An illusory nuclear chase

An illusory nuclear chase

When it comes to nuclear sabre-rattling few, if any, countries have a more enviable record than Pakistan. On Tuesday, its permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva told that body that his country would take appropriate steps in view of the international community supporting India’s nuclear “ambitions".

CD was informed of a decision by its National Command Authority (NCA) that it rejects any effort to undermine its strategic deterrence. NCA is Pakistan’s top strategic policymaking body. What NCA’s decision means in practice is that ever-larger sums of money are likely to be spent on developing more nuclear weapons in a chimerical search for nuclear weapons parity with India. It should not worry: Organizations tracking nuclear weapons, including those in South Asia, have estimated that Islamabad has more of them than India. This does not perturb India. The fact is that a weapon-for-weapon match is a self-defeating policy, one that India does not believe in. Pakistan, however, does and it is evident that its nuclear decision makers have not read the history of such contests during the Cold War and the tragic effects it had on the country that lost that race.

This marks a sad day for Pakistan. Today, the danger to its existence comes not from its eastern borders, but from within. In fact, if anything, this nuclear chase has the potential to devastate Pakistan economically in the long run. The amount of money required for weapons development, their deployment and creating and managing control and command systems is prohibitively large for a stagnant economy. Only countries with vast sums of treasure to spare can possibly afford this. That requires economic growth and some level of societal stability. Both conditions are missing in Pakistan.

In the short run, more weapons will give Islamabad an illusion of security, if not nuclear superiority over India. In the long run, this will certainly erode its security—economic, military and political. This works, however unwittingly, in India’s favour. While it is premature to talk of any strategic instability in Pakistan, the question, however hypothetical, does need to be addressed. India should not be caught napping if that scenario, however improbable it seems now, dawns one day.

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