Pakistan Seen Possibly Surpassing India in Nuclear Buildup

(Aug. 3) -Soldiers guard Pakistani nuclear-capable missiles at a 2008 defense exposition in Karachi. Pakistan might now possess more nuclear warheads than rival India, a recently published estimate indicates (Rizwan Tabassum/Getty Images).
(Aug. 3) -Soldiers guard Pakistani nuclear-capable missiles at a 2008 defense exposition in Karachi. Pakistan might now possess more nuclear warheads than rival India, a recently published estimate indicates (Rizwan Tabassum/Getty Images).

A newly published report suggests Pakistan could possess more nuclear warheads than its neighboring rival India, the Press Trust of India reported yesterday (see GSN, July 22; Press Trust of India/DNAIndia, Aug. 2).

"India is estimated to have assembled 60-80 warheads and produced enough fissile material for 60-105 nuclear warheads; Pakistan is estimated to have assembled 70-90 warheads and produced fissile material for as many as 90 warheads," says the report, "Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2010," published in the latest edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

"The majority of India’s and Pakistan’s warheads are not yet operationally deployed. Both countries are believed to be increasing their stockpiles," the document states.

A year-by-year listing of nations' nuclear stockpiles near the end of the report counts India has having 80 weapons as of 2010 and Pakistan as holding 70.

Of the roughly 22,400 intact nuclear warheads dispersed across the nine nuclear-armed nations, roughly 8,000 weapons are "operational to some degree (not necessarily fully operational)," according to nuclear specialists Robert Norris and Hans Kristensen. Roughly 1,880 weapons are on alert: 960 in Russia, 810 in the United States, 64 in France and 48 in the United Kingdom, according to the report.

The U.S. Defense Department is believed to hold 2,468 operational warheads and 2,600 stockpiled weapons (see GSN, May 4). Between 3,500 and 4,500 U.S. warheads are slated for disassembly by 2022 at the Pantex Plant in Texas (see GSN, March 1).

The plant stores slightly less than 14,000 plutonium warhead "pits," while the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee holds around 5,000 "secondary" warhead stages, says the document.

Russia is believed to possess around 12,000 intact warheads, with roughly 4,650 strategic and tactical weapons in operation, according to the report.

"The current nuclear stockpile in Britain consists of about 225 warheads for delivery by Trident 2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles aboard Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. According to the British government, 'fewer than 160' of the warheads are operationally available, and one [ballistic-missile submarine] with 'up to 48 warheads' is on patrol at any given time," the report states.

France maintains a stockpile of roughly 300 nuclear warheads, with the great majority if not all on operational status, the report's authors wrote.

A large portion of China's strategic nuclear arsenal is intended for "regional use," according to the report. "The status of a Chinese nonstrategic nuclear arsenal is uncertain, and China’s deployed warheads are not thought to be fully operational (that is, mated with delivery systems). China holds additional warheads in storage, for a total stockpile of approximately 240 warheads."

Israel, which has neither acknowledged nor denied keeping nuclear weapons, held around 80 warheads, according to a 1999 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimate. The nation could possess enough nuclear-weapon material for use in 115-190 warheads, the analysts wrote in the report.

North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests and generated enough plutonium for use in eight to 12 weapons, but the nation has not proven to date that it has fully incorporated the material into usable bombs, Norris and Kristensen stated.

The total number of nuclear weapons around the world is believed to have topped out at 70,452 in 1986. Reductions since then are attributable mostly to Russia and the United States, which together hold roughly 95 percent of nuclear weapons.

"As Russia and the United States continue to reduce their Cold War arsenals, global inventories of nuclear weapons will continue to decline," the report says. "Yet eight of the nine nuclear weapon states continue to produce new or modernized nuclear weapons, and all nine insist that nuclear weapons are essential for their national security."

It adds: "Russia and the United States have recommitted to maintaining a triad of nuclear strategic forces; China is seeking to build a triad, and France and Britain have pledged to keep their nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan are both increasing their nuclear forces and building new plutonium production reactors, which could add to their fissile material stocks. Whether Israel’s nuclear arsenal remains opaque probably will depend on Iran, which appears to be as few as four and as many as 10 years away from joining the nuclear club, depending upon different estimates" (Norris/Kristensen, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2010).

August 3, 2010
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A newly published report suggests Pakistan could possess more nuclear warheads than its neighboring rival India, the Press Trust of India reported yesterday (see GSN, July 22; Press Trust of India/DNAIndia, Aug. 2).