Michael KreponA Normal Nuclear Pakistan

The Stimson Center and the Carnegie Endowment published a 20,000-word essay on Pakistan’s nuclear program and diplomatic ambitions last week. My co-author Toby Dalton and I did not write this assessment to cause harm to Pakistan. We support Pakistan’s quest to be viewed as a normal state that possesses nuclear weapons, and we support Pakistan’s desire to gain entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. We also agree with Pakistan’s view that the entry of new members that possess nuclear weapons ought to be criteria-based. Where we disagree with the Government of Pakistan – as well as the Government of India – is on the criteria to be met by new members.

It’s striking to us how little media coverage there is of the nuclear competition between Pakistan and India, compared to the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran. We pay attention when firing across the DMZ on the Korean peninsula occurs for a day or two – and rightly so. Firing across the Kashmir divide now occurs every week. The trend line is up, which is worrisome.

We pay a great deal of attention about the possibility of Iran accumulating enough weapon-grade fissile material to build a bomb within a year or seven months – ten or fifteen years from now. In contrast, Pakistan has the capacity to manufacture around twenty warheads annually. This number, based on unclassified sources, could be somewhat less or more.

For the last seven years, there have been no concerted, sustained efforts by leaders in India and Pakistan to improve bilateral relations – not since the Lashkar-e-Toiba sent young recruits by boat to kill people in Mumbai. High-level diplomacy is dead in the water. A one-topic agenda for talks – terrorism – is bound to fail, as was evident by the recent disruption of a scheduled meeting between the national security advisers. All of the warning lights on the subcontinent are now blinking yellow. We are one major terror attack by the LeT or a like-minded group away from another nuclear-tinged crisis.

The nuclear competition on the subcontinent is very unusual. Pakistan faces grave economic and social challenges. It is deeply engaged in a military campaign along the Afghan border. And it is out-competing India, a country whose economy is about nine times larger, on several important nuclear weapon-related metrics. Pakistan appears to be producing annually around four times as much fissile material dedicated for weapon purposes as India. Pakistan has four plutonium production reactors in operation; India has one. Another might begin construction in perhaps two years. India appears to be producing around five warheads annually, compared to Pakistan’s 20. After a late start, Pakistan has caught up with India’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, and now appears to have exceeded it.

This differential will grow in the near-term unless New Delhi decides to sacrifice electricity for warheads. Pakistan has, in effect, decided to make this trade-off by investing in four plutonium production reactors instead of power plants. India’s leaders have so far been unwilling to accept this trade-off.

India is nonetheless competing, and competing seriously – albeit far below its capabilities. Like Pakistan, it has flight-tested many new nuclear-weapon-capable delivery vehicles. New Delhi has two big-ticket items – a new class of nuclear-powered submarines and a longer-range missile. Both are geared toward China, although the submarine will initially carry short-range missiles until longer-range ones are available.

India’s leaders might decide to pick up the pace of their end of the competition, but for now, they appear to remain committed to their stated nuclear doctrine of credible, minimum deterrence. We see no evidence that India is engaged in a nuclear arms race. Political leaders of both major parties view nuclear weapons as political, not militarily useful, instruments.

Pakistan’s military leaders view nuclear weapons differently. They take nuclear requirements very seriously, and they think hard about the use of nuclear weapons in the event deterrence fails. Since the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, which opens significant pathways for New Delhi to increase future fissile material production, Rawalpindi has adopted a nuclear posture of “full-spectrum” deterrence, which suggests greater requirements for nuclear weapons, including short-range missiles and perhaps other kinds of tactical nuclear weapons, as well as longer-range systems.

The stewards of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal have told us for many years that they are almost within sight of meeting their nuclear weapon requirements. But they continue to block negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, and they have invested significant sums in plutonium production reactors of recent vintage. Kahuta continues to enrich uranium. We see no evidence, as yet, that Pakistan’s nuclear requirements are tailing off.

Arms competitions feed off of asymmetries, and the asymmetries in the Pakistan-India competition are extremely marked. India has to deal with two nuclear-armed neighbors; Pakistan plans against one. This asymmetry negates nuclear arms control as practiced during the Cold War. India has far greater potential to out-compete Pakistan, especially on fissile material for weapons, which is why Rawalpindi appears to be manufacturing more new warheads than any other country. Pakistan looks at India’s stocks of reactor-grade material, its breeder program, and it’s highly-enriched uranium program for naval nuclear propulsion, and sees bomb-making potential – even as it is out-producing India on fissile material dedicated for weapons by approximately four-to-one.

Pakistan is not now a normal state with nuclear weapons. It’s not normal for a state with a weak economy and pressing domestic needs to produce perhaps 20 warheads annually. Members of NSG, with the exception of China, are unlikely to view Pakistan’s quest for membership favorably under these circumstances. Even Beijing is likely to be unhappy with the pace of Pakistan’s new warhead production, which reportedly outpaces its own. China appears to have stopped producing fissile material dedicated for weapons before joining the NSG.

Toby and I argue that Pakistan will not be able to duplicate India’s path toward nuclear normalcy as it has neither the market nor the geopolitical clout that gained India the NSG’s stamp of approval on a civil-nuclear deal. Only China will sell power reactors to Pakistan on generous, concessionary terms.

To our way of thinking, only nuclear-weapon-related initiatives offer a chance for Pakistan’s quest to gain entry into the nuclear mainstream. We suggest five initiatives for consideration: pulling back from full-spectrum deterrence, especially requirements for short-range systems that raise significant concerns for nuclear safety and security and that can foil a homeland, conventional defense by Pakistan’s Army; reconsidering Pakistan’s veto on FMCT negotiations and fissile material requirements; separating civilian from military nuclear facilities; and signing the CTBT – but not ratifying it – before India. We suggest that a CTBT signature be accompanied by a statement that, in the event India tests, Pakistan would exercise the Treaty’s supreme national interest clause and resume testing, as well.

All of these steps would be extremely hard for Pakistan’s military and political leaders to accept – none more so than a CTBT signature without waiting for India. They would mark a significant departure from Pakistan’s long-standing policies and penchant for transactional bargaining. Pakistan will not, however, gain anything in trade because Pakistan is not amenable to trade: Requirements are set by Rawalpindi; unless Rawalpindi reassesses its requirements, our suggestions will fall on deaf ears. No political leader in Pakistan can make these decisions without the public support of Pakistan’s military leaders.

So why might our suggestions receive a thoughtful hearing? Why might some of them even be adopted over time? Because they would serve Pakistan’s national, social and economic security interests. Because more nuclear weapons do not translate into stronger deterrence. Because they would advance Pakistan’s quest to be viewed as a normal state possessing nuclear weapons. And they would change views of Pakistan, energize its diplomacy, and facilitate Pakistan’s entry into the NSG, while setting the criteria for India’s membership.


  1. Bradley Laing (History)


    The paper dated September 8, 1981 claimed that New Delhi was also concerned about advances made by Pakistan in acquiring a nuclear weapon.

    —Is this old news, or new news?

  2. captainjohann (History)

    The author somehow wants defnaging of India and Pakistan of their nukes which I think will not happen.Foe Pakistan its nukes are a detterence and it thinks it allows it to use terrorism as weapon without facing rretaliation. Most probably this scenario may change.

  3. Lars van Dassen (History)

    Hmmm. This is truely interesting stuff. Good thinking and maybe this could work and create improvements in the South Asian – Chinese deterrence triangulations. And create movement for the rest of the world as well as concerns the CTBT and FMCT.

  4. Johnny Dep (History)

    A welcome discussion. There is no mainstream with two nuclear weapon states having their respective civil nuclear programs – not part of it. The mainstream needs to be mainstreamed. What are the respective incentives then if material needs continue to be met!!

    The paper needs to be slightly adjusted for alarms on Pakistan’s social and economic challenges . Things are actually looking brighter actually. Check latest IMF review or independent analysis on inflation etc

    It is confusing to separate full spectrum and strategic deterrence . I know the idea is to separate counter value and counter force but a deterrence that starts to fail even tactically will quickly fail strategically. Perhaps for Pakistan the gravest crises is not death of the State but the beginning of it and they want to avoid it by avoiding conflict at the first place.

    Adding numbers to your argument has made it weaker. No evidence of Pakistan adding 20 warheads and India 5. Only assumptions that Pakistan is weaponising its fissile material and India is not.

    The article says that Pakistan cannot duplicate India’s path to normalcy but then concludes that following the suggested path Pakistan will set a criteria for India’s entry in NSG….. Hmm what are we saying here !

  5. Bradley Laing (History)

    MUMBAI: In a strange twist of irony, the person who was responsible for stalling India’s plan to bomb Pakistan’s nuclear weapons facilities in 1983 was none other than the father of the Indian nuclear bomb, Raja Ramanna. Ramanna himself had confirmed this to TOI on two occasions in private conversations after his retirement as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1987. He passed away in Mumbai on September 24, 2004


  6. Innocent Kaka (History)

    If we consider the world politics is equal to size of earth then nuclear politics is equal to a two inch hole on this earth, and interestingly, in this hole there are ten feet long and wide frogs are croaking
    “Deterrence, Deterrence, Deterrence”

  7. zero (History)

    Nuke race could be slowed down .If un-discriminated quality education is provided to common people of both nations . They will never support war then. A wave of extremism is found in people and military of both sides how ever politicians’ are damn corrupt and self centered in India as well as Pakistan.

  8. John Hallam (History)

    ‘Normal’ and ‘nuclear’ do not belong together.

  9. Tariq Kirmani (History)

    It is amazing that Mr. Krepon would like Pakistanis to sign CTBT before India does to morally pressure India. India does not care about Pakistan,and for Pakistan to sign CTBT would further put Islamabad in an inferior position. Plus, Mr. Krepon’s reputation in Pakistan is that of a man who is pro-India and whatever he would say would be taken with a giant grain of salt in Islamabad. Mr. Krepon needs to first earn Pakistani peoples’ respect before he asks them to listen to his advice.

  10. Tariq Kirmani (History)

    Suggestion for Mr. Krepon: Mr. Krepon loves to give suggestions to Pakistan as an expert. While I am no expert but as a lay Pakistani, I have a suggestion for him so that Islamabad may listen to him. My humble suggestion to Mr. Krepon is this: Please work on shedding your image of an India-Loving man. You are trying to win over Pakistanis via logic (Logos) but you also need to win their hearts (via Pathos). Mr. Krepon, Mr. Krepon, do you hear me? You got the Ehthos and you got the Logos but you miss Pathos. And Pathos is the most important part of convincing someone – am I wrong ?

  11. Jonah Speaks (History)

    These proposals to help Pakistan enter the nuclear order in some more legitimate capacity are interesting. As a long-run proposition, any proposal to reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons globally must include India and Pakistan. If implemented, these proposals would also reduce the risk of nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

    Pakistan may feel most comfortable implementing these or similar proposals as part of a group effort, in which at least one or two other nations are making concessions as part of a package deal. Nuclear deals involving Pakistan might be most effectively negotiated by a group that includes, at a minimum, the United States, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan.

  12. Tariq Kirmani (History)

    Nuclear weapons can not be eliminated – period. The main reason is simple: USA, Russia, China, France, and England will never give up their weapons. Additional reason is: the USA will never ask Israel to give up its nuclear weapons. So what moral authority do the five established nuclear powers have to ask India and Pakistan to curtail their nuclear weapons? Pakistan is not stupid. She sees what India did to her back in 1971 and believes that India would have not dared to do so if Pakistan had nuclear weapons back then. Pakistan has also seen what major nuclear powers, with impunity, did to Iraq and then to Libya in recent years. Yet, the same nuclear powers did nothing against North Korea because that will put South Korea in nuclear threat. If Mr. Krepon wants Pakistan to listen to his suggestions then he should first ask the established nuclear powers to make Pakistan feel comfortable by accepting Pakistan (including India) as established nuclear power and stay away from any threat of sanctions. If Mr. Krepon is worried about Pakistan’s economic stability then why does he not ask Washington to allow Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline which can reduce Pakistan’s electricity shortage enormously.

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      Nuclear arms control is not about morality, unilateral disarmament, or even global zero. Arms control is about negotiating agreements of mutual benefit to two or more countries for the purpose of a) reducing the likelihood of nuclear war, b) reducing the size of catastrophe if nuclear war does occur, and c) reducing the level of nuclear expense, in roughly that order of importance.

      Pakistan and India have a strong mutual interest in achieving all three of these outcomes. Nevertheless, for some strange reason they are barely willing to talk to each other. Perhaps Pakistan and India would be willing to talk to each other as part of nuclear negotiations in the presence of third parties. That is my suggestion.

  13. Magpie (History)

    I always enjoy the India-Pakistan posts! Especially the comments…

    Folks, the problem is as much for Pakistan as anyone else. Their rate of production of weapons could well spark a lengthy arms race with India. This would not be to Pakistan’s benefit. It’s a bad plan economically: India is far more capable of paying for such a race than is Pakistan. And it’s a bad plan from a security point of view: the more nuclear weapons in the region, the greater the chance of accident or misuse. This is especially the case for short-range systems.

    If Pakistan’s weapon production continues at this pace, the arms race could well expand beyond just India. It does not help Pakistan to see a world with more nuclear weapons. They will have bought, at great expense to themselves, a more dangerous world.

    It’s up to Pakistan’s leadership, of course, to decide what they consider to be an optimal number, that’s not in doubt. But headlong production of large numbers cannot possibly end well for Pakistan. It’s far less risky for them to simply choose a level that will provide sufficient protection, announce their intentions, and act to assure everyone else, and especially India, that their actions will not justify an arms race.

    Pakistan’s end result will be exactly the same in either case – they will have what they judge to be an effective nuclear deterrent – but the more open path is the less risky one. Why not take it?

    If, tomorrow, India decides it’ll need to vastly expand its weapons program to keep up with Pakistan’s, the region will essentially be locked into an arms race that will leave both countries poorer, and the region a far more dangerous pace. The day that tipping point comes, it’ll probably be too late to avoid it. Pakistan will respond in kind, India will ramp up their efforts, and even China might get involved. That’s bad for *everyone*, including Pakistan.

    *Especially* Pakistan…

  14. Tariq Kirmani (History)

    True that Pakistan and India need to talk to each other to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. To some extent they already do that by providing a list of nuclear facilities of each country to each other on a yearly basis. However the problem lies in the fact that West loves India and barely tolerates Pakistan. Islamabad knows this fact very well. Just visit any medium size American city, you will probably see an Indian restaurant, grocery stores’ Asian food isle full of Indian named foods like Tikka Masla, many Americans going to Yoga classes, many wants to go to India to see Taj Mahal, and many inspired by Buddhism. India got the exotic foods, Taj, Buddah, tigers, and elephants. What does Pakistan has to offer – nothing nada! To add fuel to the fire, now the West and India have been trying to associate Pakistan with terrorism. This skewed view of Pakistan just makes Pakistanis not very fan of listening to any overbearing suggestion to “do more” including the suggestion of “talking with India on nuclear
    issues” while the West showers India with praise and Pakistan with the mantra of “do more”. On the other hand, Pakistanis may listen to China.

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      It is not a Western-Indian conspiracy that associates Pakistan with terrorism, it is Pakistan’s own behavior. In past decades, the Pakistani state has actively supported terrorism. In current decades, the Pakistani state has been sluggish in prosecuting terrorists. What responsibility has Pakistan taken to prosecute the Mumbai terrorists? How did Pakistan handle U.S. terrorist enemy number one – Osama bin Laden? If Pakistan chooses to improve its behavior, people will surely speak more kindly of Pakistan.

    • krepon (History)

      How can you measure whether Pakistan is deserving of criticism or is getting a bum rap? In the past, the answer was clear. Colusion was undeniable. More recently, the Pakistan Army and Air Force have been carrying out a punishing campaign against some bad actors. But the Haqqanis are in Afghanistan. So Pakistan is blamed for not having more influence on them. Then there’s the LeT. They haven’t carried out a big explosion in India for seven years. Does The ISI deserve credit for this? If we believe that there is continued collusion between the ISI and the LeT, then the answer should be ‘yes.’ But no credit will be paid unless and until the Army goes after the LeT, after which the likelihood of a big explosion is greater.

  15. Tariq Kirmani (History)

    Who gave Osama, Taliban, and Jihadis to Pakistan? Saudi money and CIA weapons did. To kick out Russians from Afghanistan on the cheap, CIA got together with ISI and Saudis provided easy money. Then the Jihadis were transported from many countries and brought to Pakistan. Pakistan fought America’s war in Afghanistan and in that process progressed its own nuclear program unhindered. In meanwhile, millions of Afghan refugees burdened Pakistan’s economy. However when the Russians were defeated, America sanctioned Pakistan and left Pakistan with Jihadi culture. After many years, America then turned around and offered millions of dollars to Pakistan only after 9/11. So now that the chickens have come back to roost, it is easy to place the blame on Pakistan. Let us not forget, the turban clad Taliban Jihadis were invited in the White House under the name of visiting freedom fighters. Many congressmen supported Jihadis. Does the name of US Congressman Charlie Wilson ring a bell? Although a comic movie, people should just watch “Charlie Wilson’s War” starring Tom Hanks & Julia Roberts to get an idea how America impregnated Jihadi culture in Pakistan. The Jihadi culture has been left at the door of Islamabad for Pakistanis to deal with it alone. One can go ahead and unkindly blame Pakistan for Osama and Jihadis but it would make no sense to Pakistan unless the blame is humbly shared by America and Saudis too. The strategy of keep blaming and treating Pakistan with unkind words will not work; in fact, with that strategy in operation, I guarantee you Islamabad will not follow your suggestions! Regards, TK

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      “America’s war in Afghanistan,” but not Pakistan’s war too? Soviet troops in a socialist Afghanistan would seem to be a more direct threat to Pakistan than to the U.S. So far as I am aware, the Pakistanis saw it that way too. So what is the complaint here – that the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and others helped Pakistan fight a war in Afghanistan?

      “America impregnated Jihadi culture in Pakistan” – Seriously? The U.S. is maybe 1% Muslim, and 95% of those Muslims are moderates. Why would the U.S. even dream of doing such a thing?

      The problem comes about when Pakistan chose to nurture those Jihadis, turn them against India, and coddle them and protect them even when they murder the innocent. This tends to stir feelings of outrage in countries whose citizens are killed by murderers. Do their words of outrage hurt your feelings? Then bestir yourself to see that those murderers are hunted down and severely punished!

  16. Bradley Laing (History)


    The U.S. Air Force is upgrading two of its European bases to better secure nuclear weapons stored there, according to a watchdog group.
    Commercial satellite imagery shows the work underway at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and Aviano Air Base in Italy, according to a report Thursday from the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., which opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons

    Read more: http://defensetech.org/2015/09/10/us-upgrades-nuclear-weapon-sites-in-europe-report/#ixzz3lOner4Ir

  17. Tariq Kirmani (History)


    Mr. Krepon: Please see above link of an Indian news website which says India may have nuclear material to make up to 2000 nuclear bombs. If there is a half truth in that news, why should Pakistan listen to your suggestions? Any comments please? Regards, TK

    • krepon (History)

      I’d say there’s at least five per cent truth in this.

    • Magpie (History)

      The article itself admits that, yes, about 5% of the plutonium is weapons grade. Since making weapons from reactor grade plutonium is incredibly difficult – and India has never tested a device that did it- then the *article you quoted* backs up The Krepon’s 5% figure.

      You can’t just divide the amount of reactor grade plutonium by 8kg and get a number of potential bombs. That’s just silly.

  18. Bradley Laing (History)

    After a tumultuous 2014 that saw accusations of misconduct by missileers, new Global Strike Command leader Gen. Robin Rand says his airmen are looking ahead…


    Rand said Global Strike initiatives include replacing support equipment in Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch control centers, and looking for replacements for two support vehicle systems that carry missiles from bases to launch facilities.

    In October, the command will take responsibility for a group of B-1 bombers from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas and Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota as part of a Pentagon effort to consolidate nuclear operations. And Global Strike will start overseeing the 377th Air Base Wing out of Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and its Underground Munitions Storage Complex, the world’s largest underground storage facility for nuclear weapons