The Future of Nuclear Asia


Assessing Nuclear Programmes of China, India and Pakistan

 “Nuclear competition in Southern Asia represents a classic conundrum of international relations: enormously high stakes, conflicting and entrenched interests, and at least in the near term, few realistic avenues for mitigating threats.”

— Daniel S. Markey
(Adjunct Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations)

World’s three major nuclear powers — China, India and Pakistan — have always made hectic efforts to expand and modernize their arms programmes. Because of the security threats perceived by these nations located in Southern part of Asia, they are also expanding their ballistic missile and cruise missile-based nuclear delivery systems. For instance, China, on October 4, 2014 flight tested an upgraded version of its 10,000-km range Dongfeng missile which can reach most of the US and European cities, demonstrating its nuclear capability. Soon after this test, India, on January 31, successfully carried out the maiden canister-based trial of its most potent missile Agni-V, which has a strike range of over 5000 kms and can carry a nuclear warhead of over one tonne. This was followed by Pakistan’s successful test launch of the Shaheen-III surface-to-surface ballistic missile on March 9.  The Shaheen-III is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 2,750 km. Such nuclear competition is dangerous given mounting mistrust and a dearth of diplomatic measures in place to reduce risk of confrontation.

Nuclear-Asia-2China’s Nuclear Capabilities

Efforts are on in China to achieve a nuclear triad (land, air and sea-based nuclear delivery capabilities). Recent media reports suggest that China’s inventory of short, intermediate and long-range ballistic missiles is close to 250 warheads. Reportedly, as many as sixty long-range missiles are of ranges between 4,350 and 9,320 miles.

In addition to increasing the size of its arsenal, China is also altering the composition of its nuclear forces to build up more mobile systems. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2014 annual report says that China’s nuclear forces would grow considerably over the next five years, with the introduction of road-mobile nuclear missiles, ballistic missile submarines, and multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles. Chinese missile accuracy has also significantly improved, according to a US Department of Defense report. China is also investing in space and counter-space programs, in part to counter advanced US missile defense systems.

Did You Know?

China first pursued atomic weapons after the Korean War (1950–1953) and conducted its first nuclear test in 1964.

The Chinese conducted their first nuclear test, code-named 596, on 16 October 1964.
China conducted the test of its first hydrogen bomb in 1967.

China is one of the five nuclear weapons states (NWS) recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which China ratified in 1992.

China’s Nuclear Doctrine

Traditionally, China has maintained that its national defense policy is purely defensive in nature. Since its first nuclear test, China declared a no first use (NFU) nuclear doctrine, meaning that in the event of a conflict or crisis, it will not resort to the first use of nuclear weapons. In a 2010 national defense white paper, China’s leadership said it adheres to a “self-defensive nuclear strategy, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

Beijing has joined international bodies as a non-proliferation advocate. China joined the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1998, acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992, and joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2004. Beijing signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996 but has not yet ratified it.

India’s Nuclear Capabilities

India possesses a developed strategic nuclear programme and currently fields nuclear-capable aircraft and ballistic missiles controlled by the Nuclear Command Authority. Delhi has an estimated stockpile of 110 warheads and is expanding its military nuclear capabilities. In 2011, Delhi spent approximately $4.9 billion  on nuclear weapons, up from $4.1 billion the previous year, according to

Global Zero, a nongovernmental disarmament movement. Delhi has invested in a ballistic missile defense system, longer-range ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, MIRVs, and ground, air, and sea-launched cruise missiles, among other systems.

While India remains outside the NPT and the CTBT, its civilian nuclear facilities are now under IAEA safeguards and India has signed and ratified the IAEA Additional Protocol. The United States and India has recently concluded a civil nuclear deal the negotiations for which began in 2005.

Did You Know?

India started its own nuclear program in 1944 when Homi J. Bhabha founded the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

India conducted its first nuclear detonation on 18 May 1974. The project was codenamed “Smiling Buddha”. It was also known as

The explosive yield is estimated to be around 8kt.

The plutonium used in the test was created in the CIRUS reactor supplied by Canada and using heavy water supplied by the United States.

Pokhran-I was also the first confirmed nuclear test by a nation outside the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The head of this entire nuclear bomb project was the director of the BARC, Dr. Raja Ramanna.

Nuclear-AsiaIndia’s Nuclear Doctrine

Delhi, like Beijing, pledges a no first use (NFU) policy, as articulated in India’s 2003 nuclear doctrine. The doctrine emphasizes that its nuclear program is intended to establish a robust but credible “minimum deterrent”. Moreover, the doctrine explicitly states that India’s response to an external nuclear attack on its territory or armed forces anywhere would be “massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.” Delhi places considerable political value in its programme as a means to improve its status.

India views Chinese nuclear expansion as a security threat and as a result Delhi seeks capabilities to counter Beijing, including in the arena of space exploration. It also longs to become the policeman of the region by creating its hegemony in the region. It also wants to intimidate Pakistan with its nuclear might. However, Pakistan has far superior and more sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Capabilities

According to the latest data unveiled by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Pakistan has 120 nuclear warheads. The country has two types of delivery vehicles: aircraft and surface-to-surface missiles. The Strategic Plans Division (SPD), a secretariat of the National Command Authority, is the primary overseer of Pakistan’s nuclear policy and arsenal, and its head is a three-star general from the Pakistan Army. Despite Pakistan’s economic struggles, obtaining and modernizing nuclear weapons has long been political and strategic tool to deter India’s conventional power, especially after the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.

Today, Pakistan has, by some measures, the fastest growing nuclear programme in the world. According to a 2014 CFR Special Report by Gregory Koblentz, Pakistan has nearly tripled the number of warheads it had a decade ago. In his report, Koblentz predicted that by 2020, Pakistan could have enough fissile material stockpiled to produce as many as two hundred nuclear weapons.

Pakistan is now bolstering its arsenal with tactical, short-range missiles with the ability to carry nuclear warheads. Islamabad first tested the Hatf, a short-range ballistic missile, in April 2011 and the Ra’ad, a short-range air launched cruise missile, in August 2007. More recently, on 17 Nov 2014, Pakistan successfully test-fired a ballistic missile, Shaheen 1A — also known as Hatf IV — which is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 900 kilometres. The development came three days after the Pakistan successfully test-fired another nuclear-capable missile, Shaheen-II — also known as Hatf-VI — which can hit targets 1,500 kilometres away. Besides these tests, Pakistan, on March 9, conducted a successful test of Shaheen-III surface-to-surface Ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 2750 kilometres.

India’s (also known as the Cold Start doctrine) has been the driving force behind Pakistan’s tactical battlefield missiles. The doctrine purportedly speeds up India’s ability to mobilize conventional forces.

Did You Know

Pakistan began focusing on nuclear weapons development in January 1972.

Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto delegated the program to the Chairman of PAEC Munir Ahmad Khan at the famous “Multan Meeting”.

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan also joined the nuclear weapons program in 1976.

In December 1972, Dr Abdus Salam led the establishment of Theoretical Physics Group (TPG) as he called scientists working at ICTP to report to Munir Ahmad Khan.

On 28 May 1998, a few weeks after India’s second nuclear test (Operation Shakti), Pakistan detonated five nuclear devices in the Ras Koh Hills in the Chagai district, Balochistan. This operation was named Chagai-I. The last test of Pakistan was conducted at the sandy Kharan Desert under the codename Chagai-II, also in Balochistan, on 30 May 1998.

Project-706, also known as Project-726 was a codename of a project conducted during the Cold War and Russo-Afghan War with the objective to develop Pakistan’s first atomic weapon.

The day is celebrated Youm-e-Takbeer.

Nuclear-AsiaPakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine

“If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass and leaves for a thousand years, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. The Christians have the bomb, the Jews have the bomb and now the Hindus have the bomb. Why not the Muslims too have the bomb?”

Zulfikar Bhutto (Former Prime Minister of Pakistan) National security authorities in Pakistan cite “restraint” and “responsibility” as pillars of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Pakistani nuclear program’s objectives include deterring external aggression, counterforce strategies by securing strategic assets and threatening nuclear retaliation, and stabilizing strategic deterrence in South Asia. The adversarial nature of the Indo-Pakistani relationship is a central driver for Pakistani nuclear development. On April 7, New York Times in its editorial “Nuclear Fears in South Asia” wrote, “Pakistan, with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, is unquestionably the biggest concern, one reinforced by several recent developments.”

But, Pakistan assigns the “highest importance” to ensuring the safety and security of the country’s nuclear programme. This has been in safe hands and even International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in 2011 declared the nuclear program of Pakistan as safe and secure and appreciated the obvious dedication to the safety and security of the regulators as well of operators. Deputy Director General IAEA Denis Flory said, “The IAEA emphasizes the importance of national responsibility for security, which Pakistan takes seriously. In fact, Pakistan has had an Action Plan in place to strengthen nuclear security since 2006.”

Giving details he said this plan covers such items as Management of Radioactive Sources; Nuclear Security Emergency Co-ordination Center (NuSECC); Locating and Securing Orphan Radioactive Sources. Pakistan has worked with the Agency both to implement that Plan and to provide resources for its implementation.

The Future

The nuclear competition in Southern Asia is fundamentally unstable. Koblentz has identified the region as the “most at risk of a breakdown in strategic stability due to an explosive mixture of unresolved territorial disputes, cross-border terrorism, and growing nuclear arsenals.” The region’s existing nuclear powers are continuing to modernize and expand their capabilities, and there is a serious risk that several other states may seek to nuclearize in the coming years. Intensifying dyadic and triadic rivalries, the possible spread of nuclear capabilities may have serious repercussion on the future the region.

There is no sign of nuclear modernization abating in China, India, or Pakistan. Expert Ashley J. Tellis writes that “in the foreseeable future, the Asian reliance on nuclear weapons will increase.” Meanwhile, nuclear powers have limited tools at their disposal to influence nuclear expansion in Asia, particularly since India and Pakistan are outside the NPT. Nuclear risk reduction measures are few and far between across the region.

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