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Asia's nuclear stockpile is worryingly growing

August 02, 2016 11:22 IST

China will be the nuclear threat of most concern to New Delhi for at least another decade, the latest report by the Arms Control Association says.

Greg Thielmann and David Logan -- authors of the report titled The complex and increasingly dangerous nuclear weapons geometry of Asia -- say that that the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

While Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons programme against that of China.

Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States' strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia thus extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world.

Here's what the report states about the three Asian nuclear powers:

India

Nuclear stockpile: 120 warheads

What the report says about India:

* Even though India has now flight-tested ballistic missiles that can reach over the Himalayas to target China’s largest cities, it remains a regional nuclear weapons power. Although India has long aspired to build a nuclear triad, its nuclear forces today still essentially constitute a dyad based on attack aircraft carrying gravity bombs and short-and medium range ballistic missiles, mostly based on land.

* During the next decade, it is likely that India will be able to deploy significant numbers of longer-range, land-based ballistic missiles, the Agni-4 (3,500+ km range) and Agni-5 (5,200+ km range), which will be able to cover targets throughout China. (See the table below to see India's nuclear strength)



* India's stockpile of fissile materials is estimated to include 5.7 tons of weapon-grade plutonium for non-civilian purposes and 3.2 tons of HEU -- although part of India's HEU is reserved for naval propulsion.

* Due to technical realities and doctrinal inclinations, India's nuclear forces will remain an inherently secondstrike system against China and Pakistan for the foreseeable future -- even if it is perceived otherwise in Islamabad.

* More than is the case with India’s two potential nuclear antagonists, New Delhi wields its nuclear weapons to enhance its prestige and to gain leverage for winning "a seat at the high table" among the NPT nuclear-weapon states. Equating nuclear weapons prowess with prestige also means that India will be tempted to pursue technological advances in its capabilities whether or not they are required to assure the viability of its nuclear deterrent. 

China

Nuclear stockpile: 230 warheads

What the report says about China:

* There is little evidence that China is very concerned with Indian nuclear forces -- or with the massive nuclear arsenal of Russia, which from a technical standpoint, potentially poses a much larger threat.

* Just over ten years ago, most of China's nuclear-armed missiles and all of its ICBMs were liquid-fueled, silo-based, and each capable of carrying only one very heavy warhead. Today, China’s missiles are increasingly solid-fueled, road-mobile, and capable of carrying multiple warheads.

* Over the last decade, China has added more than 50 nuclear warheads to its ICBM forces capable of hitting the US mainland; within another decade, the number could well exceed 100. (See the table below to see China's nuclear strength)

* Although there is not yet evidence that China's political leadership has altered any of its core beliefs about nuclear weapons, nor that the newly-created PLA Rocket Force command implies a change in nuclear doctrine, the modernization and expansion of Chinese nuclear weapons may be harbingers of such changes down the road.

* A larger, more sophisticated Chinese nuclear arsenal, at a higher alert level, could also spur both horizontal and vertical proliferation by potentially prompting Japan or Korea to consider their own nuclear programs or motivating India to further expand its growing nuclear arsenal.


Pakistan

Nuclear stockpile: 130 warheads

What the report says about Pakistan:

* Whatever the role of national pride in motivating their initial development, Islamabad wields them today primarily to compensate for the growing conventional military superiority of India. As India increases its conventional military edge and economic power, Pakistan will rely more and more on its nuclear forces to counter conventional threats from India.

* As of the end of 2014, Pakistan was estimated to have accumulated a stockpile of about 0.19 tons of plutonium and 3.1 tons of HEU. With four reactors (Khushab-I, -II, -III, and -IV) now believed to be operational,23 Pakistan is adding 0.04 tons of weapons grade plutonium to its inventory annually. (See the table below to see Pakistan's nuclear strength)

* Pakistan has six types of operational nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and at least two more under development. It has also deployed nuclearcapable, air-launched cruise missiles, is testing ground launched cruise missiles, and apparently plans to develop and deploy sea-launched cruise missiles as well.

* Military planners in Pakistan are convinced of its utility by the advocacy of some Indian planners for a "Cold Start" doctrine that would permit Indian forces to seize territory in response to a provocation before Pakistan had a chance to fully mobilize.

* Alone among Asian nuclear-weapon states, Pakistan faces serious challenges to the security of its nuclear weapons stockpiles. Terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Pakistani Taliban, and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jaish-eMohammed, operate out of Pakistan and are supported by some elements of the Pakistani government, like the Inter Services Intelligence directorate.

The Rediff News Bureau / Rediff.com