Pakistan is at it again. While the country continues to be in the grip of a chaotic fight with the Taliban, military planners and strategists in Islamabad are quietly increasing the size of the nuclear arsenal.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
In briefings to the US Congress, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen confirmed that the country was adding more weapons to its nuclear stockpile. Most of the new nuclear material is enriched uranium. But once Pakistan finishes the construction of new nuclear reactors, it will be in a position to produce plutonium, another source to build nuclear weapons.
Predictably, India is concerned. Soon after he was sworn in, minister of state for defence M.M. Pallam Raju said Pakistan was crossing the minimum nuclear deterrent threshold. The minister wanted the international community to exert pressure on Islamabad to cap its nuclear weapons programme.
That pressure is unlikely and, in any case, will have little or no effect. Since the advent of the Barack Obama administration, Pakistan has been greatly emboldened. Free flow of monetary aid is likely. The “tilt” (to use an expression from the age of Richard Nixon) in Pakistan’s favour has been restored. Finally, the policy confusion in the Obama administration will ensure that Pakistan goes scot-free, even for the most egregious nuclear violations.
There is speculation as to why the country is expanding its nuclear arsenal. Most of the reasons ascribed for this behaviour are likely to be excuses for Pakistan, and no more. For example, it has been argued that Obama’s renewed push for a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) has forced Pakistan to ramp up its nuclear material production. This is no argument at all. FMCT is, at this stage, a dream. To build a consensus on it is not only difficult (despite a United Nations general assembly resolution in its favour), but is likely to be blocked by countries such as Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. Without their support, an FMCT will not work.
If there is a reasonable explanation at all, it is likely to be found in the paranoia of Pakistan’s rulers. They see a big nuclear weapons cache as the ultimate source of security against India. There is no need to argue that this is not the case: The country faces other lethal threats, such as the Taliban.
India should not fall into the trap of matching Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile. The country has sufficient deterrent capability, and should instead focus on strengthening its nuclear command, control and communication systems.
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