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HOME > BOOKS > Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Reining in the Risk      

Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Reining in the Risk
Published on: Apr 2010

With any attempt to assess security threats, there is a natural tendency to focus first on the worst. Consider the most recent appraisals of Pakistan’s nuclear program. Normally, the risk of war between Pakistan and India, and possible nuclear escalation, would be bad enough. Now, however, most American security experts are riveted on the frightening possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons capabilities falling into the hands of terrorists who are intent on attacking the United States. Presented with the horrific implications of such an attack, the American public and media have increasingly come to view nearly all Pakistani security issues through this lens. NPEC reassesses the latest reports on the threat of Pakistani nuclear terrorism in its new book: Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Reining in the Risk, which was introduced at a joint event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and NPEC, "The Other Nuclear Threat: Avoiding War in South Asia."

Published by:

The Strategic Studies Institute Publications Office, United States Army War College

Edited by NPEC executive director Henry Sokolski - 2010

Download the Complete Edition.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Pakistan’s Nuclear Plans: What’s Worrisome, What’s Avertable?
By Henry Sokolski

1. The Indo-Pakistani Nuclear Confrontation: Lessons from the Past, Contingencies for the Future
By Neil Joeck

2. Reducing the Risk of Nuclear War in South Asia
By Feroz Hassan Khan

3. Is Nuclear Power Pakistan’s Best Energy Investment? Assessing Pakistan’s Electricity Situation
By John Stephenson and Peter Tynan

4. Pakistan’s Economy: Its Performance, Present Situation, and Prospects
By Shahid Javed Burki

5. Surviving Economic Meltdown and Promoting Sustainable Economic Development in Pakistan
By S. Akbar Zaidi

6. Pakistan 2020: The Policy Imperatives of Pakistani Demographics
By Craig Cohen

7. Imagining Alternative Ethnic Futures for Pakistan
By Maya Chadda

About The Contributors



Pakistan's Nuclear Plans: What's Worrisome, What's Avertable?

By Henry Sokolski

With any attempt to assess security threats there is a natural tendency to focus first on the worst. Consider the most recent appraisals of Pakistan's nuclear program. Normally, the risk of war between Pakistan and India and possible nuclear escalation would be bad enough. Now, however, most American security experts are riveted on the frightening possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons capabilities falling into the hands of terrorists intent on attacking the U.S. (1)

Presented with the horrific implications of such an attack, the American public and media increasingly have come to view nearly all Pakistani security issues through this lens. Public airing of these fears, in turn, appear now to be influencing terrorist operations in Pakistan. (2)

Unfortunately, a nuclear terrorist act is only one -- and hardly the most probable -- of several frightening security threats Pakistan now faces or poses. We know that traditional acts of terrorism and conventional military crises in South West Asia have nearly escalated into wars and, more recently, even threatened Indian and Pakistani nuclear use.

Certainly, the war jitters that attended the recent terrorist attacks against Mumbai highlighted the nexus between conventional terrorism and war. For several weeks, the key worry in Washington was that India and Pakistan might not be able to avoid war. (3) Similar concerns were raised during the Kargil crisis in 1999 and the Indo-Pakistani conventional military tensions that arose in 2001 and 2002 -- crises that most analysts (including those who contributed to this volume) believe could have escalated into nuclear conflicts.

This book is meant to take as long a look at these threats as possible. Its companion volume, Worries Beyond War, published last year, focused on the challenges of Pakistani nuclear terrorism. (4) These analyses offer a window into what is possible and why Pakistani nuclear terrorism is best seen as a lesser-included threat to war and terrorism more generally.

Could the U.S. do more with Pakistan to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons holdings against possible seizure? It's unclear. News reports indicate that the US has already spent $100 million toward this end. What this money has bought, however, has only been hinted at. We know that permissive action link (PAL) technology that could severely complicate unauthorized use of existing Pakistani weapons (and would require Pakistan to reveal critical weapons design specifics to the U.S. that might conceivably allow the U.S. to "kill"Pakistani weapons remotely) was not shared. Security surveillance cameras and related training, on the other hand, probably were. (5)

Meanwhile, the Pakistani military -- anxious to ward off possible preemptive attacks against its nuclear weapons assets -- remains deeply suspicious of the US or any other foreign power trying to learn more about the number, location, and physical security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons holdings. (6) Conducting secret, bilateral workshops to discuss nuclear force vulnerabilities and how best to manage different terrorist and insider threat scenarios has been proposed. It seems unlikely, however, that the Pakistanis would be willing to share much. (7) Destroying or retrieving Pakistani nuclear assets is another option that might prevent terrorists seizing them in a crisis. But the US would have extreme difficulty succeeding at either mission even assuming the Pakistani government invited U.S. troops in. (8)

What else might help? If policy makers view the lack of specific intelligence on Pakistani nuclear terrorist plots against the U.S. as "cold comfort" and believe that such strikes are imminent -- then, the answer is not much. (9) If, on the other hand, they believe conventional acts of terrorism and war are far more likely than acts of nuclear terrorism, then there is almost too much to do. In the later case, nuclear terrorism would not be a primary, stand alone peril, but, a lesser-included threat -- i.e. , a danger that the Pakistani state could be expected to avert assuming it could stand down the more probable threats of conventional terrorism and war.

What sort of Pakistan would that be? A country that was significantly more prosperous, educated, and far more secure against internal political strife and from external security threats than the current government. How might one bring about such a state? The short answer is by doing more to prevent the worst. Nuclear use may not be the likeliest bad thing that might occur in Pakistan but it is by far the nastiest. Certainly, in the near to mid-term, it is at least as likely as any act of nuclear terrorism. More important, it is more amendable to remediation.

This last point is the focus of this volume's first two chapters. Neil Joeck, now the U.S. National Intelligence Officer for South West Asia, and Feroz Hassan Khan, Pakistan's former director of Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs, examine just how easily conventional wars between India and Pakistan might be ignited and go nuclear.

The first observation both analysts make is that keeping the peace between India and Pakistan is now a serious issue for U.S. security officials. With 55,000 American troops in Afghanistan, Washington can ill afford increased military tensions and nuclear rivalries between Islamabad and Mumbai to deflect or reduce Pakistan's own anti-terror operations along Afghanistan's southern border.

More worrisome is their second shared assessment: India and Pakistan have developed military doctrines that increase the prospects of nuclear use. Although India has pledged not to use nuclear weapons first, it has increased its readiness to launch shallow "Cold Start" conventional military strikes against Pakistan calibrated to deter Pakistani military or terrorist incursions. Meanwhile, Pakistani military planners insist that Pakistan will use nuclear weapons immediately if India attacks Pakistan's nuclear forces, conventional forces and territory, or if it "strangles"Pakistan's economy.

Unfortunately, each of these countries' plans to deter war are too prone to fail. Precisely how does India intend to attack Pakistani territory either in a "shallow" or "temporary" fashion without tripping Pakistan's nuclear trip wires? U.S. interventions following terrorist acts that the Indian public has accused Pakistan's intelligence service of having backed, kept India from attacking Pakistan but will such U.S. interventions work in the future? Indian military planners claim that they want to be able to punish Pakistan for any future perceived provocations well before any U.S. intervention has a chance to succeed.

Given India's interest in pushing up its schedule of conventional military retribution, will Pakistan decide to move up its own nuclear deployment efforts to persuade New Delhi that it is serious about its nuclear first use doctrine? How can Islamabad adjust its nuclear force deployments "forward" to be credibly on the ready without also increasing the odds of unauthorized use or military miscalculation?

Then, there is the larger problem of nuclear rivalry. India claims the size and quality of its nuclear forces are driven by what China has; Pakistan, in turn, claims that the size and quality of its nuclear are driven by what India has. As one enlarges its forces, so must the other.

In an attempt to disrupt an action-reaction nuclear arms race while still ambling ahead, Mumbai recently persuaded the U.S. and other leading nuclear supplier states to allow India to expand its civilian nuclear and space launch sectors with imported foreign technologies and nuclear fuel. India's hope here is not to ramp up its domestic rocket and reactor production directly so much as to upgrade these programs and free up and supplement its own domestic missile technology and nuclear fuel production efforts with "peaceful" foreign assistance. (10)

Although subtle, this approach has failed to calm tensions with Pakistan. Instead Islamabad has used U.S. and foreign nuclear and space cooperation with India as an argument for enlarging its own nuclear arsenal. Thus, in 2007, Pakistan's National Command Authority warned that if the U.S. - India nuclear deal altered the nuclear balance, the command would have to reevaluate Pakistan's commitment to minimum deterrence and review its nuclear force requirements. Reports then leaked out that Islamabad had begun construction of a new plutonium production reactor and a new reprocessing plant. Shortly thereafter, Pakistan announced plans to expand its own civilian nuclear power sector roughly 20-fold by the year 2030 to 8.8 gigawatts generating capacity. The idea here is to expand Pakistan's ability to make nuclear electricity that would also afford it a larger nuclear weapons making mobilization base it could use if India ramps up its own nuclear weapons making efforts. (11)

This brings us to this volume's third chapter by Peter Tynan and John Stephenson of Dalberg Global Development Advisors. Just how sensible is expanding Pakistan's civilian nuclear sector economically over the next two decades? The short answer is not very. As Tynan and Stephenson explain in their analysis, "Even under Pakistan's most ambitious growth plans, nuclear energy will continue to contribute a marginal amount [3 to 6 percent] of electricity to meet the country's economic goals." More important, building the number of large reactors that this level of expansion would require in Pakistan would be extremely difficult to pull off. Expansion of alternative energy sources, decentralized micro hydro, increased energy efficiency, coal, natural gas, they conclude, would be far less risky.

In fact, they conclude that Pakistan could save considerable money over the next two decades and achieve its energy goals sooner by not building more nuclear power plants. The political salience of this point is magnified when paired with earlier analyses Tynan and Stephenson did of India's planned nuclear power expansion. In India's case, Dalberg's conclusions were much the same: India could not meet its energy goals even under its most ambitious nuclear expansion plans and there were a number of cheaper, quicker alternatives that make near and mid-term investment in nuclear expansion a bad buy. (12) Bottom line: Both in the Pakistani and Indian cases, expanding nuclear power only makes sense if one is willing to lose money or is eager to make many more bombs.

Judging from the state of its current finances, Pakistan can ill afford to do either. This much is clear from the economic analyses of Shavid Javed Burki and S. Akbar Zaidi presented in chapters five and six. Pakistan, Burki writes, faces a "grim economic situation":

There is likely to be a sharp reduction in the rate of economic growth, an unprecedented increase in rate of inflation, a significant increase in the incidence of poverty, a widening in the already large regional income gap, and increases to unsustainable levels of the fiscal and balance of payments gaps.

Moving the nation away from foreign charity funding toward an economic growth agenda will not be easy. Certainly, all unnecessary public spending, excessive military support and consumer subsidies (e.g. , for energy) must be cut. Pakistan, moreover, must assume a significant portion of the backend financing of its own planned growth. Investments in education and the agricultural sector must be increased substantially. Taxes will have to be increased without increasing the poverty rate or the already significant economic disparities between Pakistan's key regions.

None of this can come without political pains. In specific, they will require political reforms that cannot simply be made top down from Islamabad, but will require a decentralization of powers to the localities. The good news is that some of this change may be pushed by modernizing trends, which both Burki and Zaidi note, are already under way. These include the urbanization of Pakistan, the dramatic growth in electronic communications (e.g. , cell phone use has increased ten-fold to roughly 50 percent of the population in the last five years, the number of private TV stations from one to more than 30) , and the emerging domination of higher education by women (perhaps by a factor now as high as four-to-one) and their entry into Pakistan's workforce.

In addition to these generally positive trends, there is increased investment in Pakistan and remittances from the oil-rich Persian Gulf, increasing trade with India (now Pakistan's seventh largest source of imports) , and the prospect of a "demographic dividend, " which Craig Cohen details in chapter six. This demographic dividend, which will afford Pakistan a large labor supply relative to its young and old, Craig predicts, will continue to grow through the year 2050. This, he argues, has the potential to power significant economic growth "because the dependency burden is low", increasing savings and "allowing development of human capital."

All of this should help stabilize Pakistan's economy and society. None of these trends, however, can possibly help if the government cannot reduce inflation (pegged at 28 percent in the first quarter of 2009) , educate and feed its population, power its businesses and homes, and attend to its growing (and potentially violent) adolescent population. Achieving these objectives, in turn, requires political stability, domestic security, and increased domestic and foreign trade and investment.

It's unclear if this requisite stability will finally be achieved. What is clear, though, is that any successful attempt will only be possible if Pakistan and its friends focus less in the near term on direct forms of democratization and more on ethnic reconciliation and regional accommodation. Maya Chadda details how one might go about this in chapter seven. A key recommendation she makes is that those assisting Pakistan -- principally the U.S. -- distinguish between violence that this driven by ethnic differences and that which is driven by Islamist terrorist organizations.

The U.S. , professor Chadda argues, should do more to help Pakistan integrate its ethnic groups while letting Pakistan and its military take the lead in fighting Islamic fundamentalism. What this would require, in turn, is an understanding of the key ethnic groups -- the Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Balochis and others -- and establishing metrics for safeguarding these groups' rights. Reforming Pakistan's federal model toward this end would not entail the promotion of direct, liberal democracy, but it would create the key building blocks necessary to create such a system. More important, it would give the key religious and ethnic groups the power and the interest needed to shape Pakistan's economic and social order and to keep them vested in Pakistan's future.

What, then, should the U.S. do? With regard to Pakistan reformulating its federal model, the U.S. might help to focus and condition economic assistance and freer access to U.S. markets to Pakistan to Islamabad fostering greater equality among Pakistan's key regions and ethnic and religious groups. One suggestion that this book's authors discussed was giving each of Pakistan's provinces greater power to promote trade directly with India and focusing foreign investment to expand such commerce. The aim here would be to moderate Indian-Pakistani relations by bolstering Pakistan's growing middle class. Pakistan, however, must take the first steps: If Islamabad does not want to reformulate its federal model to accommodate its various regions and ethnic and religious groups, Washington is in no position to help.

As for U.S. assistance to the Pakistani military, the key here is to do no harm. It is now fashionable in Washington to argue that U.S. policies toward India and Pakistan should be de-hyphenated. Yet, one sure fire way to increase Pakistani distrust of the U.S. and to increase its anxieties regarding India's military ambitions is for the U.S. to favor India's military modernization. If the U.S. wants to reduce the number of wars that could escalate into nuclear conflicts, it must make sure U.S. military aid to India and Pakistan does not prompt destabilizing military competitions. Accomplishing this, in turn, will require that the U.S. and other arms exporters to provide these states with something other than mere quantitative "equal treatment."

Consider missile defenses. Because Pakistan has not yet fully renounced first use of nuclear weapons and India will always have conventional superiority over Islamabad, Pakistan would have cause to feel more insecure than it already does even if the U.S. or others gave equal levels of missile defense capabilities to both sides. In this case, India would could diminish Pakistani nuclear missile threats and feel more confident about launching massive conventional military operations against Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan would have far more to fear than to gain if the U.S. offers India and Pakistan equal amounts of advanced conventional capabilities since these might conceivably enable New Delhi to execute a humiliating "Cold Start" conventional strike against Pakistan's much smaller military or conceivably knockout Islamabad's limited nuclear forces without using Indian nuclear weapons. How the U.S. and others go about enhancing each of these states' offensive and defensive military capabilities, in short, matters at least as much as the actual quantity of goods transferred. (13)

While the U.S. should do all it can to discourage India from putting its conventional forces on alert against Pakistan, it also makes sense for Washington to make sure Pakistan's military and intelligence services stay focused against Islamist terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan. Here, it would be helpful to get India to reassure Pakistan that New Delhi is not supporting unrest in Baluchistan and other areas in or bordering Pakistan. Yet another confidence building measure that India should be encouraged to embrace is to invite the Pakistani military to all major Indian military exercises and to get Islamabad to reciprocate as part of a mutual military exchange. Finally, India and Pakistan should begin negotiations to would pull back forces identified to be offensive or threatening to agree lines. Low, no, medium and high-force zones could, then, be discussed. Here, NATO conventional force reduction (CFE) treaty expertise (including from Turkey) might be usefully tapped.

Making progress on any of these non-nuclear recommendations would help foster progress on the nuclear front. Here, the U.S. has a role to play in the implementation of the U.S. -India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement finalized in 2006. India may not be bound by the NPT, but the U.S. , Russia, China, and France -- all NPT nuclear weapons states -- are. Under Article I of the NPT, weapons state members cannot help any state acquire nuclear weapons directly or indirectly that did not already have them in 1967.

India no longer has any stockpiled uranium reserves. Shortly before the nuclear cooperative agreement was finalized with the US, India was running its power reactors at a fraction of their capacity. That is one the key reasons why India was so eager to get the U.S. to allow foreign uranium exports to India under the nuclear cooperative agreement. If India now imports a significant amount of nuclear fuel for its civilian power reactors, makes more nuclear weapons than it did before the deal, and does not increase its domestic production of uranium, it would necessarily be using the civilian imports of nuclear fuel to increase the amount of domestic urarnium it could use to make bombs. This would implicate nuclear weapons states that might supply such fuel to India -- e.g. , Russia, France, China, and the U.S. -- in violating Article I of the NPT.

Under U.S. law, the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peace Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 prohibits the U.S. requires the U.S. executive to report annually on India's uranium consumption and supply to make sure that the U.S. is not implicated in any such a violation. The idea behind the reporting requirement was to implement the U.S. -Indian deal a manner that would threaten continued U.S. nuclear assistance to India's civilian program should India use U.S. nuclear fuel imports to help it make more nuclear weapons per year than it was making prior to the deal. Promoting this approach with China, Russia, and France would clearly be useful: It could help restrain India's nuclear weapons materials production efforts and help the U.S. and the other NPT nuclear weapons states persuade Pakistan to do the same.

Ultimately, however, nuclear restraint by India and Pakistan is unsustainable without China doing more to restrain its nuclear weapons programs and exports. President Obama obliquely referred to this in his April 5, 2009 arms control address in Prague. After the U.S. and Russia agree to significant cuts in their nuclear weapons arsenals, he noted, "we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor." For Pakistan's sake and that of South West Asia and the rest of the world, this endeavor should start as soon as possible.

One way to begin might be to encourage China to announce publicly what it claims privately to have already done -- cease making additional fissionable materials for nuclear weapons. The U.K. , France, Russia, and the U.S. already have make public statements to this effect and have made it clear that they have ceased this production as a matter of policy. If China were to follow, additional pressure might be placed on both India and Pakistan to do likewise. Certainly, it would be far preferable to attempt to "balance" the nuclear weapons efforts of Pakistan and India this way than by relying solely on the calibration of supplies to Pakistan and India of "peaceful" nuclear reactors, nuclear fuels, missile technology and conventional military goods.

Of course, none of these steps will be easy. Each will take considerable time and effort. On the other hand, the reform agenda laid out here is far more tractable and concrete than anything flowing from concerns that Pakistani nuclear assets might fall into the wrong hands. Here, the specific options analysts propose are so extreme, they crowd out what's practicable. Rather than distract our policy leaders from taking the steps needed to reduce the threats of nuclear war, we would do well to view our worst terrorist nightmares for what they are: Subordinate threats that will be limited best if the risks of nuclear war are themselves are reduced and contained.

1. See, e.g. , Bruce Riedel, "Armageddon in Islamabad, "National Interest, June/July, available at http: //; David Sanger, "Obama's Worst Pakistan Nightmare, "January 8, 2009, The New York Times, available at http: //; Evelyn N. Farkas, "Pakistan and Nuclear Proliferation, "The Boston Globe, March 5, 2009; Paul McGeough, "West Warned on Nuclear Terrorist Threat from Pakistan, "The Age, April 12, 2009, available at http: //;The Editors, "Pakistan Nuclear Scenarios: U.S. Nuclear Solutions, "May 5, 2009, The New York Times, available at http: //; Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Niktin, "Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues, "Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, RL.34248, May 15, 2009, available at http: //; and John R. Schmidt, "Will Pakistan Come Undone? "Survival June-July 2009, p. 51.

2. See, e.g. , Salman Masood, "Attack in Pakistani Garrison City Raises Anxiety About Safety of Nuclear Labs and Staff, "The New York Times, July 4, 2009, available at http: //
For a more detailed analysis of the connection between media emphasis on certain terrorist threats and terrorist operations, see Brian Jenkins, Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? ( New York: Prometheus, 2008) . There also have been addtiional reports of other Taliban raids against Pakistani nuclear weapons-related sites whose veracity the Pakistani government has officially denied. See, Reuters "Article Points to Risk of Seizure of Pakistani Nuclear Materials, "August 12, 2009 available at
http: // and Global Security News Wire, "Pakistan Rejects Report of Attacks on Nuclear Sites, "
Aug. 12, 2009 avialable at
http: //

3. See, e.g. , Helene Cooper, "South Asia's Deadly Dominos, "The New York Times, December 6, 2008, available at http: //

4. See, Abdul Mannan, "Preventing Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Sabotage of a Spent Fuel Cask or a Commercial Irradiation Source in Transport"; Chaim Braun, "Secuirty Issues Related to Pakistan's Future Nuclear Power Program, "and Thomas Donnelly, "Bad Options: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Live with Loose Nukes, "all in Henry Sokolski, editor, Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, January 2008) , pp. 221-368.

5. See Mark Thompson, "Does Pakistan's Taliban Surge Raise a Nuclear Threat? " TIME, April 24, 2009,,8599,1893685,00.html and David E. Sanger, "Strife in Pakistan Raises U.S. Doubts Over Nuclear Arms, "The New York Times, May 4, 2009 available at http: // _r=1&pagewanted=print.

6. See David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "U.S. Secretly Aid Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms, "The New York Times, November 18, 2007, available at http: //

7. See, e.g. , Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, "Nuclear Security in Pakistan: Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Terrorism, "Arms Control Today, June/July, available at http: //

8. Although the US has contingency plans to dispatch American troops to protect or remove any weapons at imminent risk of being seized by terrorists the practicality of such a mission is extremely low. C.f. R Jeffery Smith and Joby Warrick, "Nuclear Aims by Pakistan, India Prompt U.S. Concern, "The Washington Post, May 20, 2009, available at http: //
and Thomas A. Donnelly, "Bad Options"in Pakistan's Nuclear Future, pp. 347-68, available at

9. See, e.g. , James Jay Carafano, "Worst-Case Scenario: Dealing with WMD Must Be Part of Providing for Common Defense"Heritage Foundation Special Report, # 60, June 29, 2009, available at http: //

10. See Zia Mian, A. H. Nayyar, R. Rajaraman and M. V. Ramana, "Fissile  Materials in South Asia and the Implications of the U.S. -India Nuclear Deal" in Sokolski, editor, Pakistan's Nuclear Future, pp. 167 - 218, available at and Richard Speier, "U.S. Satellite Space Launch Cooperation and India's Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program," pp. 187-214 in Henry D. Sokolski, editor, Gauging U.S. -Indian Strategic Cooperation (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, 2007) , available at

11. Private interviews with senior Pakistani national security officials.

12. Peter Tynan and John Stephenson, "Will the U.S. -India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative Light India? "in Gauging U.S. -Indian Strategic Cooperation) , pp. 51-70, available at

13. On these points, see Peter Lavoy, "Islamabad's Nuclear Posture: Its Premises and Implementation," in Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Worries beyond War, pp. 129-66.

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