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Nuclear Arms Counts Edge Upward in Asia: Report
WASHINGTON -- India and Pakistan each expanded their nuclear arsenals by roughly 10 warheads in 2012 as part of a longer-term buildup, while China constructed about as many new weapons in moving to better defend its nuclear deterrent against foreign strikes, an independent arms control think tank said on Monday.
China's estimated number of nuclear warheads increased to about 250, while India now possesses between 90 and 110 atomic arms and Pakistan holds between 100 and 120, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a press release on a newly released annual report.
The Indian and Pakistani stockpiles are growing in "size and sophistication," and the longtime rivals are manufacturing and fielding a new generation of nuclear-ready ballistic and cruise missiles, according to a "SIPRI Yearbook 2013" summary. Both countries are also boosting their capacities to manufacture fissile nuclear-bomb fuel, the document says, noting the expansion of Pakistan's Khushab plutonium production complex.
Still, U.S. and Russian stockpile reductions have caused the world's total number of nuclear warheads to fall by roughly 1,735 warheads since the start of 2012, to a new estimated low of 17,265 weapons this year, the assessment states. The New START treaty commits the two nations by 2018 to each deploy no more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 delivery systems.
The motivations of Indian and Pakistani nuclear planners are more complex than the forces that guided Cold War-era arms tensions, a SIPRI analyst said, suggesting the Soviet Union and United States each built up their stockpiles largely in response to atomic arsenal increases by the other side.
Pakistan is pursuing new battlefield nuclear weapons such as the short-range Hatf 9 ballistic missile in an effort to close a perceived gap in conventional military capabilities with India, senior researcher Shannon Kile said.
The analyst added that Pakistan is not the sole focus of the nuclear arms modernization push in New Delhi. "India’s interest in ... developing and deploying new types of long-range delivery systems is aimed at least at much at China," he said.
Kile said his organization arrived at the Indian and Pakistani estimates by "working back" from data on the fissile material production capacities of each country, and by drawing from "private conversations with … authoritative Indian and Pakistani interlocutors about how the arsenals are developing and how they’re likely to develop over the next 10 to 15 years."
China is "moving toward a more survivable arsenal … especially with road-mobile, long-range missiles" such as the Dongfeng 31 and Dongfeng 31A ICBMs, Kile told Global Security Newswire. The report summary notes that Beijing last year carried out a "comprehensive series of missile trials consolidating its road-mobile, land-based and submarine-based nuclear deterrent."
Still, "technical questions" persist on the status of China's effort to modernize its submarine-based nuclear force, Kile said. The country's developmental Type 094 submarine has "never been known to conduct an at-sea deterrent patrol so we don’t know how far along it actually is," he said. The submarine is intended to carry the new Julang 2 ballistic missile.
"We don’t anticipate that there are going to be any dramatic increases in the size of the Chinese arsenal over the next 10 to 15 years, unlike the situation with India and Pakistan," he said.
China could pursue multiple-warhead missiles in an effort to counter new U.S. antimissile capabilities, and Washington's development of new missile defense and precision strike systems might prove key in a possible future Chinese decision to "re-evaluate [its] nuclear force posture," the expert added.
China did not reference its longstanding "no-first-use" nuclear weapons policy in an April defense white paper, prompting questions over possible changes to the country's war planning. However, Beijing reaffirmed the commitment on Sunday at a yearly regional security conference in Singapore, according to Agence France-Presse.
“I want to make a solemn statement that the Chinese government will never discard our pledge of no first-use of nuclear arms,” Chinese General Staff deputy head Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo said. “We have been sticking to this policy for half a century, and its facts have proven that it is not only in the interest of the Chinese people but also of the people of all the world.”
Meanwhile, a "consensus" is emerging among policy-makers that North Korea has likely built an "operational, militarily useful" nuclear weapon, Kile said by telephone. However, he added that publicly available data cannot confirm the position and the design of a possible North Korean warhead remains unclear.
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