The strategy behind Pakistani nuclear development

Today, there are three important strategic beliefs [in Pakistan] regarding nuclear weapons that were largely absent when [Zulfiqar Ali] Bhutto took power in 1971 but have since become dominant in Pakistani strategic thought. First, nuclear weapons are the only guarantee of Pakistan’s national survival in the face of both an inveterately hostile India that cannot be deterred conventionally and unreliable external allies that fail to deliver in extremis. Second, Pakistan’s nuclear program is unfairly singled out for international opposition because of its Muslim population. This feeling of victimization is accentuated by a belief that India consistently “gets away with” violating global nonproliferation norms. Third is the belief that India, Israel, or the United States might use military force to stop Pakistan’s nuclear program. Today, these three beliefs—nuclear necessity for survival, international discrimination against Pakistan, and danger of disarming attacks—form the center of Pakistani strategic thinking about nuclear weapons. Collectively, these convictions have served to reinforce the determination of Pakistan’s military, bureaucratic, and scientific establishment to pay any political, economic, or technical cost to reach their objective of a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Khan, Feroz Hassan. Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb. Stanford University Press; Stanford. 2012. p. 6

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

5 thoughts on “The strategy behind Pakistani nuclear development”

  1. Whether India and Pakistan are reckless enough to come to serious blows would not matter so much if they simply fielded conventional armies. But they are equipped with more than 100 nuclear warheads apiece, along with the missiles to deliver them. Since both countries revealed their nuclear hands in the 1990s, optimists who thought that a “balance of terror” would encourage them to be more moderate have been proved only partially right. Indians complain of being blackmailed: Pakistan knows that the risk of nuclear escalation stops its neighbours from responding more robustly to its provocations. Worryingly, Pakistan also rejects the nuclear doctrine of no first use. Instead, it has moved to deploy less powerful nuclear warheads as battlefield weapons, despite the risk that fallout from their use might harm its own civilians.

    India does espouse a no-first-use nuclear doctrine, but its military planning is said to include a scenario of a massive conventional blitzkrieg aimed at seizing chunks of enemy territory and crushing Pakistan’s offensive capacity before it can respond. India’s arsenal includes the hypersonic Brahmos III, the world’s fastest cruise missile, which can precisely deliver a 300kg payload to any target in Pakistan. An air-launched version could reach Islamabad in two minutes, and Lahore in less than one. And in a grim calculation, India, with four times Pakistan’s territory, sees itself as better able to absorb a nuclear strike.

  2. Why Kim Jong Un wouldn’t be irrational to use a nuclear bomb first

    Yes, Kim is brutally rational. And that is precisely why he may have to use nuclear weapons, but not in a first strike against American cities. Kim’s nuclear arsenal exists to stop his enemies’ quest for regime change. If North Korea and the United States wind up shooting at each other, it might make sense for Kim to use nuclear weapons first in a way that increases his chances of survival. The basic idea is to use one set of nuclear devices to stave off the conventional invasion, and hold in reserve longer range, more powerful devices that threaten the enemy’s cities to deter nuclear annihilation. It’s a doctrine called “asymmetric escalation,” employed by states that are conventionally weak. France articulated it during the Cold War to deter the more powerful Soviet Union, and Pakistan does the same today against a more powerful India.

    The strategy turns on Kim’s main calculation that the United States will say it’s not worth losing a major American city to get rid of him. This would allow him to avoid the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, who did not have nuclear weapons. Deterrence worked uneasily during the Cold War — albeit with close calls and some hair-raising moments — but it worked. Many of the same principles about mutual destruction still obtain today between major powers.

    Yet the equation for North Korea, which cannot ensure mutual destruction, is slightly different. Faced with the prospect of a U.S.-led invasion, Pyongyang’s conventional inferiority requires it to degrade the United States’ ability to sustain the attack against it. This means it essentially has no option but to use nuclear weapons first against targets such as Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, which stations American bombers, and a variety of allied bases in Japan and South Korea. North Korea has to use nuclear weapons there because it does not have enough conventional warheads to damage the bases meaningfully; a conventional response would not slow or stop a U.S. onslaught. It is for these bases that North Korea has tested the medium-range missiles, reportedly developed a compact nuclear fission warhead and honed guidance for the missiles that would carry it.

    Wouldn’t such an attack mean the retaliatory annihilation of North Korea? Not necessarily. This is why the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and the H-bomb are so important. Kim’s survival theory is that North Korea could threaten to destroy an American city with a thermonuclear-tipped ICBM if the United States continued an invasion or retaliated with nuclear weapons. Anytime its cities can be held at risk, the United States’ deterrence equation changes, as it did during the Cold War. Are we willing to risk losing millions of civilians in our homeland? Possibly not. And it’s unlikely that we could reliably destroy all of Kim’s ICBMs on the ground or intercept the warheads in the air, particularly as he builds more. So the prospect of losing San Francisco thanks to our nuclear retaliation may cause us to pause conventional operations and elicit a cease-fire, thereby preserving Kim’s regime and rule. Kim may surmise that if he doesn’t use nuclear weapons first, he is certain to lose; if he does, he may have a fighting chance of surviving.

  3. Obituary: A.Q. Khan was the world’s biggest nuclear proliferator

    The father of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons programme died on October 10th, aged 85

    A country which could not make sewing needles, good bicycles or even durable metalled roads was embarking on one of the latest and most difficult technologies, he recalled. After all, as the prime minister would confide in his prison diary while awaiting execution, if Christians, Jews and Hindus had the bomb, why should the Islamic civilisation not possess full nuclear capability too?

    He had been under surveillance for years when he left the Netherlands in 1975 with stolen blueprints for centrifuges and details of the companies that supplied their components. In the years that followed, having provided Pakistan with nuclear know-how, he set up a dense corporate network to sell this information first to Iran and later to North Korea—which provided missile technology in return—and Libya. He sold a Chinese bomb design to Libya for tens of millions of dollars and offered it to Iraq, too. Where this money went remains unclear, though an investigation by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau found that he owned several houses and had $8m in bank accounts in Pakistan, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. He bought a hotel in west Africa and named it after his wife.

    This black market was the biggest and most advanced network of nuclear proliferation ever built. Its full extent remains unclear to this day. The former metallurgist had travelled to at least 18 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria. The cia, which reportedly had him on a kill list, believed that Osama bin Laden himself had sent envoys to try and arrange a meeting, although these approaches were thought to have been rebuffed.

    In the end it was his dealings with Libya’s dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, that were his undoing. The cia, increasingly worried about the prospect of jihadists getting a nuke, had penetrated a Malaysian factory in his network. When it sent centrifuge parts to Libya in late 2003, spies tracked the shipment as it sailed through the Suez canal and had it diverted to Italy, where the incriminating equipment was impounded. When American investigators got hold of the plans for a nuclear bomb that he had sold to the Libyans, they were in a plastic bag advertising “Good Looks Fabrics and Tailors”, Mr Khan’s tailor in Islamabad. Libya came clean and its nascent nuclear programme was dismantled. In February 2004 he appeared on Pakistani television and admitted to “unauthorised proliferation activities”. It was, he said, an “error of judgment”.

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