Some Logic Behind Pakistan’s Nuclear Buildup

One of my favorite blogs, known as The Arms Control Wonk, has an interesting assessment as to why Pakistan is furiously expanding its nuclear arsenal:

Why is Pakistan building so many nuclear weapons and blocking the start of fissile material cutoff negotiations? There are many reasons. One is that Pakistani military officers who establish nuclear requirements read what Indians have to say. …

For example, during the 2001-02 “Twin Peaks” crisis, Defence Minister George Fernandes famously responded to belligerent Pakistani statements this way: “We could take a strike, survive, and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished.” … Bharat Kharnad wrote in Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security (2002) that the problem “is not one of preventing nuclear war, but with believing that Pakistan can annihilate India, which is not possible, even as the reverse is eminently true.” …

[Based on such statements,] the small circle of nuclear decision makers in Pakistan seem to be acquiring the capabilities to destroy India as a functioning society in the event of uncontrolled escalation on the subcontinent. Given the number of major Indian cities, Pakistan’s nuclear requirements could be enlarged based on this criterion alone.

Thus, while Pakistan continues to be somewhat of an enigma – as evidenced by Osama bin Laden living for years right next to the Pakistani equivalent of West Point – some of its seemingly reckless actions can be better understood in light of these incendiary statements emanating from India. There is some resemblance to the Soviet Union’s massive nuclear buildup following the Cuban Missile Crisis. While our numerical superiority conferred no strategic advantage – Kennedy was deterred from taking certain actions for fear that even one American city would be destroyed – a number of our statements and actions gave the perception that we mistakenly believed otherwise.

Incendiary statements in the nuclear age carry an extra dose of risk that all nations should learn to recognize. This applies to my own nation as well, as evidenced by several of my posts on Libya.

Martin Hellman

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About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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