There are reasons to believe that US is trying to scare India and Israel into taking actions on the Pakistani nuclear facilities including its supposed nuclear weapons.
The basis: US government thoughts are dutifully leaked through papers like New York Times, Washington Post. NYT in its recent issue on May 17th, titled provocatively : Pakistan is rapidly adding nuclear arms, US states:
“Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
“YES,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.
Bruce Riedel, the Brookings Institution scholar who served as the co-author of Mr. Obama’s review of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, reflected the administration’s concern in a recent interview, saying that Pakistan “has MORE TERRORISTS PER SQUARE MILE THAN ANYPLACE ELSE ON EARTH, AND ITS NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM IS GROWING FASTER THAN ANYPLACE ELSE ON EARTH.”
A spokesman for the Pakistani government contacted Friday declined to comment on whether his nation was expanding its nuclear weapons program, but said the government was “maintaining the minimum, credible deterrence capability.” He WARNED against linking American financial assistance to Pakistan’s actions on its weapons program.”
With this article and a few before, India it seems has been put on guard. Interestingly in a website considered close to the Israeli intelligence DEBKA – it states : “Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh had warned US president Barack Obama that Pakistan's nuclear sites in North West Frontier Province areas that are Taliban-al Qaeda strongholds are already partly in the hands of Islamic extremists. He (SINGH) told Obama: "Pakistan is lost."
Since no one can say with any certainty on the number of nuclear weapons that Paksitan (or indeed India or Israel has), people have been making intelligent guesses. We will look at both the aggressive and the likely scenario that Pakistan has.
However, before we go this path, it will be interesting to see why Pakistan and indeed the world is worried about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (of course Bruce Riedel could not have put it more succinctly).
TIMES OF INDIA dutifully picked up the story. It states: "Pakistan is expanding its plutonium producing production capacity to build smaller, lighter plutonium-fission weapons and deliverable thermo-nuclear weapons.
The new lighter nuclear weapons would use plutonium as a nuclear trigger and enriched uranium in the secondary, a report by US arms control institute said.
Satellite images have revealed that Pakistan now has the fastest nuclear weapons programme and it has considerably expanded two sites producing fissile material for nuclear weapons, the report by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said</span>. "
I will present the STRATFOR analysis here – this is as good as it gets. “The Pakistanis are in the middle of one of their most aggressive offensives against the Taliban in and around Swat Valley, and are expecting Washington to follow through with promises of $3 billion in military aid over the next five years and $7.5 billion in civilian assistance as a reward for their efforts. Since a good amount of unchecked U.S. aid to Pakistan frequently has been diverted to corporate entities for the benefit of military commanders in the past, U.S. lawmakers are naturally poking into every nook and cranny in Pakistan to see where future funds might be diverted. Of course, the last thing Washington wants is for Pakistan to use U.S. money to beef up the very nuclear arsenal the United States is attempting to secure from the jihadists.
But Pakistan has very different priorities in mind. A big part of the reason why Pakistan and the United States don’t see eye-to-eye on how to manage the jihadist problem is Pakistan’s deep-seated fear of its larger and more powerful rival and neighbor, India. While the United States is trying to keep Pakistan focused on its northwestern border with Afghanistan, where the writ of the Pakistani state is eroding at the hands of the jihadists, the Pakistani military leadership is far more concerned with keeping most of its troops stationed on its eastern border with India. This is a Pakistani fact of life that will not change, regardless of how much the United States attempts to reassure Islamabad of India’s military intentions.
Pakistan has been trying to play catch up with the Indians since the 1947 partition. Lacking India’s geographic strategic depth, economic foundation and political cohesion, Pakistan has rested its security policy on TWO primary pillars. The FIRST involves the Pakistani state’s long-standing ISLAMIZATION POLICY, which has been used as an unconventional tool to FOSTER MILITANTS in places like Afghanistan and Kashmir, to gain allies and fend off rivals. Since Pakistan was more likely to suffer defeat in trying to directly engage India militarily, it increasingly relied on proxies to keep India too busy putting out fires at home to seriously entertain military options against the Pakistanis.
The SECOND pillar is rooted in the Pakistani NUCLEAR ARSENAL — a last-resort option designed to keep the Indians at bay should Pakistan’s militant proxies push New Delhi’s buttons too hard. Pakistan would be quantitatively and qualitatively beaten by the Indians in a military contest and currently can only dream of reaching nuclear parity with India. Still, the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is Islamabad’s most valued defense against Indian aggression. In fact, just SIX MONTHS AGO Pakistan reminded India of the nuclear threat to make New Delhi reconsider any plans for military retaliation after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
With Taliban and scores of Kashmiri Islamist militants now turning on the Pakistani state, it has become all too clear that Pakistan’s first defense strategy — the militant proxy project — IS COMING UNDONE. Once, this strategy both ensured the integrity of the Pakistani state and reinforced Pakistani defense along its borders. Now, the same strategy is BREAKING IT APART.
This is not to say that the Pakistani military leadership is psychologically prepared to completely do away with its militant proxy strategy. But as the security and intelligence apparatus goes to work in trying to sort out the “good” militants from the “bad” militants that have turned on the state, the Pakistani state naturally feels pressured to ramp up its second line of defense (I.E. NUCLEAR) against India.
In all likelihood, the Pakistanis have been modernizing and expanding their nuclear arsenal for some time. Now that fears are being raised over Pakistan’s nuclear plans and the potential diversion of U.S. funds, aid earmarks are coming into question and Washington will experience even more difficulty in trying to deal with the Pakistanis and instill enough confidence in Islamabad to sustain the offensive against the Taliban. Furthermore, Washington is bound to run into complications with India, who will demand that the United States not stand idle while Pakistan expands its nuclear capability.
As the jihadists grow stronger, Pakistan sees ANOTHER CRISIS APPROACHING, AND WILL THEREFORE TRY TO REFINE, MODERNIZE AND EXPAND ITS NUCLEAR ARSENAL AS MUCH AS IT CAN, WHILE IT CAN.”
1. The aggressive scenario of Pakistani nuclear weapons:
Pakistan went the uranium enrichment way to develop its nuclear weapons. How the designs were stolen and how the bomb “may” have been built are subjects of hundreds of books and many bestsellers. No need to delve in the process.
China helped Pakistan in developing its Nuclear program. China already has setup two nuclear power plants Chasnupp 1 (300 MW) and Chasnupp 2 (300 MW). The Chashma Nuclear Power Plant is located at Chashma, Punjab, Pakistan. It consists of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant I (CHASNUPP-1) and Chashma Nuclear Power Plant II (CHASNUPP-2). CHASNUPP-3 (600MW under construction) and CHASNUPP-4 (2000 MW planned to be completed before 2030) are in the planning stages. China does not make any 1000 MW plants, so the Chasnupp 4 and Chasnupp 5 etc will be much larger plants beginning in 2010.
Rough estimates - Pakistan is said to have 70 odd nuclear weapons built through this route.
However, the interesting part of the story is Pakistan is also trying to build nuclear weapons through plutonium (India went this route to build its arsenal). In the 1990s Pakistan began to pursue plutonium production capabilities. With Chinese assistance, Pakistan built the 40 MWt (megawatt thermal) Khusab research reactor at Joharabad, and in April 1998, Pakistan announced that the reactor was operational. According to public statements made by US officials, this unsafeguarded heavy water reactor generates an estimated 8-10 kilotons of weapons grade plutonium per year, which is enough for one to two nuclear weapons. The reactor could also produce tritium if it were loaded with lithium-6.
Plutonium separation reportedly takes place at the New Labs reprocessing plant next to Pakistan's Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (Pinstech) in Rawalpindi and at the larger Chasma nuclear power plant, NEITHER of which are subject to IAEA inspection.
Robert Windrem writes in MSNBC (May 12th) : “On the dusty plain 110 miles southwest of Islamabad, not far from an area controlled by the Taliban, two large new structures are rising, structures that in light of Pakistan’s internal troubles must be considered ominous for the stability of South Asia and, for that matter, the world.
Without any public U.S. reproach, Pakistan is building two of the developing world’s largest plutonium production reactors, which experts say could lead to improvements in the quantity and quality of the country’s nuclear arsenal, now estimated at 60 to 80 weapons.
What makes the project even more threatening is that it is unique.
Moreover, he and other U.S. officials say, there long have been concerns about those who run the facility where the reactors are being built near the town of Khushab. They note that a month before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Khushab’s former director met with Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and offered a nuclear weapons tutorial around an Afghanistan campfire.
In the past several months, satellite imagery shows the first of these new reactors at Khushab nearing completion while the second is in final stages of external construction. Operations at the first may begin soon, while the second is four or five years from operation.
What is clear, Albright says, is that Pakistani officials are committing limited national resources to building up the country’s nuclear arsenal, resources he and others note have been supplemented and replenished by U.S. aid.
“They’re building a capability beyond any reasonable requirement,” says Albright, who first wrote about Khushab two years ago, when he noticed construction south of an existing but smaller plutonium production reactor that’s been operating since about 1998.
“We think it’s bigger than the first one,” he says of the so-called Khushab-I reactor, estimated by U.S. intelligence at 70 megawatts.
Albright estimates the new reactors are “at least on the order of 100 megawatts,” each capable of producing enough plutonium for “four or five nuclear weapons a year.” While small by power reactor standards, that’s substantially larger than the research reactors that provided material for the weapons programs of Israel, India and North Korea. He also believes that the reactors could have a separate mission: producing tritium, an element critical to the development of thermonuclear weapons, what used to be called H-bombs.”
Zia Mian, of the International Panel on Fissile Materials at Princeton University, says adding a reliable and large-scale plutonium stream to the country’s long-term expertise in uranium enrichment signals a change in Pakistan’s nuclear strategy.
“The addition of the two reactors does two things,” Mian notes. “It allows them to make a lot more warheads, four or five a year, but it also allows them to make much lighter and more complex weapons for longer-range missiles and cruise missiles. ... And triggers for thermonuclear weapons are almost always plutonium-based.”
2. The most likely scenario of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal:
The first question that arises if Pakistan does have 70 odd nuclear weapons (albeit low yield), they should be enough and more as a deterrent for an Indian attack. What would then be the requirement for Pakistan to waste precious resources to build plutonium based plants and go in for more nukes?
If Pakistan does attack India with a nuclear weapon, the ferocity of an Indian nuclear repulse (it is expected) will be so huge that Pakistan will cease to exist as a nation. Under that logic, whether Pakistan has 10 nukes or 100 nukes makes no sense. Pakistan is a small nation and obliterating it militarily by using nukes is an easy task. India will be grievously hurt in nuclear strikes by Pakistan, but it will never be obliterated – India is too large and its economy and population are concentrated over many hundred centres. Pakistan does not have that luxury.
To understand this, we go back to the 1998 nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan. There were 6 devises as stated by Pakistan and even though it claimed the yield of the 1st device was in the range of 25 – 36 kt, the Southern Arizona Seismic Observatory put it at 9 – 12 kt. For the others, the observatory put it at 4 – 6 kt (against Pakistan’s stated 12kt). Actually the observatory could confirm only two tests.
According to a preliminary analysis conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory, material released into the atmosphere during an underground nuclear test by Pakistan in May 1998 contained low levels of weapons-grade plutonium. The significance of the Los Alamos finding was that Pakistan had either imported or produced plutonium undetected by the US intelligence community.
US sniffer planes that suck in atmosphere to test for samples, picked up plutonium signatures after the Pakistani tests. The proof of atmospheric residue of a plutonium-warhead explosion, it was acquired by a USAF U-2 that took off from Oman, overflew Chagai, and landed in Turkey in the first week of June 1998. This was widely reported and the US officially confirmed this at the NATO HQ by August 1998.
Note: Pakistan’s nuclear plant came on stream only in 1998 and it could not have produced enough plutonium for weapons grade induction for a nuke. Hence these plutonium based nukes came from somewhere – and these came from CHINA on a CKD basis.
Prasun Sengupta clarifies: “Kindly note that even though the N-reactor at Khushab achieved criticality in the first quarter of 1998, the spent fuel could only be extracted two years later and the related fuel reprocessing plant in Khushab became operational only by 2001. Which means Pu-239 isotope extraction could only be achieved by 2003 at the latest.”
Prasun in his blog writes:
Dr A Q Khan's clandestine programmes were all about enriching uranium to HEU (just like Iran) and then acquiring the production technology from North Korea (like Iran) for building the Ghauri IRBM (which is the same as the Iranian Shihab 3). But following this path didn't produce any breakthroughs as it emerged that warheads using Pu-239 were more suitable for mounting on IRBMs than were the much more bulkier warheads using HEU. But ince A Q Khan could not acquire the Pu-239 production processes from anywhere, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) stepped in in the late-1980s to begin talks with China for acquiring plutonium-production nuclear reactors. China agreed, but these reactors and the related fuel reprocessing plant were only for electricity generation (that went on line only in 2000), and China instead decided to supply off-the-shelf the 12 IRBMs and their nuclear warheads in the mid-1990s. THIS IS THE ONLY REASON WHY CHINA WAITED UNTIL 1998 TO BECOME A SIGNATORY TO THE NPT. As a result, the Ghauri IRBMs imported from North Korea are now configured to carry only conventional warheads. The same goes for the Iranian Shihab-3s and unless and until Iran acquires the capability to produce and process Pu-239 at Arak, it will never be able to have a nuclear warhead even though it already has IRBMs.
The n-arsenal of Pakistan now stands at 10 warheads as the remaining two warheads were detonated on May 28 and 30, 1998. Both these warheads were of the tactical nuke-type. Only after these tests did China come clean with the US (when the US confronted China with clinching evidence--the radioactive plutonium's atmoshperic residue) and China admitted to its pivotal role in Pakistan's n-weaponisation and thereafter agreed to sign the NPT. Regarding the nuclear reactors supplied by China in the late 1990s they are NOT under IAEA safeguards as the sale & purchase agreement was inked when neither Beijing nor Islamabad were signatories to the NPT. These reactors and their plutonium reprocessing plants are therefore totally un-safeguarded. As for the Babur cruise missile there are presently no plans for arming them with nuclear warheads. They are meant for conventional precision strike just like the BrahMos.
CHINA – A curious case (a detour, but will have an impact in geopolitics). China revealed Iran’s nuclear secrets to UN. What led China to do it – one can only guess – were they caught out? Were they trying to help Pakistan (only Islamic nation – Sunni – to have the bomb).
Which leaves the point – how many nukes does Pak have now?
I think the ruse of USA to get INDIA to sign the NPT (now in 2009) is actually to get Pakistan to sign the NPT so that these breeder reactors (plutonium) come under IAEA inspection. Also the US / NATO is seriously worried that Pakistan will have serious nuclear arsenal that will be plutonium based which will make negotiating with Pakistan a nightmare !
You the reader make an intelligent choice on the size of nuclear arsenal that Pakistan currently has.
When will Pakistan use the nukes?
Prasun states: “Based on the seismic readings of the 1998 tests in Chagai, it is evident beyond reasonable doubt that the China-supplied warheads tested were of the tactical fission-based type. Which in turn means that these warheads WILL NOT be used against large urbanized targets like Indian cities. Instead, they will be used INSIDE Pakistan against major Indian troop concentrations (such as those in the Great Thar Desert) that have invaded Pakistan during a major offensive thrust. Therefore, the Indian security planners have to contend with this following scenario: if Pakistan as part of its first-strike doctrine were to use tactical nuclear weapons against invading Indian military forces BUT use them INSIDE sovereign Pakistani soil, how would India respond? Would India be morally justified in employing nuclear weapons as well against targets deep inside Pakistan, even if this were to be a second-strike? Would India then lose the high moral ground since Pakistan did not violate Indian sovereignty and did not explode n-weapons INSIDE sovereign Indian territory? These are some of the issues now being grappled with in order to gauge the so-called n-threshold of Pakistan, i.e. what would compel Pakistan to employ n-weapons on the battlefield in a pre-emptive manner.”