South Asia is the region most at risk of a breakdown in strategic stability due to an “explosive mixture” of unresolved territorial disputes, cross-border terrorism, and growing nuclear arsenals, says a respected U.S. think tank in a latest report.
The Council on Foreign Relations latest report titled Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age, says deterrence is increasingly complex in the presence of 16,300 weapons possessed by the seven established nuclear-armed states — China, France, India, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It notes that since most of these countries face threats from a number of potential adversaries, “changes in one state’s nuclear policy can have a cascading effect on the other states.”
“Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age offers important insights into the state of nuclear stability in the post–Cold War era. It provides valuable analysis of the technical and political threats to that stability, and makes realistic recommendations for how to address them,” says Richard N. Haass, the president of CFR in the foreword of the report. “As is the case with much else in the post–Cold War world, the task of maintaining nuclear stability promises to be even more difficult than it was in the previous era.”
Authored by George Mason University’s Gregory Koblentz, the 67-page report says Pakistan and India have been involved in a nuclear and missile arms race since 1998 that shows no signs of abating. “Although both states claim to seek only a credible minimum deterrent, regional dynamics have driven them to pursue a range of nuclear and missile capabilities.”
The report says Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear program in the world. “By 2020, it could have a stockpile of fissile material that, if weaponized, could produce as many as two hundred nuclear devices,” says the report.
India and Pakistan both possess growing nuclear arsenals. Stockpiles in Europe are shrinking but are still meaningful. Israel, too, possesses a considerable number of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, although for its own reasons refuses to confirm this status. North Korea has a small inventory but its erratic behavior makes it more of a concern than the numbers alone would suggest.
The report identifies three key challenges to nuclear strategic stability which it calls the “security trilemma”.
Due to the trilemma, changes in one state’s nuclear posture or policy can have a cascading effect on the other nuclear-armed states. The second challenge is the emergence of a suite of advanced nonnuclear military technologies, including missile defenses, anti-satellite weapons, long-range precision strike systems, and cyber weapons, that have the potential to replicate, offset, or mitigate the strategic effects of nuclear weapons. The third challenge is found in South Asia, which is the region most at risk of a breakdown in strategic stability due to an explosive mixture of unresolved territorial disputes, cross-border terrorism, and growing nuclear arsenals.
The report notes that both India and Pakistan have “sizable stockpiles” of nuclear weapons with “uncertain command and control”. And the potential increased rivalry between India and China could complicate the situation even further.
Both India and Pakistan have numerous delivery systems for their nuclear warheads which include both bombers and short, medium and long range missiles. “Pakistan has deployed or is developing eleven delivery systems for its nuclear warheads, including aircraft, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles.”
The report says while Pakistan is focused predominantly on the threat posed by India, it is reportedly also concerned by the potential for the US to launch a military operation to seize or disarm Pakistani nuclear weapons.
“This concern is based in part on reported contingency planning by the US military to prevent Pakistani nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists,” the report says.
The report estimates India has enough fissile material for between 90 and 110 nuclear weapons and is expanding its fissile material production capacity.
India currently has nuclear-capable aircraft and ballistic missiles and is developing longer-range ballistic missiles, including a version capable of carrying MIRVs; a ballistic missile that can be fired from a surface ship; ground-, air-, and sea-launched cruise missiles; and a nuclear-powered submarine capable of launching SLBMs.
Koblentz recommends official and Track II dialogues among China, India, and Pakistan on nuclear issues, and building scientific and diplomatic capacity in India and Pakistan to enable discussions on subjects that could improve the prospects for stability in South Asia.
He warns that emerging technologies such as missile defenses, cyber and anti-satellite weapons, and conventional precision strike weapons pose additional risks, and could potentially spur arms races and trigger crises.
“The United States has more to lose from a breakdown in strategic stability than any other country due to its position as a global leader, the interdependence of its economy, and the network of security commitments it has around the world,” he asserts.
The United States and Russia still possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Despite the increasing chill in U.S.-Russia relations, Washington’s highest priority should be to maintain strategic efforts with Russia and China, the two states with the capability and potential intent to launch a nuclear attack on the American homeland.
The United States should work with other nuclear states to address sources of instability in the near term and establish processes for multilateral arms control efforts over the longer term, writes Koblentz. He urges the Obama administration to:
- enhance initiatives that foster transparency, confidence-building, and restraint to mitigate the risk that emerging technologies will trigger arms races, threaten the survivability of nuclear forces, or undermine early warning and nuclear command and control systems;
- deepen bilateral and multilateral dialogues with the other nuclear-armed states; and
- create a forum for the seven established nuclear-armed states to discuss further steps to reduce the risk of deliberate, accidental, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
Click here to go to the complete report.