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Pakistan's Nuclear Past as Prologue

Author: Frank G. Klotz, Senior Fellow for Strategic Studies and Arms Control
March 12, 2013


The rivalry between India and Pakistan continues to be cause for serious concern. Since partition in 1947, the two countries have fought one another in three major wars and clashed in a number of more limited military engagements. Disputes over territory and a host of other issues persist. Earlier this year, skirmishes on the "line of control" in Kashmir reportedly left three Pakistani and two Indian soldiers dead. Political leaders in both New Delhi and Islamabad predictably responded with angry rhetoric. It is after all an election year in Pakistan—and campaigning is practically a year-round activity in India's huge federal system.

Because both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed states, the stakes of any armed conflict between the two countries are potentially enormous. Scholars disagree on the extent to which the very existence of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent may have lowered the prospects for all-out war during the past decade or so. Yet, even if nuclear weapons have had a deterrent effect, the potential for interstate violence nevertheless remains—and, with it, the ever-present possibility that some future crisis could escalate out of control regardless of what national leaders might actually intend. The consequences could be horrific not only for the region, but for the entire world.

Both India and Pakistan espouse a policy of "minimum deterrence"—though neither side has precisely defined what this actually means. Today, they each possess a stockpile of roughly one hundred nuclear weapons—with Pakistan having slightly more than its neighbor. While these are relatively modest numbers compared to those of the United States and Russia, the two countries are currently expanding their respective nuclear capabilities beyond their existing nuclear-capable fighter aircraft and medium-range land-based missiles. India is now conducting sea trials for its first indigenously produced nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine (theArihant). Less than a year ago, it also tested a ballistic missile (the Agni V) capable of reaching Beijing. For its part, Pakistan is said to be developing tactical nuclear warheads to mount atop a new, sixty kilometer-range mobile missile, the Nasr. Both sides are also reportedly taking steps to expand their capabilities to produce fissile materials.

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