Uranium constraints in Pakistan: How many nuclear weapons does Pakistan have?

A guest post by:

Lalitha Sundaresan* and Kaveri Ashok

This article was first published in CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 115, NO. 6, 25 SEPTEMBER 2018.

For full text click Current Science Paper Print Version


Uranium constraints in Pakistan: how many nuclear weapons does Pakistan have? Lalitha Sundaresan* and Kaveri Ashok It is generally accepted that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme relies on domestic supplies of uranium. Although constraints on uranium supply in Pakistan are recognized, this is often not taken into account when estimating the amount of fissile material that Pakistan may have produced. In simple words, most assessments of Pakistan’s fissile materials and arsenal size fail to look at the supply and demand situations in Pakistan in an integrated way. This paper attempts to rectify this lacuna by taking a combined look at the supply and demand situations for uranium in Pakistan. It specifically addresses issues of how shortages in supply or increases in demand will affect the allocation of available uranium resources for meeting various military and civilian needs.

For full text click Current Science Paper Print Version

*Lalitha Sundaresan is in the National Institute of Advanced Studies, IISc Campus, Bengaluru 560 012, India and Kaveri Ashok is in the Center for Science, Technology and Policy, Bengaluru 560 094, India. For correspondence e-mail: sundaresan.lalitha@nias.res.in


To Take the Road Less Travelled By*: Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures

Transcript of a presentation made to the Chaophraya Dialogue in February 2012.


Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

Keywords: Nuclear Risk Assessment, South Asia Nuclearization, Tactical Nuclear Weapons, Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense System, NFU doctrine

The Problem

The real problem with nuclear weapons risk reduction is the ability to convince decision makers that no conceivable advantage can be achieved from a nuclear exchange; for, as long as one side believes that there is some value to be had through the deployment and use of nuclear weapons, uncertainties and imponderables creep in that sets into motion a chain reaction that continuously aggravates and raises the degree of risk.

Military planners are more than familiar with the fact that risk assessment is an imperative in the development of a strategic plan. The process of its generation is marked by the persistent motivation to not only eliminate uncertainties and bring about balance in the Objectives-Resource-Means equation but also to ensure that the probability of success and the benefits that accrue far outweigh the hazards of failure. However, the abiding conundrum is that the very nature of warfare is in opposition to such precision.

Nuclear Risk Assessment

When we enter the nuclear arena we must note that strategic imbalance is intrinsic to the Objectives-Resources-Means relationship. From the very start, the equation is irrevocably in a state of unstable equilibrium caused by the fact that whatever means are used the impact will invariably be to obliterate the very objectives or interests that were sought to be achieved. This is the reality of nuclear weapons. Its value lies in its non usage; its aim is, nuclear war avoidance; its futility is, in attempting to use it to attain political goals. 

Strategic Collaboration

Strategic collaboration with a potential enemy is not a concept that comes naturally to the military planner. Tradition is against it and the very idea of sovereignty militates at the thought of it. Nonetheless it can be no nation’s case to destroy the very purpose that polity set out to achieve. Nuclear weapons have put us on a razors edge in part because of our inability to control the manner in which political events and technology are driving the direction nuclear weapon policies and arsenals are headed. While technology invites covertness; the lethality, precision, stealth and time compression that it has wrought demands transparency. Demarcation between custodian and controller and central control are imperatives if at all the risks of an unintended exchange are to be averted and stability of a deterrent relationship assured. The belief that escalation control of a nuclear conflict is possible lacks conviction and therefore any attempt to conventionalise nuclear weapons has to be abhorred.

The Descent to Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW)

The absence of transparency manifests itself in ‘speculative bulges’ in the arsenal. The direction in which arsenals are headed with the induction of the ‘Nasr’, ‘Babur’ and the ‘Raad’ is a grim reminder of the upshot of ambiguity and opacity both in policy and control and the risks of a descent to nuclear war fighting becomes a near certainty.

Strategic planners in Pakistan suggest that nuclear weapons have an inalienable place in their military strategy and therefore a flexible response of both the conventional and the nuclear is the order of things. Also, ambiguities and the threat of first use are central to the ‘absence’ of a declared doctrine. Add to this is the actuality of an enfeebled civilian leadership incapable of action to remove the military finger from the nuclear trigger, the active involvement of non-state actors in military strategy and an alarming posture of an intention-to-use all have the makings of a nuclear nightmare in the offing.

Cardinal Principles Governing Risk Reduction

We are now in a position to enunciate some of the cardinal principles that govern risk reduction in the nuclear situation that obtains in the subcontinent:

  • Abiding belief in nuclear war avoidance.
  • Clarity in strategic underpinnings, establishment of coordination centres and a rejection of ambiguities.
  • Stability of the deterrent relationship.
  • Transparency in policy, technology intrusions, intent and alerts.
  • Abhorrence of a descent to tactical nuclear weapons, conventionalising and nuclear war fighting.
  • Centralised command and control with a clear demarcation between Custodian and Controller.

Against the backdrop of what ought to be, an examination of whether nuclear risk reduction measures (NRRM) currently address the rigorous demands of donning the mantle of nuclear weapon states that too in an adversarial predisposition and geographically co-located within a few minutes flight time from each other; the answer must come in the negative. What is striking is that despite several incidents over the last decade and a half that could have escalated to the nuclear level the security establishments on both sides have not set themselves to the task of preparing concrete perspectives on the issue of nuclear risk reduction barring endorsing the principle. Currently the only meaningful risk reduction measure in place is mutual notification of ballistic missile flight tests.

NRRM Measures

There are several NRRMs that can be put in place without in anyway radically altering the material situation. These may be identified as follows:

  • Making transparent strategic and doctrinal underpinnings of nuclear forces and the purpose of technological intrusions.
  • De-alerting of nuclear weapon systems; while this may not be easily verifiable, the process may begin by notifying at all times the alert state of nuclear forces.
  • Making transparent a minimalistic approach by declaring ‘how much is enough’.
  • Developing a common lexicon and understanding of nuclear concepts.
  • Rejecting short range nuclear missiles and the descent to tactical nuclear weapons.
  • Setting up of surveillance and risk reduction centres that provide communication and coordination for implementing these measures

The Value of Ambiguity

The policy of nuclear ambiguity was brought to prominence when Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1966 stated that ‘Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the region’. Four red lines were linked to its use. These included successful Arab military penetration; destruction of Israeli Air Force; cities attacked by WMD and use of N-Weapons.  It served as Israel’s ultimate guarantor of security.

The value of ambiguity lies in opacity of policy and an unwillingness to disclose status of the weapon program. When disclosure has occurred and a nation has declared its nuclear weapon status in an ambience of multilateralism, ambiguity loses value and increases the hazards of the unintended. For inherent to an ambiguous policy is its tendency to take advantage of risk aversion, a bedrock of a deterrent relationship (this underscores the Pakistan position).

Indistinctness in policy, when TNWs are in the arsenal immediately suggests that conventional principles apply. Resulting in actions that are contradictory to stated policies which in turn provide an incentive for speculative bulges in arsenal and for opting for a first strike capability/counter force capability on the part of the adversary.

Ambiguity has been used as an offset for conventional inferiority with the belief that control over escalation is possible. This is so obviously a fallacy due to the nature of the weapon. Also its effect in disrupting stability is apparent and the ability to bargain or negotiate is greatly diminished since the potential adversary begins with the assumption of a worst case and accordingly builds his arsenal. Ambiguity must thus be seen as an agent in direct opposition to achieving a stable deterrent relationship.

Technology intrusions coupled with ambiguity of intent increases the hazard quotient geometrically and will make the demand for transparency more urgent if a stable deterrent relationship is the aim.

In theory the Anti Ballistic Missile is a defensive system, yet its introduction can not only provoke destabilisation in a deterrent relationship but also can provide the incentive for unpredictability. Where doctrinal underpinnings are similar and the basis of stability is mutually assured destruction, then ABMs would be a destabilising factor for a variety of reasons; chief amongst them is that it undermines the strategic underpinnings of the arsenal and it provides the incentive to launch a first strike.

However, in a situation where a No First Use policy is faced with ambiguity or a First Use situation or there is wide variance in approach to establishing a deterrent relationship, the acquisition of an ABM capability makes strategic sense because of the ‘failure conundrum’ and imponderables that play on the planners mind.


The only way to reduce the risks involved of a nuclear exchange is to convince decision makers that no conceivable advantage can accrue from its use. Its only purpose is to deter its own use. Any attempt to conventionalise the weapon runs the risk of not only decentralising control increasing the risk of unintended application, but also of losing escalatory control and destroying the purpose of polity.

The genii cannot be put back in the lamp, what can be done is to take the road less travelled by and put in place measures that promote transparency, understanding and  de-alerting of nuclear forces.


*Frost, Robert. “Two roads diverge in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”.

The Elephant and the Dilemma of Nuclear Force Planning


Vice Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar

This article was first published by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in April 2013.

Keywords: South Asia Nuclearization, Sino-Pak relations, India’s Nuclear Doctrine, Deterrence Stability, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program

One of the open secrets of the Indian security establishment is the evolution of its nuclear weapons capability. The process did not follow any established norms that guide the discernment of theory into a security strategy or the rendition of technology into a nuclear stockpile. Rather, its development was driven by a single-point politico-scientific coterie stirred by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) combine. The leadership neither saw strategic significance in a more eclectic approach nor clarity that a theory did not endanger political ideology or scientific savvy, but was an instrument to fertilise both.

From Indian folklore, a story is told of six blind men and an elephant. The allegory underscores the limits of individual perceptions when left in stove pipes without an integrating hypothesis. Viewed in perspective of the enormous destructive power of the nuclear weapon, now in the hands of the new “destroyer of worlds”, it presented a terrifying and unspeakable nature of the truth, much as the elephant to the blind. To marry political issues and technological capabilities with military operational practices was the unheeded scream of the previous quarter of a century.

It was only after Pokhran II in 1998 and the Kargil episode that the real nature of nuclear weapons was emphasized and the imperative of military involvement dawned on the establishment. This realisation took the form of a declared nuclear doctrine with a classified section that drew a roadmap for enabling and operationalizing a ‘No First Use’ doctrine. Born of the desire not to repeat the Cold War experience, and a belief in Brodie’s maxim that nuclear weapons had changed the nature of warfare; nuclear war avoidance became primary to the political objective. While this critical discernment was slow in the offing and the product of a tangled approach, there can be no denying its rational strength and its progression.

A deterrent relationship is a balance founded on rationality. On the part of the ‘deterree’, there is rationality in the conviction of disproportionate risks of hostile action; and on the part of the ‘deterrer’, there is rationality of purpose and transparency in confirming the reality of the risks involved in a manner that strategic miscalculations are avoided. The exceptional feature of this transaction is that the roles are reversible, provided it is in the common interest to maintain stability, and this is where the sub-continental rub lies when the search for equilibrium is one-sided.

Pakistan’s quest for nuclear weapons is visceral in urge, India-specific in intent and ‘at-any-cost’ in motivation. It serves to explicate (and vindicate) the bizarre extent of the AQ Khan network’s exertions, and its clandestine nuclear links with China and North Korea. Therefore, unique and intriguing to the nuclear cauldron is the tri-polar nature of the playing field, with China and Pakistan in a collusive arrangement. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program was conceived, designed, and tested by Beijing from the mid-1970s onwards. In conjunction with all this is the rapid pace at which the Khushab reactors (II and III in particular) have come on-line and weapon grade plutonium is being extracted with active and persistent Chinese aid. Collaboration, technological updates, the breakneck build-up of fissile material and production and extraction facilities may even suggest a doctrinal co-relation, which any deterrent relationship overlooks at the peril of its constancy.

No meaningful scrutiny of the sub-continental nuclear situation can avoid looking at the internal workings of Pakistan. What has caused this situation is the fixation with achieving military parity with India, and the precarious cocktail that the establishment has brewed in nurturing fundamentalist and terrorist organisations as instruments of their policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. This policy has blown back to the extent that it is more than plausible that elements of the nuclear arsenal could well fall into extremist hands, aided by sympathetic rogue elements in the military. The recent happenings at Abbottabad, the Plutonium rush, the assault on PNS Mehran, the conventionalising of the Hatf-9 missile, the descent to tactical nuclear weapons, and the continued opacity of strategic underpinnings of their nuclear programme defies rationality and does not in any way engender confidence in the prospects for stability. Added to all this is US Secretary of State Kerry’s recent insinuation in Beijing of Pakistan’s nuclear links with North Korea (while oddly down playing China’s role) that attached nuclear perfidy to an already vexed situation. Such ‘hare’ like nimbleness in nuclear matters, as Michael Krepon has termed it, could also suggest an incredulous belief on the part of Pakistani leadership in being able to control the escalatory nuclear ladder. This they must know is a fallacy, given the yawning power asymmetry that exists.

We stand today on the cusp of a ‘Strangelovesque’ situation caused in part by the reluctance to control the manner in which technology and political events are driving the direction in which arsenals are headed, and in part due to lack of transparency. This is the predicament that is faced by nuclear force planners. There does not appear to be any other answer than to readjust nuclear postures, turn back the clock on tactical nuclear weapons, and retune doctrines with the aim of bringing about balance in posture. Policy must accommodate the reality of the tri-polar situation and the need for ‘convincing reassurances’ on the matter of rogue players.

(Written as part of a collection of commentaries by various scholars on Nuclearization in South Asia, hosted by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. To follow the rest of the debate, visit: http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/india-pakistan-and-the-nuclear-race-the-elephant-and-the-3881.html)