’s nuclear tests in 1974, Pakistan conducted tests and declared itself a nuclear weapon state by 1998 (2). The Prime Minister at the time, Nawaz Sharif, stated that this was only to act as a credible minimum deterrence against India.

It is estimated that in 2021, Pakistan has 165 non-deployed military stockpiles, whereas India has 160 (3).

How did Pakistan get nuclear weapons?

The first plutonium production reactor was commissioned at Khushab. Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, a famous Pakistani nuclear scientist, is credited with helping Pakistan to develop a uranium enrichment program following his return from the Netherlands as a metallurgical engineer. He is widely regarded as the founder of gas-centrifuge enrichment technology for Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent program. China initially provided Pakistan with various levels of assistance from equipment to technical advice in the late 1970s. Some people thought that Dr Khan transferred nuclear knowledge to Iran, North Korea, and Libya (4), but this was ruled to be false under the High Court in 2009 (5). The Khan Network closed down in 2004.

What is Pakistan’s official stance on nuclear weapons?

In 2002, President Pervez Musharraf stated that ‘nuclear weapons are aimed solely at India’, only for deployment if ‘the very existence of Pakistan as a state’ was threatened (6). However, no formally declared nuclear doctrine describes conditions that might push Pakistan to use its weapons.

Of the world’s eight declared nuclear-weapons states, only China and India have an unambiguous no first use nuclear weapons policy. This is a commitment only to use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack and never in retaliation for one using conventional weapons. Such a policy also includes comprehensive protocols in which activating nuclear weapons would only ever be a last resort.

What agreements are in place for Pakistan’s nuclear arms?

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CNTBT) is a negotiation between the United States and other like-minded countries in an attempt to prevent further development of nuclear ranks. The Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) is the earlier version of the CNTBT. India, Israel and Pakistan have never signed the NPT, and all possess arms.

Pakistan has suggested that they will not partake in nuclear disarmament unless India gives up its own arsenal. Furthermore, even if India does give up their arsenal, there are doubts that Pakistan will consent given the comparison of India’s military compared to Pakistan. This is suggested in official Pakistani statements from 2009 to 2010, saying that Pakistan would not necessarily follow suit if India signed the Treaty.

China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation agreement

  • More recently, China has helped the construction of nuclear reactors in Chashma. The United States said that China had violated its commitments as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to do so.

  • Despite having a similar agreement for US-India nuclear cooperation, the United States is very critical of any Chinese actions.

Pakistan Personnel reliability program

Taliban-linked groups have successfully attacked tightly-guarded government and military targets in the country. Pakistan has since increased security, as can be seen from satellite images of Chashma. The United States has provided various levels of assistance to Pakistan to strengthen the security of its nuclear program to prevent radicalised individuals from infiltration of the program.

The single biggest threat to US security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Barack Obama(7)

What is the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons?

The Pakistan Personnel reliability program spotlights the vulnerabilities of Pakistan’s geography and politics (8). The elongated shape of Pakistan is surrounded by heavily nuclear-armed neighbours of Russia, China, and India. Pakistan’s western provinces consist of volatile territories because of border disputes (the Durand Line with Afghanistan) or internal tribal unrest. The security managers of the state must account for the difficult structural vulnerabilities and external threats, internal volatility, technical requirements, resource availability, and the secrecy requirements of every sensitive site. With support from the United States and other concerned nuclear-armed states, nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban is unlikely.

What other countries have nuclear arms?

A number of countries have nuclear arms. We list some that have recently worried the international community:

  • India and Israel have never signed the NPT.

  • Iraq initiated a secret nuclear program under Saddam Hussein.

  • North Korea withdrew from the NPT and has been testing advanced nuclear devices since. Syria is suspected to be doing something similar.

  • During the Soviet era, Russia and the US agreed on bilateral arms control agreements and initiatives that are still ongoing today but still possess a small number of tactical nuclear warheads.

  • China also has a small number of tactical nuclear warheads and is pursuing new nuclear delivery systems.

Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan World Nuclear Weapons StudySmarterWorld nuclear weapons. A lighter colour = a smaller stockpile. Image: Public Domain.

Pakistan Nuclear Weapons- Key takeaways

  • The Pakistan Nuclear Arms program low-key haunts superpowers as it is the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile while refusing to be part of international nuclear control treaties.

  • The program followed suit from the creation of India’s nuclear programme due to constant geopolitical tensions between the two neighbours.

  • Pakistani presidents have stated previously that nuclear warheads are only a deterrent to India, but this is not formally documented.

  • Furthermore, Pakistan shows little willingness to sign nuclear restriction treaties soon.

  • The wider picture shows Pakistan is working closely with China while the United States is working with India. This could form part of the battle between the larger superpowers.


Sources:

  1. Kristensen and Korda, https://thebulletin.org/premium/2021-09/nuclear-notebook-how-many-nuclear-weapons-does-pakistan-have-in-2021/

  2. Strategic Security Project, https://nuke.fas.org/guide/pakistan/nuke/, 2002

  3. Davenport, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat

  4. Cracil, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009-03/abdul-qadeer-khan-freed-house-arrest

  5. Shah, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/feb/06/nuclear-pakistan-khan

  6. Kalb, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/09/28/the-agonizing-problem-of-pakistans-nukes/

  7. Narang, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40389233

  8. Khan, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009-07/features/nuclear-security-pakistan-separating-myth-reality

Images:Pakistani missiles on display. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32511123

Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan

Pakistan is actively developing nuclear weapons and has stockpiles to counter nuclear weapons in India. Pakistan is not part of any treaties designed to reduce global nuclear weapon accumulation. This includes the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It is also the sole country to block the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

Pakistan is believed to have a stockpile of approximately 160 warheads in 2021.

India began producing nuclear weapons in 1974 and Pakistan in 1998 with support from returning nuclear engineers. Current developments in nuclear weapons are backed by materials and expertise from the United States and China.

Pakistan was believed to have a stockpile of approximately 160 warheads in 2021.

Pakistan finished nuclear testing and was said to have produced a functioning weapon in 1998.

Final Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan Quiz

Question

Why is the Pakistan Nuclear Arms Program a threat to superpowers?

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Answer

Pakistan has a fast growing nuclear stockpile as a result of stockpiling major equipment to produce further warheads.

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Question

How many nuclear weapons are Pakistan said to have in 2021?

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Answer

165 nuclear weapons

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Question

What is the main treaty in preventing further production of nuclear weapons?

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Answer

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

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What nuclear treaty is Pakistan the sole country to block?


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Answer

Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty

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Question

Why did Pakistan start a nuclear weapon programme?


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Answer

India started a nuclear weapons programme

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When did Pakistan start a nuclear weapon programme?


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Answer

1998

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What countries did the Khan Network supposedly provide nuclear advice to?


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Answer

Iran, North Korea, and Libya

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When was the Khan Network officially dismantled?


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Answer

2004

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Question

Which superpowers have helped India and Pakistan with the development of nuclear programmes?


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Answer

China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation and US-India nuclear cooperation.

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Why is the United States worried about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons?


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Answer

Taliban-linked groups have successfully infiltrated the nuclear program in Pakistan.

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Which countries have never signed the Nuclear Weapons Treaty but possess arms?


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Answer

India, Israel and Pakistan have never signed the NPT and all possess arms.

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Is it likely that Pakistan will sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty?


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Answer

It is unlikely that Pakistan will sign, following official Pakistani statements from 2009 to 2010.

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What nuclear arms agreement are the United States and Russia under?


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Answer

Bilateral Arms Control Agreements as a result of the Cold War.

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Question

What are the conditions that will push Pakistan to use its nuclear weapons?


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Answer

There are no formally documented conditions but Pakistan has stated that they are a deterrent to India’s nuclear weapons.

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Question

Which country withdrew from the Nuclear Weapons treaty then started testing nuclear weapons?


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Answer

North Korea

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