The then President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, on January 1972 made the momentous decision to develop nuclear weapons that could ensure Pakistan’s territorial integrity and provide security against existential threats that emanated mainly from India. It was decided in a meeting held in Multan. Therefore, Pakistan went for developing nuclear weapons after the prominent and imminent threat posed by India. It was the only decision that led to the stability of the country in particular and the region in general. Let us analyze the role of nuclear weapons in national security and how safe these weapons are from external threats, and also that nuclear Pakistan acts as a stabilizing factor in the regional security environment.
The term ‘national security’ here is a broad concept and its remit goes beyond military power. Other elements of national power, including geography, geostrategic environment, economy, diplomacy, demography, and most importantly, the leadership play equally important roles in strengthening national security interests. No single element of national power can alone guarantee safeguarding of national interests.
Nuclear weapons are a vital part of Pakistan’s military strategy. They have not only helped neutralize the military disadvantage as a result of the increasing conventional disparity vis-à-vis India, but have also prevented several wars in the region. In the first 25 years of its existence, Pakistan fought three full-scale wars with India, which eventually led to its dismemberment in 1971. In the following 40 years since work on the nuclear weapons program started and subsequently when Pakistan acquired nuclear capability, there have been no wars between the two neighbors, except for the 1999 Cargill crisis that does not fall under the category of a conventional war.
Due to the existence of an effective nuclear deterrence, India, despite having a qualitative and quantitative edge in conventional military hardware, was restrained from waging wars in 1985-86 (Brass-tacks), 1990 (Kashmir uprising), 1999 (Cargill conflict), 2001-02 (military stand-off), and 2008 (Mumbai attacks). From the economic perspective as well, the cost of three wars far outweighs the money spent on developing and maintaining nuclear weapons capability.
In this regard, Pakistan’s Nasr is a technology demonstrator that establishes Pakistan’s ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads for other short-range ballistic and cruise missile systems, which would help further stabilize nuclear deterrence and credibility in the region. The long-time head of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), Lieutenant General (retired) Khalid Ahmed Kiwi, called the Nasr force multiplier that, when supplemented by other ballistic and cruise missile systems with longer ranges, further enhanced Pakistan’s deterrent capability “at all levels of the threat spectrum,” including the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Speaking at the 2015 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, Kiwi again reaffirmed that Pakistan’s battlefield nuclear weapons are an extension of the country’s conventional deterrent capabilities.
Also, the National Command Authority (NCA) is also vocal on the stability aspect that nuclear deterrence is a factor of stability in South Asia and expressed that it resolved to maintain full spectrum deterrence, in line with the policy of credible minimum deterrence. Acknowledging the fact that Pakistan’s nuclear program and its simultaneous efforts it would be pertinent to mention here that Pakistan has ratified the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (Amended) too. “As a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan would continue to contribute meaningfully towards the global efforts to improve nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation measures.” The NCA also comprehensively reviewed the safety and security mechanism of Pakistan’s nuclear program and expressed satisfaction on the measures in-place to ensure highly effective security of nuclear assets.
Moreover, Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence was conceived with a focus on deterring future wars with India. It does not take into account the multitude of internal and external threats being faced by it today. In order to transform its threat perception from being mainly India-specific, Pakistan needs to redefine its national objectives that must be consistent with its national power potential. Nevertheless, existence of nuclear capability does provide inherent strength and guarantee that the country cannot be treated like states, which do not have the military means to defend themselves.
The growing conventional and strategic weapons’ development in the region would have serious concerns over the adverse ramifications for peace and security of the region. Pakistan’s security personnel took all the possible measures to make national security robust, enabling it to effectively respond to the threats to national security without indulging in arms race.
While these concerns are mainly politically motivated, nevertheless, Pakistan has put in place an effective command and control system. Over 25,000 people are guarding Pakistan’s nuclear assets to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands. Likewise, the system also caters for all possible external threats to obviate the likelihood of damage or sabotage. Nuclear weapons combined with other elements of national power are an instrument of policy to safeguard national security interests. Possession of nuclear weapons offers significant edge in terms of enhanced political stature and diplomatic relations. It is up to the state and the leadership to formulate a strategy to exploit this potential.
On the other hand, Pakistan is also proactively pursuing its credentials for the non-proliferation regime; nevertheless it is still vital to take further voluntary steps to advance its non-proliferation credentials. It would assist the country in getting into the Multilateral Export Control Regimes (MTCR). While reviewing the Multilateral Export Control Regimes, other than MTCR that works to prevent the proliferation of missile, all the rest three: NSG, WA and Australia Group works to contribute to the non-proliferation regime directly.
Accounting very briefly, Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) deals with the strengthening of non-proliferation regime directly by several clauses in it. It is committed to limiting nuclear arms proliferation by overseeing the export, re-transfer and protection of sensitive materials that could foster nuclear weapons development. The aim of the NSG Guidelines is to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not pave way to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, and that international trade and cooperation in the nuclear field is not hindered unjustly in the process. Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) works to contribute to regional and international security and stability by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, thus preventing destabilizing accumulations. Participating States seek, through their national policies, to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine these goals, and are not diverted to support such capabilities. The Australia Group is an informal group of countries (now joined by the European Commission) established in 1985 after the use of chemical weapons by Iraq in 1984, to help member countries to identify those exports which need to be controlled. Its objective is to, not to contribute to the spread of chemical and biological weapons.
Pakistan established a stringent command and control system soon after its nuclear tests. The other two thresholds crossed by Pakistan were passage of Pakistan Export Control Act of 2004 and notification of revised export control lists and in 2015, these revised lists cover the scope of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Australia Group (AG). Currently Pakistan’s Export Control Lists are in complete harmony with the Control Lists maintained by the NSG, MTCR, and AG. SECDIV carries out a regular assessment of technological advancements and amendments done by international export control regimes and updates and amends Pakistan’s export Control Lists accordingly. Pakistan has invested heavily in nuclear safety and security in the last decade or so. Further to the point, over 25000 trained personnel are working in the field to ensure the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets.
Similarly, like Wassenaar Arrangement’s objective, it is also in the national policy of Pakistan to ensure that transfer of any such item do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine its credibility, and are not diverted to support such capabilities. Pakistan has already separately operating civil and military facilities. Tasnim Aslam, head of the UN desk at the Foreign Office once said, “Pakistan has the expertise, manpower, infrastructure and the ability to supply NSG controlled items, goods and services for a full range of nuclear applications for peaceful uses.”
Therefore, an entry into these groups can help strengthen Pakistan’s non-proliferation credentials that would ultimately build up a strong case for it as the country seeks an entry into the 48-member NSG. Similar is the case for India too. India has already managed to enter MTCR with the support of Russia mainly.
Since Pakistan is fully committed to the objectives of non-proliferation and disarmament. Pakistan is a state party to various international instruments including IAEA Code of Conduct on Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), and participates in the IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB). It also actively participates in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and regularly submits reports to the UN Security Council 1540 Committee. Pakistan has streamlined and strengthened its export control regime and enhanced its engagement with multilateral export control regimes. So Pakistan fully qualifies to get the membership of these export control regimes on fair terms. In this way, Pakistan would be able to contribute more meaningfully to the global non-proliferation regime as a full partner. Now it is time to engage with the diplomatic community more robustly.
Pakistan is pursuing the above mainly because if Pakistan is left behind and India managed to get entered in all these regimes or let’s say, the so-called mainstream non-proliferation regime; it would destabilize the region badly. However, on the whole, the history of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is a story of national resilience and tremendous sacrifices. Safeguarding it against external threats both intellectual and physical is a national responsibility of any country. Considering its moves in the nuclear arena, both national and international levels (briefly discussed above), it would be in order to conclude that nuclear Pakistan is playing a crucial role as a stabilizing factor in regional security.