The Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) organized a webinar on Pakistani and Indian Nuclear Programs on July 24th, 2020, in response to the exaggerated and baseless claims about Pakistan’s nuclear program published in the 2020 report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and subsequently carried by Indian media.
The findings of the SIPRI Yearbook 2020, like its previous versions, have once again misstated the number of Indian and Pakistani nuclear warheads and implied that the size and diversity of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons was greater than India’s.
Ambassador (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi, the Executive Director of CISS, and one who dealt with nuclear politics closely during his tenure in Vienna, welcomed the panelists and the audience, and remarked that the Western think tanks have had a historical tendency to misreport Pakistan’s nuclear program as the fastest growing one, and downplay the scope of India’s nuclear capabilities.
He proceeded by stating that the purpose of CISS webinar was to debunk the myths surrounding Pakistan’s and India’s number of nuclear warheads, capabilities, fissile material stockpiles, and budgets, by providing a Pakistani perspective.
Dr Naeem Salik, Senior Fellow at CISS, offered an instructive account of the process of making estimates of nuclear warheads by SIPRI, Federation of American Scientists, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the Global Fissile Material Report.
The 2020 SIPRI report has reiterated the previous estimates, suggesting that India and Pakistan are growing the size of their nuclear weapons at a uniform pace, with a difference of ten warheads for more than a decade. Thus, no country’s nuclear program is faster than the other. In fact, if one calculated the average of the Pakistani and Indian nuclear warheads in 2019 and 2020, India has produced 10 nuclear weapons more than Pakistan, becoming a faster growing nuclear weapon state instead. The whole narrative of Pakistan’s fastest growing nuclear program falls flat here.
In his view, every estimating account needs to have accurate data about the key factors of warhead production. Unless the SIPRI and other platforms have accurate and sufficient data of all the factors such as the nature of weapon design, the capacity of plutonium production plant, among others, of Pakistan and India’s nuclear program, their findings would merely be rough guesses.
He recommended that Pakistan did not need to worry about these wild guesses peddled by these reports, and instead behave like a self-confident and self-assured nuclear power, for it the is lethality of the nuclear weapons that matters, not the warhead count.
According to Dr Maria Sultan, Director General of SASSI, there has been a great transition in India’s force posture, shifting from the No First Use doctrine to the First Use, and the strategy of compellence, and it will, in essence, determine the number of nuclear warheads and the fissile material stockpiles that India seeks.
In her assessment, India will likely accumulate 2,192 kilograms of fissile material, and when it is combined with the 1.5 tons of strategic reserve—which India could use with the caveat of the strategic necessity—the warhead count amounts to 375.
If the assessment included the capacity of the pressurized heavy water reactors, the total fissile material amounts to around five tons, and using only one-third of it could result in 125 warheads. If the assessment adds submarines-based material, India could produce 325 KGs of warheads.
She deplored that the assessments of SIPRI and other think tanks do not factor the above mentioned characterizations into their estimates. The gross misestimates of India’s nuclear program downplay the warhead count to only 160, which in fact does not quite resonate with the restructuring in the country’s strategic forces command, military posture, and the actual amount of fissile material stockpiles. To meet its force posture requirements, the amount of nuclear warheads sought by India will amount at least to 1000 and at most 2000.
Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, a Senior Research Fellow at CISS, made a comparative analysis of a few international estimates of Indian and Pakistani nuclear warhead number and capabilities. He explained that these estimates were largely misleading and simplistic, as they had excluded India’s large stockpiles of weapon-usable fissile materials (reactorgrade plutonium and highly enriched uranium outside IAEA safeguards) and the expansion of India’s existing nuclear infrastructure for its strategic program.
In his opinion, other international reports and assessments from the International Panel on Fissile Materials and Jane’s Information Group clearly indicate that India has largest stockpile of fissile material, among the nuclear weapon states outside the NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), if its unsafeguarded reactor-grade plutonium is included, since it is designated a strategic reserve and a military material.
He also quoted other similar reports of India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the statements of Indian nuclear scientists that reflected the exponential growth in India’s weapon-grade plutonium, highly enriched uranium production capacity, and the reprocessing capability. These evolving capabilities will equip India to prepare for a two-front war strategy that aims to achieve escalation dominance against Pakistan and deter China through the development of a strategic nuclear triad, counterforce capabilities, and a diverse ballistic and cruise missile arsenal.
These asymmetries in South Asia are likely to generate crisis instability and encourage preemptive and first strike tendencies as India refuses to agree to a bilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, but will agree to the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), only if it does not impede its strategic program.
The webinar witnessed an animated interactive session and the participants found it to be very worthwhile.