June 9, 2000
Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal Underestimated, Reports Say
By Ben Barber, The Washington Times
Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is far larger than previously suspected and may be five times as large as that of India, according to U.S. military and intelligence reports.
Instead of the previous estimates of 10 to 15 nuclear weapons, the new estimate is that Pakistan has built from 25 to 100 bombs and has the missiles and jet planes to deliver them.
A Senate aide with a strong intelligence background confirmed the report of Pakistan's upgraded nuclear status, which first appeared in NBC News reports this week.
William Triplett II, a Capitol Hill specialist in proliferation, described the report as highly credible.
"You've got an incredible change in the nuclear balance of terror in South Asia where we think it matters," he said.
Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of the U.S. Central Command, which covers South Asia, said the previous belief that the Indians were quite far ahead of the Pakistanis in their nuclear balance has been unfounded.
"Don't assume that the Pakistani nuclear capability is inferior to the Indians," said Gen. Zinni, according to a spokesman at his Florida headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base.
India, which was previously reported to have from 20 to 100 nuclear bombs, or the fissile material ready to make those bombs, may have as few as five completed bombs, which are not ready to be mounted on missiles, according to U.S. intelligence and military sources cited by NBC and confirmed by Mr. Triplett.
India set off a nuclear blast in 1974, but then kept its nuclear program under wraps until May 1998, when it set off five explosions shortly after the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.
Pakistan, which has received extensive nuclear and missile technology and material help from China since the 1980s, responded a few weeks later with six explosions of its own.
The United States, which was taken by surprise at the emergence of two new, nuclear-armed states, has failed to convince the two through entreaties and sanctions to abandon their nuclear programs.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry Thursday rejected the report of its advanced nuclear-weapons program, calling it "removed from reality," in a statement read to The Washington Times.
Pakistan's reported nuclear supremacy over India "is an extraordinary assertion in view of the fact that in comparison with a few Pakistani nuclear facilities, India has a vast nuclear program comprising dozens of nuclear installations outside international safeguards, which have been operating to produce fissile materials over decades.
"This report will encourage India to defy efforts to prevent a nuclear buildup and promote nuclear and missile restraint in the region.
"Pakistan's nuclear capability is modest and solely aimed at deterring aggression."
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry also rejected reports that Pakistan's arsenal of U.S.-built F-16 jet planes and Chinese-designed M-9 and M-11 missiles are far ahead of India's Russian jets and nascent Agni missile program in terms of capacity to deliver nuclear payloads.
The State Department refused to comment on the report "because it is an intelligence matter," said spokesman Philip Reeker on Wednesday.
An Indian official in Washington said Wednesday that the report was "very serious."
"This confirms, to an extent, the feeling we always had that Pakistan was concentrating on an ambitious weaponization program and obtaining materials and technology from any place they can, using means fair and foul."
He said the report justified India's decision to become the world's first new nuclear state since China's first blast in 1964.
"Our tests in 1998 exposed Pakistan's grand designs in that sector," he said.
Stephen Cohen, a former State Department official and Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution, said that even if the report is true, it was unlikely Pakistan's numerical advantage in nuclear bombs would be used in a conflict.
"Both countries have had nuclear weapons for 10 years," he said in an interview Thursday.
"Both think it is unacceptable to have a nuclear weapon dropped on their cities or to attack the other side. Nuclear weapons are primarily psychological and political weapons."
Mr. Cohen questioned the report, wondering whether it could be "disinformation" like that of the early days of the Cold War, when each side used reports of a missile gap to justify an arms race.
"Right now, neither side is crashing with an arms race and there is no evidence either side has deployed weapons on the field," he said.
But the report of Pakistan's nuclear superiority could turn "a nuclear arms crawl into a race."